Since Bluesci’s first issue ten years ago, countless members have contributed to the ongoing success of the magazine. Although they played many different roles, they all had one thing in common: their passion for science communication. To celebrate BlueSci’s tenth anniversary, six past BlueSci members would like to share their stories with our readers, confiding their experiences while working for BlueSci, and where they’ve been afterwards.
Rachel Mundy; first managing editor
After joining Cambridge University Science Productions (CUSP) – a Cambridge University society dedicated to promoting science through the media – Rachel was appointed Head
of Writing in 2003. In this role, in collaboration with CUSP Chairman, Björn Haßler, and committee member, Helen Stimpson, the idea for a popular science magazine to make Cambridge- based scientific achievements accessible to all was conceived. “I recognised that fantastic, internationally and historically renowned scientific discoveries at Cambridge were not widely known throughout the university, so I wanted to create a magazine product that promoted the understanding and awareness of science in an engaging format whilst providing a breeding ground for the next generation of science writers.”
Rachel set about drawing up a business plan to move the project forward and crucially recruited a new and dedicated founding committee who tirelessly worked to bring this project into realisation, producing a first issue. The second issue quickly followed with new committee members. After leaving Cambridge, Rachel went on to study science communication, at Royal Holloway University of London, and then launched her career as a freelance science journalist. Devising the concept of BlueSci and working on the very early stages of its existence helped Rachel consolidate her passion for science in the media and opened up opportunities to pursue this as a career.
Lou Woodley; co-founder of BlueSci
As a member of the BlueSci founding team, Lou worked as the magazine’s Managing Editor for two and a half years. She still sees BlueSci as one of the most enjoyable projects she’s ever worked on, as it was crucial for deciding what to do after Cambridge. The 360° view she got of science communication by being involved in all stages of producing a magazine – from event management and house style discussions to recruiting new team members and sponsors – made her realise that she was more suited for a science communication job than lab-based research. So, she swapped her lab-coat for a laptop and joined Nature Publishing Group (NPG) as an intern in their Web Publishing department, working with new tools and technologies for communicating science. This internship eventually became a full time position that lasted five years, where she worked on community-focused projects such as Nature Network, the nature.com blogs and the SpotOn series of events in London and New York.
Her time at NPG gave her enough experience to go freelance and combine paid work with her own projects such as MySciCareer – a science careers website – and her blog ‘Social in Silico’, where she shares her thoughts about online communities and the science of online communication. Lou’s career advice would be: “Don’t be scared to create the job you want by combining the things you’re passionate about. And don’t worry if it doesn’t seem to exist yet; many of the tools I use and the questions I’m thinking about on a daily basis weren’t at all mainstream five years ago.”
Tom Walters; first production manager
Tom joined the BlueSci team before the first issue came out, after seeing an advert about a new science magazine that was being founded. Things were just getting started, and he remembers being impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of everyone at
the first meeting. Since he’d previously worked on production and design for Varsity, he ended up as the main design and production manager for the first few issues, or at least that was his official role. In fact, at that stage everything was so new that everyone did a bit of everything.
He remembers that while they were brainstorming the design of the first issue, most of the team ended up on a field trip to Borders bookshop to work out how other magazines presented themselves and noting down design ideas. The fun and adrenaline rush of finally getting the first issue to the printers totally hooked him, and he stuck around for another couple of years, ending up with a stint as editor for issue six.
During all this, and the much procrastinated over PhD work, he landed an internship at Google, and there he found a very similar scrappy, “everyone does a bit of everything to get the job done” culture that he’d enjoyed so much while working for BlueSci. He’s still at Google now, working as a Research Scientist in the Zurich office. He says his experience with BlueSci definitely helped his career. In the short term, it gave him a whole bunch of useful talking points for his initial Google interviews, and more importantly it showed him just how much fun it is to work in a small, well-motivated team doing something for the very first time.
Jon Heras; illustrator, producer and president
Jon was involved in BlueSci issues three to nineteen as illustrator, producer and copy editor. He was also in the video team and served as president for one year. After graduating he founded Equinox Graphics, and now makes a living by producing science
and engineering artwork, a mixture of stills and animation. He says the most rewarding thing about having been involved with BlueSci was seeing his artwork in print, which gave him a real buzz.
He learned how to be creative to a deadline: “The magazine is going to press, so you’d better be ready!”, and to work in a team, “It’s hard when you know you’re right, but compromise and listening always gets the best result”. Working for BlueSci also gave him the opportunity to develop skills and learn from lots of talented people. This experience also opened options for him when he graduated. He admits it hasn’t been an easy path: “I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and it’s taken a while to find my niche, to develop my skills and portfolio, and to find enough clients to generate a steady stream of work. But it’s more rewarding and creative than just taking a run-of-the-mill job. Every day is different, and I’m continuously learning about science, art and visual effects.”
Laura Blackburn; news writer and editor
Research didn’t quite work out for Laura, and writing became her Plan B. She joined BlueSci after contributing an article to the first issue, as the one- person news team, then as news editor and features editor. A series of fortunate events after her PhD led her to a 6-month news internship at Science, and then to a year’s maternity cover as a journal news and views editor. Her current job as a scientific communication officer at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute covers many things: on the science communications side, writing for and editing reports, booklets and websites and answering public enquires by e-mail and phone; on the science administration side, organising conferences and seminars, student support, and helping to develop policies and processes, the most recent being how best to teach students about plagiarism. Her two key pieces of career advice are: “If you’re interested in science communications jobs you should: 1) follow the money, as research funders always need good communicators, and 2) join the PSCI- COM e-mail list (www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ psci-com).”
Ewan St. John Smith; focus
and submissions editor
Ewan joined as editor for several BlueSci issues. After his PhD he moved to Berlin where he spent more than five years investigating the weird and wonderful world of the naked mole-rat, identifying the molecular basis for the insensitivity of these rats to a noxious stimulus. Then he spent a year in New York at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, examining CO2-mediated neuronal activation in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. In 2013 he took a University lectureship position in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge. His group’s research focuses on understanding the effect of CO2 on neuronal activity and the neural basis of pain. Besides his very successful career as a researcher he still enjoys public outreach work, having taken part in Berlin’s Long Night of Science and the Cambridge Science Festival. In addition he has done podcasts for Science, The Physiological Society and The Naked Scientist.
Christine Weber is a BlueSci alumni currently at Kings College London