Lights, cameras, science: Using video to engage broader audiences

Katie Pratt is a science writer and editor with an eye for design, a talent she makes use of as a content developer, communications instructor, and video producer for the Deep Carbon Observatory (deepcarbon.net, @deepcarb on Twitter).

She holds a PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry from Brown University and was a 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Community Engagement Fellow.

Katie has organised and participated in field trips around the world, including Costa Rica, Oman, Italy, and the Azores. If you have any questions about the expedition or the film, Katie is happy to be contacted at katie_pratt@uri.edu.


There’s no escaping the fact that having broader impact activities on your CV is a must for any researcher today.

Whether it’s to help you obtain funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), improve your chances of an academic appointment, or get you a job outside of academia altogether, sharing what you do with someone other than your colleagues can help your career.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself writing this post.

After blogging my way through the second half of my PhD, I was hired by the Deep Carbon Observatory’s (DCO) Engagement Team to write stories about their scientists and the work they do. The DCO is an international network of nearly 1000 multi-disciplinary scientists committed to investigating the quantities, movements, forms, and origins of carbon in deep Earth. Founded in 2009, this decade-long program has brought together biologists, physicists, geoscientists, chemists, and many others whose work crosses these disciplinary lines, forging a new, integrative field of deep carbon science.

Five years on, there’s a lot more to my job and, as a professional “jack of all trades”, I found myself in the field last year with a team of talented early career scientists, investigating the biology, petrology, and geochemistry of the Costa Rican volcanic arc.

When we set out on a field expedition to Costa Rica in 2017, called “Biology Meets Subduction,” we really focused on engagement and outreach.

We were lucky. Our funder, the DCO/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was 100% behind the idea, and our budget included money for a professional video crew to join us in the field.

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Giving a voice to early-career researchers

Here at the Research Whisperer, we’re fans of crowdfunding and Open Access. When we heard about Lateral’s campaign to crowdfund so that it could continue publication and pay its contributors, we invited them to tell us more. Thanks, Andrew and Tessa, for filling us in on your wonderful project. 

Andrew Katsis is a behavioural ecologist and third-year PhD candidate at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia. He has been Life Science editor for Lateral magazine since 2015.

Andrew tweets from @andrew_katsis.

Tessa Evans is a chemist who now works at the New Zealand Science Media Centre. She has been involved with Lateral magazine since 2015, and has been its editor-in-chief since 2017. Tessa tweets from @tessaeevans.

If you’d like to support emerging science writers and engaging science writing, you can still contribute to the Lateral campaign. If we all chipped in the money we’d spend on a couple of coffees, their target would be met! 


Cover of Lateral magazine for "Slow" (#12) - illustration by Olivia Baenziger

Cover of Lateral magazine for “Slow” (#12) – illustration by Olivia Baenziger

Scientific research is an important pursuit, but all your hard work may be for nothing if your results and insights don’t find their way beyond the lab bench to policymakers and the public. Because of this, researchers are increasingly encouraged to communicate their work to non-scientists, through media appearances, blogs, podcasts and other forms of public engagement.

At the same time, we have also seen the rise of professional science communicators—non-researchers who specialise in converting jargon into easily digestible language. But you can’t rely solely on science communicators to do your job for you; people also want to hear directly from the source.

How else will the public (or your family) know what you’ve been working so hard on, if you can’t explain it to them?

Learning how to communicate research doesn’t come easily to many people, and most graduates simply aren’t trained in how to talk to a general audience. In Australia, for example, there are only a handful of standalone courses in science communication, and just two degrees that specialise in this skill: the Master of Science Communication at the Australian National University, and the newly-minted course of the same name at the University of Western Australia, which starts this year.

Since there are so few opportunities within institutions, we wanted to help researchers develop these science communication skills.

In 2015, a small group of emerging researchers — mostly recent graduates from the University of Melbourne — came together to create Lateral, an online magazine written and edited by early-career scientists.

