My internship with "The WHAT? Scientists"

22 September 2019

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“The WHAT scientists?” was the general response to my secured internship. “The NAKED scientists… no, it isn’t us that are naked… it is the science that is naked!”

Why did I apply for the Naked Scientists internship?
Everybody will remember that feeling - when you have been working long hours on a project and you have finally handed it in. You celebrate your achievement… but then what?

During a PhD, you spend 4 years working on a single scientific problem. Then you spend months and months writing your thesis, which very few people will ever read. I was petrified of going from working 14 hour days to having nothing... So I applied for an internship with the Naked Scientists.

It was exactly what I needed. I had gone from working on a single topic for months and months, to working on a brand new topic every week.

My first week
I arrived at the little office behind the pub in Madingley for 9:30am. In 28 degree heat, I had not accounted for my 3 mile cycle to work and I arrived very warm and desperate for a cuppa! I was welcomed by the team with not just a cup of tea - but a cup of Yorkshire tea, and I knew immediately that I was in the right place.

By 11am, I had already been trawling through the embargoed science news and was about to pitch my 5 favourite news items to the team - with another cup of tea of course. After the meeting, you are each assigned a news piece for the week. By the end of Tuesday, I had conducted a recorded interview with an academic from the University of Liverpool. Then, by the end of Wednesday, I had edited the audio down to a 4 minute interview and given it to the team as a potential news story for the weeks show. Ringing and speaking to an academic that does not work in your field was intimidating enough, but editing audio with software that I had never even seen before was the bigger challenge. But, the team were there to help and answer questions when I was really stuck.

My second and third week
As I got more comfortable with the interviewing and editing, I was given more tasks to complete during the week. In my second week, I was assigned to the “Question of the Week”. This was my favourite type of interview because I had more control over the answers and the style of the segment. The questions that we use are always good fun and were really interesting to tackle. Instead of resorting to Google - like many of us do - I got to approach an expert in the field and get a much more in-depth answer than a quick Google search would achieve.

In my third week, I was assigned the live news piece. For this, there was no additional pre-recorded interview required: I was tasked with finding a guest that was willing to appear live from the BBC studio on a Sunday evening… in August. This was the most difficult part of the internship during the summer period - everybody is (understandably) away on holiday! To find someone that is available to come on the live show and talk about a relevant news topic for the week required many many emails and phone calls. By Friday morning, you felt like you had resorted to begging!

Weeks 4, 5 and 6
By the fourth week, I felt like I was finally getting to grips with getting the most out of my interviews - my editing had improved dramatically, and I had started to vary the style of news piece that I was making.

In week 5, my first news piece made the live show. I had recorded an item in the park in Cambridge with a scientist who had shown that cigarette butts contain plastic and stunt the growth of plants. This is the news piece that I am most pleased with in my time with the Naked Scientists. It was really relevant with all of the scorching hot weather (38 degrees!) that we had been having, and was really good fun to produce.

A top tip: try to avoid organising your PhD viva during your internship. The viva was easy compared with the loss of a day during a news week! Somehow - I still don’t know how - during week 6 - I managed to pass my PhD viva and turn around a news piece, and a Question of the Week!

My final few weeks: preparations for my show
During my final few weeks, I started to prepare for my show. This didn’t start out too great - everybody that I was approaching seemed to be either on holiday, at a conference or about to go on holiday and were unavailable to be interviewed. Consequently, in week 7, I was encouraged to change the theme of my show to allow more potential guests to be involved. Eventually, after many emails and phone calls, I had a rough plan for a show.

During my show, Chris said a phrase that I want to put on a t-shirt, “you can always tell when a materials scientist has done their job properly - because their work is largely invisible."  This is exactly the reason why I wanted to focus on materials science in my show. My aim was to spark an interest and encourage our audience to think about the materials around them - and in them… and I really hope that I achieved this.

Final thoughts
If you are considering doing an internship with the Naked Scientists… don’t hesitate. Do it. It isn’t easy… it is far from it. The work is fast paced and hectic at times, but really worth it when you get to hear the show that you have helped to put together every week.

I will continue to tune into the Naked Scientists show every week. Especially now that I have been a part of the hard work that the team put into producing such fantastic programmes each week. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the Naked Scientists team. I have learned a huge amount and have had a blast whilst doing so.

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