Smiling Alex Borg

Communicating science | John Innes Center

Earlier this year, we welcomed Rothamsted PhD student Alex Borg for his Industry Work Placement (PIP) within the Communications and Engagement team.

Alex wanted to experience working in science communication and in this blog we hear about his experiences from the three month internship in the team.

“I am Alex, a third year PhD student who has just completed a three month Industry Work Placement (IPP) with the Communications and Engagement team here at the John Innes Centre.

Originally from Malta, I have lived, worked and studied in the UK for five years. My PhD is based in the chemical ecology group at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, working on the study of aphid resistance mechanisms in wheat. My project is part of the BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Program (DTP) and is affiliated with the University of Nottingham.

The three-month PIPs are part of the doctoral program and are designed to give students the opportunity to learn new skills that you would not otherwise get in your studies. The aim is to help you understand the context of your research in the wider world.

PIPs are also a great way to explore potential career paths. It is encouraged that the placement be in a field, industry or topic that is not directly related to your research.

Science communication is often overlooked, but it is an important part of research and academia. Science communicators inform, educate and raise awareness of scientific discoveries and issues to a wider audience, inside and outside the scientific community.

Prior to this placement, the only science communication experience I had was short stints with the communications team at Rothamsted, where I had participated in public events. I wanted to learn more about what science communication had to offer, so I looked for a PIP in the field.

I secured this placement by contacting the team directly to ask if they would be interested in hosting me, and luckily they said yes.

After an initial introduction, we collaboratively developed a plan that involved assisting with the day-to-day activities of the team, and a plan for interviews and the production of new content covering research from Professor Mark Banfield’s lab.

Before I started, I was unaware of the diversity of science communication. During my first few weeks of daily help, I realized how much variety there was.

My activities ranged from visiting the media, including BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today and ITV News, to organizing public engagement events such as distributing leaflets, helping to illustrate student tours , social media management, creation of internal newsletters and organization of events for staff and students.

I enjoyed this variety. The nature of the role and the team meant that no day or week was ever the same, keeping the job exciting and meeting a wide range of interesting people from different backgrounds.

A lot of my work involved writing articles for internal news, external news, and blog posts. It was something new for me. The team gave me a crash course in blog writing and interviewing researchers, and I got stuck.

Different from the scientific writing style I’m used to for my PhD, it was a breath of fresh air to write articles aimed at a more general audience and in a more conversational style of writing, in the case of articles by blog.

These articles covered research throughout the John Innes Center, so I quickly became familiar with the basics of a lot of interesting research across the institute. I also got the chance to do some filming and photography, which was a great opportunity to learn some new skills, some of which ended up in the Wall Street Journal video about the purple tomato.

Part of my internship was to work with Professor Mark Banfield and his team to produce a series of articles covering his group. To do this, I interviewed Mark and two other members of his team: postdoctoral researchers Dr. Adam Bentham and doctoral student Caroline Stone.

The objective of this project was to present their work on plant-pathogen interactions and to highlight their different professional and academic backgrounds.

As my own PhD project is in a different area than Mark’s, it was fascinating to learn about another area of ​​plant biology. As part of this coverage, I wrote new web pages explaining the Banfield Group’s research and produced an animation project, something totally new to me.

Perhaps playing on millennial stereotypes, one aspect I really enjoyed about the internship was helping out with the John Innes Center social media. I wrote and scheduled posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram for various articles and blog posts. This culminated in an Instagram takeover during my last week of placement. I found it fascinating to see all the statistics behind social media posts, how the public engages online through these platforms, and how social media is used by a research institute.

I learned more from this internship than I ever imagined. It was an enjoyable and unforgettable experience, meeting amazing people and learning about some cutting edge science being conducted here at the John Innes Center and Norwich Research Park.

The skills I learned were invaluable and will help me with my PhD and my future career, whatever that may be.

I would highly recommend a PIP in Science Communication if it is something that interests you and is possible for you. My advice is to contact the communications and engagement team at any research institute or university, as they will probably be happy for you to contact them. »

This blog was written by Alex Borg, while he was on an Industry Work Placement (IPP) with the Communications and Engagement team at the John Innes Centre. Alex is a student in the BBSRC-funded Doctoral Training Program (DTP), affiliated with the University of Nottingham.

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