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Calling time on conferences

Portrait of Dani BarringtonDr Dani Barrington is a Lecturer in Water, Sanitation and Health at University of Leeds and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Queensland

Dani works in the field of water, sanitation and health in developed and developing communities. She is passionate about working at the nexus of technology and society, particularly investigating how appropriate technologies, community-led programs and public policy can improve health and well-being outcomes.

She tweets at @Dani_BarringtonYou can read Dani’s other Research Whisperer posts here.


I love attending conferences. Not because of the exotic locations, but because of the amazing conversations.

Who has time for sightseeing when there’s so much networking to be done? I meet new people, continue discussions with existing colleagues, and get fired up about what’s going on in my field and how my latest research idea might fit in.

Recently, there have been articles about how prohibitively expensive conferences are, particularly for early career researchers (ECRs).

Photo by Mikael Kristenson | unsplash.com

Photo by Mikael Kristenson | unsplash.com

In some cases, these articles call for a scrapping  of the traditional model in favour of cheaper and more inclusive events, such as webinars. This worries me. Although I definitely agree with them on some issues, I feel like some of these “calls to arms” are missing the point of conferences and what I think makes them a useful expense.

Then I realised that, in most cases, the way that conferences are designed misses the point…

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How do we sound?

Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

I was in Castlemaine for #MelbWriteUp last weekend and spent some of my time planning out the two presentations I’ll be doing at the INORMS conference in September.

One of them is part of a workshop organised by Tamika Heiden. The other is a paper that I’m presenting with my La Trobe colleague Jason Murphy. Both of them talk about social media and the kind of community-building that can take place through these channels, whether by design or serendipity.

One of the things that gave me pause was having to think through what it was we do to run the Research Whisperer.

Having run it for over five years now, you’d think that’d be dead easy. And some of it was: the process of soliciting and the guidelines we give potential guest post authors; our schedules for blog posting and social media channels; and, broadly, knowing what our blog’s topic territory is.

What was slightly harder to do was to talk about the blog’s (and our social channels’) voice and tone. Part of this is because Research Whisperer is run by Jonathan and I, and we appear never to have had to discuss this issue at all.

This not-talking about it has happened in a good way, though, because we were well aligned from the start. In retrospect, this surprises me a bit because we are very different personalities and – if anything – seem to represent extreme ends of the tendencies towards introversion and extroversion.

This post talks about social media voice and account ‘ownership’. I talk a lot about professional identity and boundaries when I run workshops. It’s one of the most asked questions in terms of how one represents oneself to the public, and what this might mean – what are the risks?

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Beyond a life in the lab


Regan ForrestRegan Forrest
works with museums and other cultural organisations to help them understand their audiences better.

She is at the end of her doctoral studies through the University of Queensland’s Business School, with her thesis “Design Factors in the Museum Visitor Experience” due to be submitted for examination at the end of September.

Among the many hats she wears is being the Director of interactivate (interactivate.com.au), a research and creative consultancy committed to helping museums make the world a better place through quality visitor experiences. Years before she founded the business, she snapped up @interactivate as her twitter handle.

We invited Regan to write for us because of her approach to finding a career space. PhD researchers and ECRs often feel that a linear trajectory is what’s required and valued. Regan’s story shows that taking a risk can lead to unexpected, very satisfying job opportunities and career paths.


[Original photo by @kimtairi on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

[Original photo by @kimtairi on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

Once I turned down a PhD scholarship, only to accept another, 15 years later, in a completely different field.

After finishing Honours in Biochemistry at the University of Adelaide, I opted not to do a PhD straight away. That would have been the path of least resistance, but I thought some experience in other labs would make me a more rounded researcher in the long run. I decided to take a gap year (or two) to work as a Research Assistant instead.

About halfway through my first year as an RA, I started to feel frustrated and miscast. I wasn’t sure if the lab life was for me after all. But what else was I going to do with a science degree?

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