Two weeks ago, I travelled to Kyoto to report on the Materials Research Society-Japan Society of Applied Physics joint symposium. What an amazing experience! I had never reported on a live event before, so I was immediately over my head. But by the end of the conference, however, I had finally gotten my bearings and was holding my own.
What I noticed was that I use a different kind of listening when I go to a talk as a reporter compared to when I go as a scientist. Usually, as a scientist, I go to talks within my field and await the presentation of a new, but not entirely unexpected result. I understand the techniques and the approach, and I look for accuracy and novelty. As a reporter, I was attending talks that I didn’t fully understand, so I needed to catch every detail, record every result, and note what the speaker found most important. Since the majority of material was foreign, I was especially forced to rely on my notes so that I could revisit the details I didn’t understand before writing up the report. Although this was a challenging experience, it was also rewarding – it was amazing to see the information I could absorb in such a short amount of time!
I often question the need to pursue a PhD with the desire to go in to writing, but this experience solidified the reason – I can sit through a talk full of graphs and equations and pull out the important information, even if it’s not in my field. Equally, I often question whether science communication is the right career choice, but after I enjoyed producing 1200-1400 words daily, covering a broad variety of physics (not chemistry) topics, I feel like my query was answered.
The trip was funded by the apprentice science reporter award I received from the International Society for Materials Research. My reports from the meeting were published in the MRS Meeting Scene newsletter. You can find them here.