Anoushka Handa: Naked Internship

The 8 week journey to becoming a better science communicator...
06 April 2022




As someone who spends their Friday evenings in the pub chatting about science, history of science or anything related to science, (I do have other hobbies), I found myself writing an application for an internship at The Naked Scientists...

I saw this opportunity in an email sent around my department, and thought it’ll be perfect to relieve my friends from hearing me talk about interesting science stories and delve into it with The Naked Scientists themselves.

Why I applied:
I’ve always had a passion for science communication. I’ve been on the Chilterns and Middlesex committee for the Royal Society of Chemistry as an Early Career Representative where I went to both secondary and primary schools to give talks. But I wanted to learn how to communicate science without flapping my hands about or drawing something on a piece of paper. Radio is an incredibly difficult medium to communicate across as the presenter needs to create a creative, imaginative piece of work from a completely blank slate.

Week to Week:
The Naked Scientists throws you straight into the deep end from day 1. This included spending a couple of hours searching for interesting news stories, pitching these to the rest of the team and hoping one gets chosen. Once news pieces are confirmed, everyone gets assigned one and off you go to contact the author, record the interview, and produce a news segment. All within the first week of the internship! I managed to do a news piece on time stamps of memories. With no background in neuroscience, I had to briefly read up on memories, their formation and what these time stamps represented, whilst contacting the lead author of the paper.

My first interview was nerve wracking, this was my chance to interview someone about a news story I had recently seen and found interesting. I had run through my questions with Julia prior to the interview and was conscious to make sure that it flowed like a normal conversation. I looked at the recorder after I was done and realised, I managed to be concise, but hoped I got everything I needed. 12 minutes of audio down to 3-5 minutes should be quick to edit. Oh, how wrong was I. The first thing when I listened to the interview made me hate listening to myself. It was uncomfortable and awkward, but surprisingly quick to get used to. I waded through the conversation, noting down all the questions I felt made an interesting narrative, but I was still only down to 7 minutes. This iteration was on going but after a few news stories it got much faster.

I began learning how to do different kinds of news stories. From straightforward Q&A’s to building a piece up with music, pauses and slowly building in creative language. Each week allowed me to dive into various science topics that I found interesting. This was completely different to my Ph.D. in which I’ve spent four years working on the same project. I felt like I was in my element. Possibly my most favourite news piece was about mosquitoes being more attracted to red and orange colours rather than blues or greens. It was fun, new, and applicable to the real world. I managed to get some zingers in there which was always a nice addition.

A Special Segment:
There tends to be a Q&A show once a month in which there are no news segments. However, interns are still required to produce a news segment. Robert and I took this one step further and did a 25-minute segment on trees around the UK. And no, it wasn’t a completely random that we chose to do a long segment on trees! It was around the time of the Queen’s Jubilee in which conservation groups were “Planting a Tree for the Jubilee”. We managed to interview a series of arborists and even managed to head over to the Cambridge Botanic Gardens after finding out that they had a tree trail. Perfect timing! This was the first time that either of us had done a recording outside of the studio. After a bit of fiddling with the recording equipment we went on this tree trail with an arborist at the Botanic Gardens. It was fun to get outside the studio and do a location recording which really brought to life the stories that were told.

My show:
Over the weeks the news pieces improved my communication, editing and interviewing skills. All for the big show. What I initially didn’t realise was that my show had to be related to my Ph.D. project- super-resolution microscopy. Early in the internship I began coming up with a set of avenues to go down that could not only include microscopy but the applications of it. I had previously worked on using super-resolution microscopy data and visualising this in a VR environment and thought though this would be tricky to pull off on an audio medium, it’s an interesting topic to present. After iterations of show ideas, I settled on the origins of microscopy and how the methodology has developed over the years.

This first led to me heading down to visit the Royal Society (RS) to look through letters that were sent by Antoine van Leeuwenhoek. Leeuwenhoek assembled one of the first microscopes and sent a series of letters to the RS boasting about his findings. In this I saw beautiful illustrations of biological specimens he had put under the microscope, including his own blood, sweat and semen. Thankfully these weren’t sent to the RS! I recorded two other pieces, one imaging a T-Cell using fluorescence microscopy, and, second, importing this into a VR environment to explore the cell.

The week before my show aired, I managed to record three pieces and get my live guest lined up. Though I was getting told I was ahead of the game, it felt incredibly busy and full of audio editing. I spent the week of my show editing the three pre-recorded pieces, adding in music and Julia and I wrote the script. By Friday morning everything was raring to go, bar my own energy!

I had decided with Julia two weeks beforehand that I’d like to present my own show with her. Sunday afternoon Julia and I walked into the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire studio. Julia showed me the numerous dials and buttons and thankfully I wasn’t in control of any of those. I had never been live on any media format, so this was a first and I was nervous. An hour passed in no time and Julia was reassuring me through any nerves that I had (which I really appreciated!) throughout the show. I was surprised how quickly it went and that the big show was all done.

During my time at The Naked Scientists, I learnt how to edit audio, conduct interviews in areas of science I had no experience in and, present news stories in various methods. The most important part of creating a news segment, or even a whole show was to make sure that there was a narrative that connected one segment to the next.

The Naked Scientists was a wonderful working atmosphere where everyone wants to help one another. Thank you to Chris, James, Robert, Tricia, Otis, and Evelyna for being so helpful and a great team to work with. Special thanks to Julia and Harry who were incredibly helpful throughout the internship. Both were always available for help, advice, and I couldn’t have made my show without their help, creativity and editing skills!


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