Introducing: Science On A Postcard

As well as my PhD I’m a freelance copywriter, currently working with 5 clients on a weekly basis. For some reason I decided that I just wasn’t busy enough, so I’ve also set up a little Etsy shop where I’m selling science postcards and prints. That little Etsy shop is called ‘Science On A Postcard’ and it’s also got its own Instagram page too.

How did Science On A Postcard start?

When I was younger I didn’t think I’d be a scientist – I planned on studying graphic design. I still like to doodle, and even throughout my science life I’ve injected creativity. I find drawing really relaxing. At the start of the year I started drawing, scanning drawings in to my laptop, and then messing about with them using Adobe Illustrator. Fast forward to a month or two ago, and I found myself really, really wanting to do this more regularly. Nothing career-changing, I just found it a really enjoyable way to get some head-space whilst communicating science at the same time. I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, and decided I should probably do something to encourage myself to keep up this little doodling habit I’d built up – and Science On A Postcard was suddenly a thing!
In fact, I was at London City Airport waiting for my flight back to Aberdeen after the ABSW’s Science Journalism Summer School when I set up the Instagram account and started making things a bit more solid.

Currently I have two prints/postcards designed and listed in my shop. I opened the shop last night and I had a whole 2 sales before I went to bed! Super exciting. I’m not looking to turn this into a job, or a substantial money-maker, I just really like doodling science. I also really love getting mail so this seemed like a cute little hobby to keep going in my spare time.

Over the next few months I want to design more prints/postcards that show other types of scientists – qualitative researchers, chemists, geologists, geneticists, planetary scientists.. etc etc. Eventually I’m hoping that there’s a whole range of postcards that can be used to briefly show what different scientific careers are like.

To see more from Science On A Postcard visit the Instagram page, or take a look at the Etsy shop. If you have ideas for science careers that you’d like to see presented in postcard format, please do get in touch and let me know!

6 Science Communicators I’m Learning From

I don’t know whether the world of science communication has blossomed in recent months, or if I’m just more aware of it. What’s clear is that the field is booming. The variety of methods being used is vast – there are people using everything from cross-stitch to live streaming to tell people about science. As I’ve said recently, I’m working to do science communication too; I want people to understand what clinical trials are, why we need them, and how to critique them. That said, I follow a lot of other science communicators – I find their science interesting, and I love seeing how them communicate the concepts central to other fields of science. Take a look at the science communicators I’ve been loving recently, and make sure to give them a follow too.


Samantha // Science Sam

For me, Sam is really at the forefront of pushing the use of Instagram for science. She regularly posts about her PhD research, providing easy to understand analogies for complex scientific processes. Not only that, but she’s a champion for women in STEM. Recently she drew attention to the horrendous advertising campaign that Benefit ran, facilitating a global discussion on the campaign via Twitter.

More recently, she is part of a cutting edge research project looking at how scientists represent themselves on Instagram, and how their selfies might influence public perception of scientists.


Alice // Gray Matter

I’ve watched Alice’s YouTube videos for months – she explains concepts related to the brain in short and snappy videos. Some of the topics she covers are pretty common – déjà vu for example, others are weird and wonderful ideas that I’ never heard of – e.g. can babies smell in the womb? Whatever she’s explaining, she managed to simply convey very complication scientific ideas, whilst making sure her viewers aren’t left overwhelmed or confused. I really recommend her channel; she manages to provide answers for questions I wasn’t even aware I had.


Natasha // Surviving Science

Natasha’s blog is one of my favourites at the moment. She blogs about her life as a PhD student, as well as explaining various scientific topics. Her research focusses on resistance mechanisms in targeted cancer therapies, which is something I know very little about – but the way she communicates somehow makes that really accessible.

She also manages to inject humour into her posts. Her latest post ‘7 reasons your western didn’t work (again)‘ had me laughing out loud as the memories from my last stint in a laboratory environment came flooding back.


Maria // Literally Viral and We Are Microbes

Maria is the driving force behind ‘We Are Microbes’, a super creative, and informative (soon to be) set of zines.

