Freya develops her communication skills with the Life Science Centre in Newcastle.

Freya develops her communication skills with the Life Science Centre in Newcastle.

Freya Varden has always been interested in a possible career in science communication so used her PIPS internship to explore this. Freya, a PhD student at the John Innes Centre, spent her 12 week internship at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle, from September to December 2015.

The main objective of the internship was to experience multiple aspects of the science communication programme at Life. “I was keen to see how a large, science-focused visitor attraction was organised and run” says Freya. During the internship, Freya was very fortunate in that she was able to be a part of a number of different projects and departments, which gave her a good overview of how the science communication at Life is developed and delivered.

Freya’s main duties during the internship were the development of a number of activities for the public. She was expected to report upon her work regularly to other team members and in addition, helped with delivering educational workshops to school groups, and planning and executing different events for the public. This meant working with a number of different staff and being responsible for her own time management.

“One of my tasks during my internship was to design an activity suitable for toddlers on ‘preschool day’. This activity needed to be enjoyable, robust and safe for very young children with adult supervision”. The activity Freya chose was mess-free finger painting, which seemed successful, and received positive feedback from the visitors. Freya also wrote an article for the Science Centre’s blog to introduce and advertise the activity, giving her new experience in working with very young children and engaging families with science. Freya also designed an experiment for the Centre’s ‘Experiment Zone’ where the public were given an opportunity to try out basic science experiments in a laboratory setting.

Another project was the organisation of Maker Faire UK 2016, a large weekend festival held at Life celebrating crafters, coders and all types of Makers. Freya’s task was to identify and contact potential food and drink Makers who might be suitable for inviting to the Faire. This involved researching a large number of artisan food and drink producers and assessing their suitability for Maker Faire and then inviting them to attend, as well as answering their questions. “I was successful in raising interest from a number of sources, and this improved my communication skills” says Freya.

Freya found her internship experience to be fun and rewarding, learning how complex scientific concepts can be turned into enjoyable activities and workshops to be delivered to a range of audiences. She developed her own communication skills with school groups, family audiences and the media and learnt about the practical aspects of public engagement, such as health and safety considerations and budgeting. She also helped out with organising a number of different events, giving her great experience in planning and time management. “Although delivering activities to the public can be daunting, a positive outcome is extremely rewarding, and this helped to boost my self-confidence”, says Freya. On her first day of placement, Freya was asked to do a radio interview with local radio to talk about her experiences as a young scientist; “Getting thrown in at the deep end gave me a new experience in media communication and confidence to take on unexpected challenges”.

Working with a range of people gave Freya plenty of networking opportunities and also helped her to explore possible career paths in science communication that she had not considered before, which opened her eyes to new career options.

Freya’s advice for students on PIPS internships would be to take as many opportunities as possible, including jobs that take you out of your comfort zone as this will allow you to develop more skills and gain more from the experience.