Who hasn't read a science article or heard a report on some new technology and thought, 'I could do that!' Well, if you have, here's your chance to find out whether it's as easy as it seems. Every year, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) offers 10 fellowships for active research scientists to walk into the dens of the top science writers and reporters, and 'do it'! Seemed like a good deal to me. I filled out the terse application form and crossed my fingers.
The fellows of 2000 were selected from over 150 applicants. Our backgrounds varied, from graduate students and frustrated postdocs to a science publicity officer. Whether we were particle physicists or environmental biologists, we all shared a common passion: We love science and we want to tell the world about it. We were selected for our track records in science communication. Some of us had visited schools and done a bit of freelance journalism. A couple had even been interviewed by the media. But none of us had been on the inside.
I spent my 6-week fellowship based at BBC White City, working with BBC Science Online. While all the other media fellows were out there chasing stories, fighting for copy, and splicing interviews, I was designing a Web site. On occasions, my fellowship seemed to lack the adrenaline rush the others were getting from being news hounds. I wasn't churning out stories and getting my name on bylines. But I was designing something that was going to be accessed by people for a long time to come. The Web site was launched after I'd completed the fellowship, but I'm told that it regularly gets 20,000 hits a week. Not bad for a beginner!
We all met again 3 months after completing our fellowships at the debrief session held in London. None of us regretted upping sticks and spending the summer working, rather than putting our feet up for a peaceful holiday. The break from the lab bench had given us a new perspective on our careers in science. With science continuing to gain a profile in the popular media, it is becoming increasingly important for tomorrow's research leaders to communicate effectively. The BA media fellowship gave us a window on the world of science communication. All of us will take our careers in very different directions, but the lessons that we learned will be as valuable in writing the grant applications of tomorrow as reporting the science headlines of today.
The Ed says: Application forms for the 2001 BA Media Fellowships will be available shortly and need to be returned by the end of April. So, if you want to know more, contact Nick Hillier at the BA. And you can read about the experience of two previous Media Fellows in our 1998 feature on science journalism. Tom Barlow spent his placement at the Financial Times, while Susan Eley did a spell on the Times Higher Education Supplement.