Turning science into stories: work experience in science communications

21st July 2023

Our communications team recently welcomed UEA Broadcast Journalism student Jasmin Jessen to the team for two weeks experience. We caught up with Jasmin to find out more about her interests and time in the comms team.

Jasmin smiling in a radio studio

“I remember making a list of jobs I wanted when I grow up – at the top was being the next star on Disney Channel, and underneath was journalist. At twelve years old I decided I wanted to be a scientist and picked my GCSEs and A levels based on that. I did work placement with Imperial College London and Guy’s Hospital and worked on exciting things like NHS human genome sequencing and understanding drug resistant TB.

Before starting university, I started to feel doubts about my future, so I went right back to my childhood list of jobs. My interests range from makeup to mRNA, and I wanted to explore them all.

I’ve just finished my second year of BA Broadcast and Multimedia Journalism at UEA, which is the scariest (but best) decision I ever made. I’m a shy writer by nature, but TV and radio diversify my creative skills, so I took the plunge and I’m loving it. If you met me two years ago you wouldn’t believe I’m the same person – I was so shy I couldn’t even make a phone call.

My lecturer Julian Sturdy told me about the Quadram Institute; I’m the go-to science girl in our university newsroom, so he suggested I reach out for a placement here. I love explaining science to people – you can see things start to click in their brain. It’s incredibly important that we understand ourselves and the world around us to make the best decisions.

So far, I’ve heard stories before anyone else, made fun infographics, and even attended a conference. Everything I’ve had a chance to experience has given me new perspectives as a journalist – knowing how and why a press release is structured lets me find the most interesting building blocks for my own stories. I’ve also met the right people to contact when I’m trying to cover a new discovery.

The comms team are passionate and amazing mentors; I feel like I learn at least 100 new skills every day. Most importantly, I’m seeing real-world examples of translating science into understandable and enjoyable content for your everyday audience.

You could show someone the most life changing research, but if they can’t understand it, they won’t care.

It’s not easy to take years of work from an experienced team and turn it into plain English – I’ve found myself on tangential deep dives in papers from the 60s a few times. I’ve sat at my desk scratching my head, trying to make UTIs interesting to people on Twitter.

A similar challenge exists in journalism, but the amount of background needed to communicate science accurately adds another layer of difficulty to the translation. I’ve read six papers on a topic, but I have 12 seconds to explain it to you and make it interesting.

Every time I try again, it gets a little bit easier. I’ve been working on a story about soil science for my university portfolio and after seeing how it’s done at Quadram I finished it in double speed.

I’m not saying I’ll be the next Hank Green, but I’d certainly like to be.”