The first zine was published in June, and it focusses on science communication. I contributed to that zine – sending Maria a very basic Word document and a few doodles. She managed to integrate a huge variety of scicomm experiences into a professional-looking, engaging and beautiful zine. I was super proud to have been able to contribute, and I really look forward to the zines she has planned in the future.


Sophie // Soph Talks Science

Sophie was one of the first science communicators I ever followed – her name seems to be everywhere! She’s writes her own blog, contributes to others, runs a brilliant Instagram account, but recently I’ve been loving her content on Twitter. Her Twitter feed is the one place where I can keep track of all the projects that she’s involved in! She also retweets content from other science communicators that I find super useful too. Really, she’s one of those women in science that truly champions other women in science too – if you’re not following her, you should be.


Steph // Embroidology

Steph is ridiculously talented. She creates super cute hand embroidery designs that stem from science.

Honestly I don’t even know where she got this idea from, or how on earth she can create such adorable science art – if I had a wall at my desk (my desk’s in front of the window) I’d be all over these! They’d be great as gifts too. Her designs are usually on embroidery hoops, but in the past she’s sold clothing, mugs, and cushions with her designs on too. I’m really looking forward to the opening of her new Etsy shop to see what new products she’s got, and which old ones make it back.


Who are your favourite science communicators? Leave suggestions in the comments, I’m always looking for new scicommers to inspire and educate me!

ABSW Science Journalism Summer School 2017

Recently I’ve been really trying to up my sci-comm game. To improve my writing, I think it’s important to write lots, and read lots, but sometimes networking and more structured training just can’t be beaten. I joined the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) last month, which was perfect timing for their summer school. I booked the day off work and signed up straight away.

On Wednesday 5th July I got flew from Aberdeen to London on the red-eye flight, and got to the Wellcome Trust building just after the first session so I didn’t miss too much after a 5am alarm! I know lots followed along on Twitter (#abswss17), so I’ve compiled my huge pile of notes for those of you who couldn’t make it.

ABSW delegate bags

Session 1: New media trends
Where are our audiences? The latest insights about digital news consumption from the Digital News Report 2017

Nic Newman, research associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and lead author of the digital news report
Moderator: Martin Ince, Treasurer, ABSW board and freelance science writer

As I said, I missed this session – I was somewhere between London City Airport and Euston Street so I followed along on Twitter for this one too. A few highlights:

Session 2: The role of critical science journalism in the fake news world

Alok Jha, Science Correspondent, ITV
Moderator: Pallab Ghosh, Honorary President, ABSW and science correspondent for BBC

This was a brilliant session drawing attention to the rise of fake news, and discussing solutions that journalists can use to combat false information. What I particularly enjoyed was Alok’s personal experience and learnings over the course of his career; “Fake news isn’t new in science journalism – it’s the speed of the tidal wave in recent times that’s shocking“. Alok explained that when he started his career he truly believed that producing and spreading high quality, accurate journalism was enough to combat so-called fake news. Now an experienced journalist, he calls his past-self ‘naive’ and the spread of good news vs bad ‘not helpful’. So what can we do? People are not stupid, but the world is not always logical and rational, so reporters need to stop giving ‘the view from nowhere’ and provide critique and advocacy for good science.

Panel 1: Pitching skills – how and where to sell you story ideas

Helen Thomson, freelance science journalist and consultant for New Scientist
Inga Vesper, freelance science journalist
Aisling Irwin, acting editor, SciDev.Net
Joshua Howgego, features editor at New Scientist
Laura Greenhalgh, assistant policy editor, Politico
Moderator: Mico Tatalovic, Chair, ABSW board and Environment and Life Sciences News Editor, New Scientist

At first I didn’t really think this session was particularly relevant to me, but after listening to the speakers the idea of pitching articles to editors actually sounded like something I might be able to do in the future.

