Earlier this year we welcomed Rothamsted PhD student Alex Borg to the Communications and Engagement team for his Professional Industry Placements (PIPs).
Alex wanted to experience working in science communication and in this blog we hear about his experiences from the three-month internship in the team.
“I’m Alex, a third year PhD student who has just completed a 3 month Professional Industry Placement (PIPs) with the Communications and Engagement team here at the John Innes Centre.
Originally from Malta, I have lived, worked and studied in the UK for the past five years. My PhD is based in the chemical ecology group at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, where I am studying the mechanisms of aphid resistance in wheat. My project is part of the BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Program (DTP) program and is affiliated with the University of Nottingham.
The three-month PIPs are part of the PhD program and are designed to give students the opportunity to learn new skills that you would otherwise not acquire during your studies. The goal is to help you understand the context of your research in the wider world.
PIPs are also a great way to explore potential career paths. It is recommended that the internship takes place in a field, industry or topic that is not directly related to your research.
Science communication is often overlooked, but is an important part of research and teaching. Science communicators inform, educate, and raise awareness of scientific discoveries and problems to wider audiences within and outside the scientific community.
Prior to this internship, I only had brief experience in science communication, assisting the Comms team in Rothamsted, where I was involved with public events. I wanted to learn more about what science communication has to offer, so I was looking for a PIPs in this field.
I got this placement by contacting the team directly and asking if they would be interested in hosting me and luckily they said yes.
After an initial introduction, we designed a plan together that included support for the day-to-day activities of the team and a project conducting interviews and creating new content covering research from Professor Mark Banfield’s laboratory.
Before I started, I wasn’t aware of how diverse science communication is. In my first few weeks in everyday life, I noticed how much variety there is.
My activities have ranged from media visits including BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today and ITV News, to running public events such as distributing flyers, assisting with student illustration visits, managing social media, building internal newsletters and running events for staff and students.
I enjoyed this variety. The nature of the role and team means no day or week has ever been the same, keeping the work exciting and meeting a wide range of interesting people from different backgrounds.
A large part of my work consisted of writing articles for internal news, external news and blog posts. This was something new for me. The team gave me a crash course in blogging and interviewing researchers, and I stuck with it.
Contrasting with the academic writing style I’m used to for my PhD, it was a breath of fresh air to write articles for a more general audience and, in the case of blog posts, in a more conversational writing style.
These articles covered research from across the John Innes Center, so I quickly got to the bottom of a lot of interesting research across the institute. I also had the opportunity to do a bit of filming and photography, which was a great opportunity to learn some new skills, some of which ended up being featured in the Wall Street Journal’s purple tomato video.
Part of my internship was working with Professor Mark Banfield and his team to create a series of articles about his group. I interviewed Mark and two other members of his team: postdoc Dr. Adam Bentham and graduate student Caroline Stone.
The aim of this project was to present their work on plant-pathogen interactions and to show their different career paths and path through science.
Since my own PhD project is in a different area to Mark’s research, it was fascinating to learn about a different area of plant biology. As part of this coverage, I designed new web pages explaining the Banfield group’s research and created an animation design, something entirely new to me.
Possibly playing on millennial stereotypes, one aspect I really enjoyed about the internship was the social media support at the John Innes Centre. I designed and planned posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram for various articles and blog posts. This culminated in an Instagram takeover during my last week of internship. I found it fascinating to see all the stats behind social media posts, how audiences are interacting online through these platforms, and how social media is being used by a research institute.
I learned more from the internship than I ever thought I would. It was an enjoyable and memorable experience meeting some amazing people and learning about cutting edge research being carried out here at the John Innes Center and throughout Norwich Research Park.
The skills I learned were invaluable and will help me in my PhD and future career, whatever that may be.
I would highly recommend a PIPs in Science Communication if it is something that interests you and is possible for you. My advice is to get in touch with the communications and engagement team at any research institute or university as they will likely be happy to hear from you.”
This blog was written by Alex Borg while completing a Professional Industry Placement (PIPs) in the Communications and Engagement team at the John Innes Centre. Alex is a BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Program (DTP) student affiliated with the University of Nottingham.