What is your favorite part about being a scientist and how did you get interested in science in general? I remember long visits to the Berlin zoo with my father where we spent hours nurturing our shared passion for the natural world and fulfilling our curiosity. When I was seven years old, I asked for an encyclopaedia for Christmas and I recall the absolute joy I felt when I was presented with a huge book full of knowledge. I read it front to back. My second huge passion is music, and I diverted my attention away from science towards hard rock for a number of years before going back to my roots and returning to university at 37 to study first Environmental and Sustainability Sciences (BSc) and then Marine Environmental Protection (MSc). My favourite part of being a scientist is that the learning never stops, the exploring, re-thinking, questioning and boundary-pushing. I love meeting all the inspiring colleagues and I love being able to pass my knowledge on to others and trade it in for theirs. This is why I am especially interested in transdisciplinary work and science communication.
In laymen’s terms, what do you do? Currently, I mainly run The Plover Rovers, a marine science communication charity which I founded last year when I was put on furlough from my job as a benthic taxonomist – benthic taxonomists spend most of their time staring down microscopes, identifying tiny marine invertebrates. I’m loving all the outreach and communication I get to do with the charity and meeting all the wonderful colleagues who want to get out there and talk about their passion.
How does your research/goals/outreach contribute to the understanding of climate change, evolution, paleontology, or to the betterment of society in general? With the Plover Rovers we want to enable knowledge exchange between science and local communities. We want to bridge the gap between science and society – we believe science can play an important part in empowering communities by giving them the broader knowledge to understand what is happening locally, what affects them in their day-to-day life, like flooding, collapsing fish stocks, pollution, or offshore energy installations; to put it all into a bigger context. At the same time, we believe that scientists need to regularly talk to people outside of academia, people who deal with the effects of the issues the scientists are researching. With the “Talking the Coast” project, we hope to help establish lasting direct links between marine scientists and local communities and help make marine science accessible for a broad demographic. Our events will not just be pure science. We want to collaborate with local partners to provide some hands-on outdoor activities, with artists and sustainable businesses, for example, local micro-breweries or small-scale fisherfolk, to design events which appeal to a wide audience. By improving the ocean literacy of coastal communities, we are adding our little grain of sea salt to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
What methods do you use to engage your community/audiences? What have you found to be the best way to communicate science? We strongly believe in the power of positive messaging, of giving people a sense of empowerment and purpose rather than scaring them stiff with doom and gloom messages. Communicating about the ocean in ways that enhances and increases awareness, concern, connection and positive behaviours, requires an understanding of how different people and communities think about, and value, the ocean. Crucially, we want to focus on understanding where people are, what their values are currently, and exploring how these can be used to develop effective communication around the ocean and ocean literacy. In order to achieve this, we use a four-tiered approach: 1. Present relevant science with a focus on dialogue rather than top-down knowledge transfer 2. Collaborate with artists to provide an additional more emotive access to the topic 3. Collaborate with local organisations to provide people with the possibility of local engagement 4. Heritage & storytelling: We collect stories from local people to explore and understand their connection to the sea, their concerns, hopes and visions.
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists? Follow your dreams, don’t stress, accept that life is never a straight line (and who’d want that anyway– a cardiac flatline means you’re dead!) and free yourself from concepts like “making a career”, “rising up through the ranks”, “competition” and “better salaries with a PhD” – all of these concepts are rooted in a capitalist system focused more on competition and hierarchies than on knowledge gain and collaboration. Build a good support network, seek out the out-of-the-box thinkers, act on crazy ideas, be bold, explore, change the world.