Tips I picked up from the session:

  • General topics are not good pitches – you need a clear story with developed characters
  • It needs to be new – check the archive of magazines and Google news
  • It should have moved science on – small steps happen in science every day, why is this step so special?
  • Does it make you go ‘WOW!’? – surprise is always good
  • It needs to be relevant – how is this story relevant to readers? That could be application or interest
  • Would you tell your friends down the pub? – the ‘pub test’ is tried and tested, if you’d tell your friends it’s likely to get commissioned
  • You need to be an expert – don’t pitch an article that you haven’t done a significant amount of research for
  • Don’t patronise the Editor, but do write in accessible language

Panel 2: Investigative science reporting

‘Why investigative journalism matters, with examples from science’ by Rachel Oldroyd, managing editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
‘How we uncovered Google Deep Mind’s secret NHS data grab’ by Hal Hodson, technology reporter at the Economist (previously New Scientist), and Will Douglas Heaven, freelance (previously chief technology editor at New Scientist and editor of BBC Future Now).
Moderator: Jack Serle, Vice-Chair, ABSW board and reporter Bureau of Investigative Journalism

I found this session the most intriguing. Investigative reporting has never been something I thought I’d do, but hearing about it was so interesting, and if I ever do stumble across a story worthy of substantial investigation it’s now something I might think about exploring. Hearing from Hal Hudson and Will Douglas Heaven was a good case study for this; from stumbling across a story right through to breaking it and ultimately becoming a part of the story through further developments. There was one aspect of this subject that was missing; how do you fund investigative journalism? In usual cases of journalism writers are paid a set amount per word, or per article. If that was the case with investigative pieces then journalists would be bankrupt – it’s a process that can take months, and it requires a huge time investment to uncover genuine stories that are relevant to the public interest.

Session 3: Data journalism skills

Jonathan Stoneman, Freelance trainer in Open Data
Moderator: Wendy Grossman, ABSW board member and freelance journalist

Data is something lots of people find intimidating – especially when there’s lots of it. With this talk, Jonathan Stoneman somehow made ‘having a chat’ with your data a thing I feel like I could do – amazing! He described data as ‘just another source’ that you need to dig through, interview, chat to, and play around with in order to find the best stories. You need to ask it questions and really think about what it is telling you. Some resources that Jonathan mentioned:

Side note:

Session 4: EurekAlert!’s science news service and media survey results

Brian Lin, director of editorial content strategy at EurekAlert!
Moderator: Mico Tatalovic, Chair, ABSW board and Environment and Life Sciences News Editor, New Scientist

EurekAlert! is an online, global news service operated by AAAS, the science society. EurekAlert! provides a central place through which universities, medical centers, journals, government agencies, corporations and other organizations engaged in research can bring their news to the media. Brian Lin explained more about how EurekAlert! has grown over the years, what the service can offer, and why journalists really should be signed up to it. Brian also unveiled the results of EurekAlert!’s 2017 reporter survey.

I don’t qualify to be signed up to EurekAlert! just yet – more journalism experience required! Once I start writing professionally, I’ll definitely be signing up though. It sounds like a brilliant platform for finding out about fresh science.

Panel 3: Successful freelancing

Mark Peplow, freelance science journalist
Max Glaskin, an award-winning journalist and the author of Cycling Science
Inga Vesper, freelance science journalist
Moderator: Jack Serle, Vice-Chair, ABSW board and reporter Bureau of Investigative Journalism

I had to rush out at the beginning of this session to go and catch my flight back to Aberdeen, so again I was following along on Twitter with everyone else. I’d recommend getting in touch with the journalists who presented in this session if you’re looking for advice on freelancing; all day these guys were giving advice and encouragement to those of us at the very beginning of our journalism careers, so I’m sure they’d be happy to answer questions. Mark:, Max:, Inga:

Didn’t make it to #abswss17 and still want to know more? Check out a storify of the event here. I’d totally recommend signing up for membership with ABSW whether you’re looking to begin a science journalism career, you want to learn more about the journalism industry, or you’re a pro. They’re a wonderfully friendly and supportive group, and their events attract people with a wealth of knowledge – it’s a brilliant networking opportunity.

I also met up with Mary who is running The STEM Squad’s Instagram page this week – I love it when contacts stop being online profile and start being real-life people. Definitely follow The STEM Squad if you’re a woman in science looking for support and inspiration.

After a super full and tiring day, I left feeling inspired and driven to push myself to do more. Science communication isn’t something that a lot of early career researchers get the chance to be involved with, but I’m going to make a conscious effort to communicate my research, and the process of getting to research findings, as best I can. Do keep an eye on the ABSW events page if you’re looking for events like this in the future!