Amalia Thomas: Naked Internship
You don’t need to be naked, but the science does…
The Naked Scientists basically strip science of all the scary and unfriendly lingo, and put it out there in a way that’s accessible and interesting to everybody. The news in the science world - newly published papers, discoveries and potential technologies - impact all our lives, regardless of whether we are scientists or not. But more often than not, non-academics are intimidated and scared away by complicated words. This is such a shame! I was very happy to do my bit to make science interesting, fun and accessible.
An average week
The main job is to literally read interesting science news, and find out more about them. Each week, everyone in the team would pick their favourite science news and discuss them. Throughout the internship, I learnt what makes any type of news interesting to the public, and science news is no different to, say, political news in this sense. From our favourite science news pieces, we would pick the most impactful and find an expert to explain to us - and our audience - what the novelty of the paper is in a way that anybody can understand.
Finding the right person to explain a piece of news appropriately is not easy either! Most of the times, one of the papers’ authors or an appropriate commentator would be very happy to talk to us. I was actually surprised at how willing people are to be live on radio. However, being scientists, most interviewees are used to explaining their work to other academics, which is very different to explaining science to a non-academic audience. It takes a surprising amount of skill and a lot of practice to learn to ask the right questions in the right way to get the information you want.
After we had picked our week’s story and carried out the interview, came the audio editing. Firstly, through this process I learnt to differentiate small things in how I spoke that had a good or bad impact on the flow of the interview. For example, even though we only record audio, weirdly enough I found that gesticulating with my hands, and even smiling or standing up to record, all helped the interview sound more interesting. And yes, you do eventually get used to hearing your own recorded voice played over and over again.
Secondly, audio editing is a useful skill to have! The Naked team taught me to use software for this specific purpose, how best to cut pauses, fillers and hesitation markers from the middle of sentences, and how add music and sound effects to make a point.
Finally, after the interview was ready to air, we wrote an article on the news. Journalistic writing has a very specific style, that I now realise is used by all areas of journalism. Moreover, I hadn’t noticed just how academic the way I wrote was - it was mind-opening to learn of different writing styles and how they are useful for their purposes.
Producing my show
On one of the eight weeks of the programme, interns have to produce their own show. This involves choosing a topic for the show’s second half-hour, and planning what happens in it. The first part, choosing a topic, is not as easy as it sounds! Although one might be happy listening about a topic for hours, one needs to ask, will the audience? To all future Naked Interns, I recommend thinking of it this way: rather than choosing a topic, choose a message - what do you want the audience to learn from your show?
Once the topic of the show was decided, I had to decide how best to get that message across. At this point, the team’s help and suggestions were very useful! Not least because, as they have been doing this for a while, they can draw on a lot of experiences and contacts to help. To future Naked Interns, I advice focusing on finding guests first, because an expert on the topic of your choice may be able to offer more information than you initially thought.
Finally, on the day of the show itself, I was very impressed by the expertise of the presenters, who are very good at making the show run smoothly whatever guest or topic you throw at them.
Favourite learning moments
The best thing about my internship at The Naked Scientists was that I was never bored with a topic. I was constantly learning the most interesting scientific facts and news in a very wide variety of topics. Coming from doing a PhD, learning in such a dynamic way was refreshing and - there’s no other word for it - fun!
It took a bit of effort at first to get used to reading papers on disciplines that were not my own - but it sure is a useful skill to learn! I am now much more confident in my own ability to understand work done in any discipline, and approach unfamiliar papers in a different, more efficient, way.
But besides the science itself that I learnt, it was interesting to see how news are chosen. It was strange at first to think that journalists don’t just tell news, but also decide what the news is, and it was certainly eye-opening to discover the criteria by which journalists do this.
I also enjoyed feeling I got better at interviewing, both in how I sounded and in the type of questions I asked. Over the eight weeks, I naturally began to ask questions that were more to the point, getting the answers I wanted without having to ask the same thing multiple times in different ways to understand something properly.
I now appreciate that these are all skills that the rest of the Naked team have developed so well, that allows them to present shows so smoothly and naturally - they make it all look so easy! I feel very fortunate for being able to learn from The Naked Scientists, and I leave happy to have acquired skills that I am sure will be useful whatever I do next.
So thank you Naked Scientists!