ASC Scope Interview: Dr Sam Illingworth, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, School of Biological Sciences, UWA


Why did you choose to study science?

Following my compulsory science education in school, I chose to study science at A-level (exams that are studied and taken by 16-18-year-olds in the UK prior to University) because I loved trying to understand the world and the way in which we live. I pursued a combined undergraduate and master’s degree in Physics with Space Science and Technology at the University of Leicester because I had brilliant A-level physics teachers who instilled a love of the discipline into me. During my time at Leicester I fell in love with satellites and was lucky enough to do a PhD there as well, in which I used satellites to make measurements of greenhouse gases at the Earth’s surface. I then made the completely logical step of taking up a scholarship with the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation to study the relationship between science and theatre in Tokyo for a couple of years, which is where I first began to suspect that there might be more to the positivist mindset into which I had become indoctrinated…

Looking back now, what has been the best part of your career in SciComm?

Having the opportunity to combine poetry and science and to be in a position where I get to read, write, and perform poetry as part of my job. When I set up my blog The Poetry of Science a few years ago, it was on a bit of a whim. But as a result of that blog (which is still going strong), I have been able to build an entire community of practice, developing a research paradigm that combines poetic inquiry with science communication research and practice. As well as further outreach opportunities, such as the accompanying podcast, I have been fortunate enough to write a book, conduct a variety of research studies, and give keynote speeches all over the world. I can honestly say that I love my job, and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to continue this work in my current role as Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at The University of Western Australia.

Where has your career led you?

Literally right around the world. From the North of England to the West Coast of Australia, via Japan, China, and America. I have been lucky enough to study, teach, and research science communication all over the globe, and doing so has really helped me to better understand the need to diversify science, and to use my voice and privilege to create platforms for others to share their knowledge and expertise.

What excites you most about your work?

The opportunity to work with others and to learn from different publics about their expertise. I love collaborating and working with people who have different opinions on what science is and what it can be. If anyone reading this is interesting in connecting with me and potentially developing a collaboration then my Twitter feed is always open!

What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in SciComm?

Think about what area of SciComm you want to get into. Do you want to be a SciComm practitioner? Do you want to be a SciComm researcher? Do you want to be a scientist who has a side hustle in SciComm? Science communication is a varied field and there are many routes into it (and out of it!); thinking about which particular niche you want to occupy will help you to frame your work and where you sit within the wider SciComm environment.

What are some of the greatest challenges that you’ve overcome in your SciComm career?  

I’m not sure I’ve overcome them yet to be honest. The two biggest battles I face are trying to convince people that my work is about more than teaching people how to give good presentations, and that using poetry and games is a serious way in which to engender dialogue and participation in science. Helping to set up Consilience, the world’s first peer-reviewed poetry journal has gone some way to convince others of my intent, but there is still a way to go!

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