Verner Viisainen: Naked Internship
While waiting for my PhD viva and before getting out into the real world (eek!), I embarked on an eight week internship with The Naked Scientists. This unique experience took me straight into the deep end of audio production and I learnt a lot within a short space of time while simultaneously having a lot of fun! If you are considering applying or are just curious, read on to find out more about my experience…
Why I applied
I applied for this role because I got really into podcasts during the covid lockdowns and began to appreciate the quirks and wonders of this medium for telling stories and informing audiences about exciting new findings. I also wanted to improve my communication skills so that I could be more effective in creating rapport with people and getting my points across in any future roles going forward. After hearing about a friend who had also applied for the internship and learning more about it, I was convinced that maybe I should give it a go as well! What a great decision that turned out to be! After submitting my application in the summer of 2021, I eventually started my internship in October 2021, just after submitting my PhD thesis.
Week to week
The internship basically operates on a weekly cycle and each week you are required to produce a news story for the show as well as an associated written article. This means finding interesting stories, pitching them to the rest of the team, contacting the authors, interviewing them and then editing the recorded interview into something catchy and news-worthy that goes well with the associated cues. And this needs to be all done by midday on Thursday so that it can be included in the show going out that weekend. Then once the interview is done, it is time to write a news article about it by the end of Friday. It was all a bit hectic and although I found the interviews quite intimidating at first, I really enjoyed the process by the end and it was nice to have a fixed structure to the week, with the breadth of different science stories keeping it interesting. This was a nice change from the PhD where you essentially focus on the same topic for 4 years. At the Naked Scientists, you get 4 different topics every month and so you end up learning a lot!
Unique Experience - COP
What possibly made my experience a little different from most Naked internships was that for two weeks of it, I was in Glasgow as my internship happened to coincide with the COP26 climate conference.This was a great opportunity to not only experience this unique and crucial event happening in the UK but also do some on-the-ground recordings of what’s it like for the show’s audience who could not make it to Glasgow. This was probably one of my real highlights - making content on the streets including vox pops (interviews with people on the streets), talking to myself looking like a madman and recording indigenous protesters voicing their views. Then, once the recordings were done, it was time to go straight back to my accommodation and edit it all together - what a whirlwind few days it was! However, it was all made worth it when I then heard that piece played on national radio that very weekend - instant gratification! Doing that on-the-ground was a crash course in learning how to use the field recording equipment but this turned out to be extremely useful because I needed to make use of it again as soon as I came back to Cambridge.
After returning from Glasgow, it was time for another highlight - producing my own Naked Scientists show. This is the culmination of every internship and allows you to put together what you have learnt and what you are passionate about into a full length programme that will be broadcast regionally, nationally and to the rest of the world. My show was on plastics and how these might be hindering and/or helping our efforts to tackle climate change. I really enjoyed the experience, including visiting the BBC Cambridgeshire studios and enjoying doughnuts at a wind turbine in Godmanchester. Although challenging to put together, with many ups and downs along the production journey, I was happy with how the show turned out in the end. Massive thanks to Harry, my mentor during the internship, for being so accommodating to my wild ideas and helping to turn the show into something palatable and interesting for the audience. Apologies for all those visiting the Sainsbury’s in Cambridge that Thursday evening when I rocked up with the field recorder and headphones, and went around banging baskets and rattling plastic packaging. If you were there, make sure to listen to the show to understand what it was all for!
What I learnt
This eight week experience has really fine-tuned my ears to all things audio and really helped me appreciate how important good audio and smooth editing is to things you hear on the radio and in podcasts. Before this internship, I had never done any audio editing and transitioning from video to audio was a bit of a learning curve because the aim for audio is to make it seem like there was no editing done whatsoever whereas video is pretty much the opposite. I learnt how to listen to interviewees' breaths and hopefully by the end maybe I was just about able to make cuts that were not mid-breath (though still not an expert). If you have never done audio editing before, don’t be worried, you will get a lot of support from those in the office and by the end you will be a true audiophile, and maybe you will never listen to the radio the same way again!
Additionally, as I had hoped, this internship has made me a better and more confident communicator. While some have suggested that my radio voice could still be more excitable (I will work on that), it has gotten a lot better over the eight weeks and that just from doing a lot of interviews and recordings, and becoming more comfortable being yourself on the mic. Ultimately, that is the key to making good programmes - be yourself and the audience will recognise and appreciate that. Do not shy away and go for it and you will have a great time, and as a bonus you will have great content to share with your friends and family later!
What I will take away
While science communication might not be my chosen career path, this internship has been beneficial in developing many skills that I will need going forward. In addition to the audio and communication skills, I learnt how to pitch my ideas in a quick-fire way highlighting the essence of the story I wanted to cover, how to give and take constructive criticism on pieces that had been produced for the show as well as write punchy news articles that catch the reader's attention. All of these are transferable skills that will put me in good stead as I go forward into my career in climate policy.
Reflecting on the last two months, I have very much enjoyed being a Naked Scientist during this weird interim period between submitting a PhD and getting out into the real world. I did not know quite what to expect from it and I had hesitations about having to interview experts in their fields while sounding somewhat intelligible. However, in the end, I actually ended up really enjoying the interview process and connecting with a wide variety of people over Zoom and learning about new aspects of science I previously had no idea about. Things that I covered included the science of sauna and winter swimming, new antibiotics for superbugs, how to decarbonise aviation and cooling down rapidly warming cities among others.
There is no doubt, however, that the best thing about this internship are the people you get to work with at Naked Scientists HQ. Huge thanks to Chris, Eva, Sally, Harry, Julia, Cameron, Iacopo, Katie, Tricia and Otis for being such legends and for accommodating me over this time. It has been a pleasure working with you all - don’t think I have laughed so much in any office I have worked in!