Life outside the laboratory: my MSc Science Communication experience

Amie PeltzerAmie Peltzer is a graduate of the MSc Science Communication course at Manchester. She talks about how she came to study on the course and how the skills she has developed have helped her outside of academia.

During my school years, I enjoyed writing and I enjoyed science, but I thought it would be really difficult to combine the two at university. Let’s face it: they are two rather different disciplines.

In the end, I made the decision to do science at A-level and go on to do a BSc Biomedical Science course for my undergraduate degree, something which was extremely rewarding that I certainly don’t regret, but it did close the door, just for a little while, on writing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the course – it was as interesting as it was challenging, and I graduated with a first class BSc degree, fond friendships, invaluable life experience and a greater understanding and fascination for the workings of the human body. But could I see myself working in a laboratory for the rest of my career? Unfortunately, no.

Decisions, decisions…

By chance, one of the few undergraduate dissertations on offer was a non-laboratory based research dissertation, looking at social media and health communication. As an avid social media user, this topic really intrigued me and I found that I really enjoyed learning about the different online platforms for healthcare and applying the skills I had developed during my degree to something slightly different.

This opened my eyes to the world of medical and science communication, and it was something I wanted to continue to explore in a master’s degree.

Hello, Manchester

Manchester is one of a handful of universities that offers an MSc Science Communication course for students wanting to bridge the gap between scientific studies and the communication of science to a wider audience. For me, this was the opportunity to return to my love of writing and combine it with the knowledge I had gained during my undergraduate degree.

But the course itself opened my eyes to so much more than just writing about science.

Throughout the year, I worked on various projects such as writing news articles, blog posts, academic essays, helping out with radio shows and working on public engagement platforms at events across Manchester for organisations such as Cancer Research UK. My time here helped me to experience what life is like as a science communicator and the importance of the role in the everyday community.

The course itself is made up of interesting and engaging modules, from learning about the history of science, technology and medicine to learning how to create a storyboard for a fictional science-related film or TV show and from working with companies on creative scientific engagement projects to writing academic-style blogs based on exciting news or developments in all areas of science – there was no limit to the topics you could choose to focus on, and all the staff at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) were more than eager to support everyone with any ideas!

At the beginning of the course, I was unaware of just how many different routes were open to science communicators – there are a lot of different options depending on your scientific background and communication strengths. The MSc course certainly helped me create a solid grounding in ‘scicomm’ from which I can now build upon in the future.

‘Science Busking’ and Science Festivals

Alongside the course itself, I became a regular ‘science busker’, someone who works at various science-related events or festivals throughout the year performing science tricks, with the aim of getting audiences excited about and interested in everyday science!

Amie Peltzer at open day
Working as a science busker at a University of Manchester open day

I have worked at the Science Spectacular at the Manchester Museum and during British Science Week for Cancer Research UK, as well as working at other events such as music festivals, national science festivals and university open days.

Fun, challenging but extremely rewarding – engaging public audiences with science is not a skill that is mastered overnight, but working at events like these have certainly boosted my confidence and communication abilities. My favourite science-busking trick? Balloon kebabs!

Why consider science communication?

Science communication exists everywhere. You can watch it on TV through documentaries like Planet Earth, you can read about it on the commute to work in the newspapers and you can even see it depicted on the big screen through the medium of film. The platforms of possibility are endless and the impact science communication has is extremely important.

Science is the fundamental backbone of how the world works and it’s important to have people trained in the ways of communicating science in an engaging, informative and responsible manner to make sure that the public are aware of the wonders, possibilities and new discoveries in the world of science!

So, where has my university experience led me? I have recently started working as a Graduate Trainee Medical Writer with a small but growing medical communications company, a postgraduate placement which has so far allowed me to combine both my degree backgrounds and put them to good use.

I am thoroughly enjoying my first full-time job outside academia; it’s taken a lot of hard work but I’m thrilled it has paid off and I am looking forward to my winter graduation later this year (and I am still science busking and volunteering at science festivals on the side!).

For any scientists out there wishing to delve into a new world outside laboratories, there are lots of opportunities as a science communicator I never even considered before starting this course. If working in a laboratory isn’t for you, but you have just finished a degree doing exactly that and are feeling stuck with what to do next, take a look at what life as a science communicator holds and see if it is for you.

Best of luck!

Find out more about the MSc Science Communication course at Manchester.

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2 thoughts on “Life outside the laboratory: my MSc Science Communication experience

  1. Hi, what would you say are interesting things that stuck out about the course, way of teaching, other academic aspects?

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    1. Hi Michael,

      I’d say that the course was split quite well between lots of interesting modules and we were given the option to choose which areas to focus on during the second semester. In the first semester, students focused on introductions to sci-comm, HSTM and the key skills required of a science communicator. In the second semester, students chose their topic areas (mine being ‘Journalism/Media’ and ‘Government/Science Policy’) and we were able to receive real-world learning from industry experts, such as documentary-makers, film script-writers, journalists, freelance writers, researchers and policy advisers, all of whom were supportive and eager to help with any advice they could give to us moving forward in the world of sci-comm.

      Being a postgraduate taught course, the majority of assessments were written pieces of work, mostly made up of academic research essays into areas either chosen by academics or by students themselves, with other written pieces including blog posts, film or documentary proposals. A really interesting module is the student-led project, which varied broadly across the board of students this year. I worked with Cancer Research UK on a public engagement project whilst some of my course-mates worked on developing apps, museum exhibitions or video-material for scientific education. The final module is a dissertation – the dreaded module that almost everyone hears about at university for lots of different courses. I found this challenging but also really interesting – I was able to focus on healthcare communication in online media, returning to my undergraduate routes. Again, you were able to specialize in areas you found most engaging and interesting. The course was quite flexible, accommodating and thoroughly enjoyable throughout the year – it provided introductions to a wide scope of platforms from which science communicators can work from in the future.

      I highly recommend. Hope that answers your question!

      Amie

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