MSc Science Communication student, Ben Harris, is at the halfway point in his journey to completing his postgraduate degree and is enjoying every minute of it. Ever since completing a BSc in Zoology, Ben has been searching for career inspiration, and the MSc has certainly played a part in helping him find that. Ben’s passion lies in visual storytelling and hopes to build a career doing just that. Read on to find out what convinced him to undertake an MSc in Science Communication and witness a selection of his wildlife photographs along the way…
During my undergrad in zoology, I was surrounded by people who had a passion for something. Whether it was birds, bugs or being in the lab, it seemed like everyone had a purpose, a destination. Except for me.
Upon graduation I left the UK to spend some time abroad; the gap year (or three) that I didn’t get to have after sixth form. Nothing says confused millennial more than booking a one-way ticket to a far off land. Obviously I had to document this grand adventure, and what better excuse to buy my first camera?
I settled on a GoPro HD Hero 4. As I’m sure those of you with a background in science will agree, any new hobby requires extensive research before actually starting. So I created a YouTube account and began watching and learning.
The time finally came to leave the U.K. and make my first video. I was hooked.
Here was my passion. To tell stories through a visual medium, whether it be photo or video. Slowly the focus of these stories came full circle back to science. My whole life I’ve been fascinated by documentaries such as Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Life. A lifelong subscriber of National Geographic, I often daydreamed of being a photo-journalist and travelling the world taking photos that showcased the incredible feats of science and conservation being performed by people.
Flash forward three years and it was time to return home and start building a career. But what to do?
I’d been dabbling with the idea of an MSc in biosciences but I knew this wasn’t the right choice because what excited me the most was the prospect of creating videos about the field trips. However, when I discovered Manchester’s Science Communication MSc, the choice was obvious.
Science communication is littered with uses of visual media. The public, it turns out, love pictures and videos. Documentaries, wildlife photography, health ads, propaganda, Instagram and YouTube are all examples of visual communication that we wrote about in term one.
The lectures and seminars provide a basis for your interests and serve the purpose of showing you what’s out there. The assignment focus is left largely up to you, with the questions being just specific enough to give you direction, yet vague enough to allow you to pursue your own interests.
This flexibility to write about what inspires you not only keeps you motivated but also ensures that you learn more about what you’re interested in, as opposed to what you’re not. For example, I know I want to go into the field of broadcasting, so I’ve centred all my assignments around that field. So far, I’ve written a documentary proposal, done critical analyses of Before The Flood and The Imitation Game and written a blog post about Planet Earth II.
The most exciting part of the course is yet to come. The bulk of term two is taken up by a dissertation and a mentor project. The dissertation is a research project based in science communication, and the lecturers help to guide you towards a subject that will be beneficial, interesting and original in it’s content.
The mentor project is the piece that counts the most towards the degree. After expressing what field you’re interested in going into, you will be assigned a mentor who is a professional in that industry. I’m currently working with a production company who make mini-documentaries for The One Show on the BBC. My project is likely to involve writing a pitch for one of these documentaries, which could result in my work being submitted for selection if it’s deemed good enough!
Our lectures in term two take the form of full day workshops based around the chosen subject. One of my modules is called Science, Media & Journalism. Workshops are lead by lecturers, and feature guest speakers who are professionals in the industry.
Term two is where the theory gets put into practice. We take part in pitching activities, policy debates and acting activities. Each module has three of these workshops, and although you’re only assessed on two, they are all open to everyone.
Alongside all of this, Manchester is a fantastic city to live in. Surrounded by four national parks and steeped in history, it’s an up-and-coming SciComm hub with opportunities for exploration of every kind.
I’m very excited about where this degree, and the connections I’ve made during it, will take me and my coursemates. There are so many more options than I ever imagined in relation to science communication. If you’re a scientist who thinks that the lab-life might not be for you, have a look at the wealth of jobs you could potentially do in the field of science communication. There are jobs for every personality and skill-set, and it could take you all over the world!
To see more of Ben’s photography you can follow him on Instagram here