Wednesday 28 January 2015
Recently Samuel Brod, a PhD student at the William Harvey Research Institute at Queen Mary, won the London Naturejobs Career Expo Competition. An enthusiastic Science Communicator, Samuel began his education at the University of Warwick studying molecular biology before switching to microbiology and then settling on immunology, the focus of his current research. After studying for an MA in Science Communications he moved to Queen Mary to begin his PhD.
Samuel talks to us about his current research at the William Harvey Research Institute and his experiences as a journalist for Naturejobs.
What sparked your interest in the field of immunology?
I became particularly interested in immunology whilst I was working at Novartis [a pharmaceutical company] during my undergraduate degree. I was working on a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder as I got to see the whole process, from the generation of a drug to seeing it being used to treat people. I thought this was something that can have a meaningful benefit not only on my life but the lives of others and I thought that was a noble cause to follow.
What encouraged you to come to Queen Mary for your PhD?
Queen Mary is obviously a good university; it’s up and coming, and it has this very unique and interesting PhD project I’m working on. It looks at the relationship between emotions and the immune system. Queen Mary is also known to have a strong track record of being very good with public engagement and communication which is something I am interested in.
In simple terms, can you describe your research for the William Harvey Research Institute?
My research looks at how your emotional state, so happy, sad, stressed or angry for example, effects your immune state. At the moment I’m specifically looking at how being in an enriched environment with a lot to do effects your immune system. At the moment the initial results seem to suggest that it makes your immune system stronger or better.
Congratulations on your success with the London Naturejobs Career Expo Journalism Competition. What interested you in the competition?
I always feel I should be writing more, it’s something I really enjoy, in science you don’t really get a chance to write for anyone outside a very specific audience. That was one of the main reasons for entering the competition, to see if I could still write and write well.
I entered a writing competition at Queen Mary called the Winning Words Competition before the London Naturejobs competition. I have been called to action in order to help set up the competition this year and I thoroughly recommend any postgraduates interested in writing to enter. Hopefully it will start up in January and the closing date will be in April. It’s open to all postgraduate students who just want to write about what they do. Click here to find out more about Winning Words.
Most of your articles for Naturejobs so far have been based on science communications. How do you source your articles?
I was given two articles as part of my brief, so I was told you need to attend this talk on science and communication and publishing papers, you can write about it using any angle you want. Those two were pretty simple, I wrote down what my feelings were about it and any useful information. The final piece on networking came about through me talking to people while I was at the conference. I noticed that a lot of the people who were at different booths, particularly international people, were there strictly for the purpose of networking. A lot of the English students were quite nervous and reluctant to be involved in that kind of thing so I thought it would be an interesting topic to approach.
Why do you think science communications is so important?
I think science communication is important for two key reasons. Firstly, science has such a massive impact on everybody’s lives and I think the only way we can have a meaningful and beneficial discussion about it with everyone, including the public, is by effectively communicating its importance and potential effects to them. Secondly, because science in England is funded almost exclusively, or at least indirectly, by the public so they have an investment in exactly what happens within it. Trying to help the public understand the difference between a trend and the results of something that is definitely happening is often challenging, as is trying to help people understand exactly what you’re saying without being overly patronising or being too specific because it’s boring and there’s no sense of perspective.
What have you learnt from your role as a journalist for Naturejobs so far?
It’s tough; I had a romantic ideal of writing where I visualised myself as one of those people in a coffee bar, typing on my laptop and gazing out into the street thoughtfully but actually it ended up with me being told you’ve got thirteen hours to write two 2,000 word articles. So it was me basically drinking coffee at three in the morning and swearing to myself as I typed into a keyboard. So it’s similar to science I suppose but it’s also very rewarding if you apply yourself and very satisfying seeing your work be published on the internet or as a paper article. It’s a very enjoyable experience.
What has been the best and worst part of your experience so far?
The best part was wandering around the conference as a journalist, I felt like I could speak to anyone, go anywhere and I was constantly having ideas for interesting things to talk about and people seemed generally interested in talking to me. That was a very liberating experience. The worst part, and I tried to prepare myself for it, was getting the first set of corrections back from the editor on the article. It was pretty relentless, just a sea of red comments on the first article, and I realised I had a lot of work to do. I got through it, I understood the mistakes I had made and where it needed to be changed, and it was a good learning process.
What advice would you give to budding science communication journalists?
Just do it, that is definitely my advice, I’ve been indecisive for so long. The easiest way, if you want to get into science communication, is to make sure people are aware you want to do it. I guarantee, if you’re working in research, there will be someone somewhere who will want you to help them do research because supervisors have to put out so many things in order to get funding. Just don’t be afraid, as long as you can express yourself fairly well you’ll be able to do something.
What direction do you see your career taking now?
I wish I knew, I do enjoy science but I also really enjoy writing. I would love to do something that involves both, neither are particular stable job markets at the moment which isn’t very helpful. Come back in a year and I’ll be able to tell you.
If you would like to learn more about Samuel Brod and his work for Naturejobs follow the links to his twitter and articles bellow: