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Creating a career in science communication with Zoe Kean

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Zoe Kean (pronouns: she/her) is a science writer, communicator and science journalist from lutruwita (Hobart), Tasmania where she lives near kunanyi (Mount Wellington). Her general focus as a writer and science communicator is evolution, ecology and the environment although she has written across a broad diversity of topics outside this area. Zoe now works as a freelance science writer and communicator who has written for ABC, BBC, Cosmos & The Guardian. Zoe shares her journey through this space and advice for anyone looking to do a similar role!

Please note that all views expressed in this post are Zoe’s own.

Creating a career in science communication with Zoe Keen | #itsawildlife

ZOE’S JOURNEY

Zoe was one of those people who always had a pretty clear idea of what they wanted to do,

“I just had no idea of how to get there or if what I wanted to do existed. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be some sort of ologist – a marine biologist, a volcanologist, an entomologist – it changed all the time”

At around the age of 10, Zoe found the world of science communication through shows like ABC’s Catalyst, and was intrigued by it. She continued loving science as she grew older, she thought a research career might be for her.

“After I finished school, I took some time off and then went to uni and did a combined degree in arts and science with a zoo major and plant minor. While I was at uni, I got involved with lots of extra curriculars including a biology-themed community radio show I created with my friend called Zoonomia”

Since then, Zoe has been building her portfolio as a science communicator and journalist across many different platforms: she did a six-month cadetship in Sydney with the ABC science unit, working as a freelance journalist working for Beaker Street Festival in Hobart, ABC Hobart and so much more.

“I’m constantly trying to get science stories up… so I’ve been in the Guardian, Cosmos, the BBC, ABC science and more”

THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN THE ARTS AND SCIENCES

And this kind of space is where the sciences met the arts. Zoe comes from quite a creative family but found not only did she really enjoy and get a lot of energy from exploring science communication, she was motivated to use it for advocacy on environmental issues

“I have this intense scientific interest, but also enjoyed the communication side and felt the urgency of the biodiversity crisis and climate change, so it just seemed the way to use my specific, weird set of skills to create a better world, being someone who could spend time in both the arts and sciences.”

Although not all of her work is activist, Zoe dedicates a lot of her work to connecting people with the environment and trying to make it more accessible to people and help people understand what’s going on when they’re in a natural space.

“For me, understanding what’s happening in a natural space just helps me connect with it.”

Both research and science communication can really effectively change hearts and minds and connect people to the natural world in two completely different ways. Zoe explains –

“You’ll never win an environmental argument with facts.”

“I think it’s really important to work out what is the role of a scientific lens in this? It’s really important to have the facts for people when they’re interested. But if you’re in a situation where someone is arguing against climate change, (I hope that conversation is increasingly rare these days), but you know, the conversation often isn’t one in the science.”

However, Zoe sees an important role for science in our culture and connection with nature:

“Science can play an important role in opening the door to wonder and complexity. And I think humans have this deep desire to understand the world around them… and that can be through myth, through story or through science.”

Zoe has found that people outside the science community can be shut off to the idea of science, but that doesn’t have to be like that:

“I think there’s a tendency sometimes when talking to people outside of the sciences, such as the art community, to regard science as clinical because of their experience with science at school. Rather science is just another way of understanding the world… And another way of, you know, seeing its majesty and seeing its awe”

“I try and share an aspect of my scientific understanding, which is this excitement and joy about what I’m seeing and explain that. I have the kind of nerdiness, but also the, wow this is actually kind of deeply wonderful!”

“When you know, a little bit more, you start to see a little bit more and you start to see the connections between things.”

For Zoe, that’s where the intersection is when we’re talking about environmental issues. Because, so often, when we’re talking about environmental issues, we’re asking people to make deep-rooted, cultural changes to their lifestyle at the personal and community level, which is where science communication is so important! Zoe says:

“I think that’s what we have to wrestle with as science communicators, how we use the facts. I think it’s really important that we have the facts for when people are ready for them. But we also come in with the beauty and the art, and I’m very passionate about multidisciplinary approaches to scientific understanding. There is no one way to engage so it’s about meeting people where they’re at and inviting them, creating space for these conversations.”

“And it’s hard because some things are so urgent: you just wanna ask why won’t you accept this? But as communicators, we have to be so careful about battering people with the facts, and finding other ways of communicating

TURNING SCIENCE COMMUNICATION INTO A CAREER

If you wanna take the deep dive into a career in science communication or science journalism, Zoe has three of her best tips to point you in the right direction:

  • Volunteer to get exposure and opportunities (but be careful of doing too much labor for free) – for more information on where to draw the line, check out Zoe on the podcast
  • Build a broad network
  • Don’t be afraid to pitch yourself – and if you don’t hear back, call for feedback
  • Support other science communicators

Even if you can’t work in the industry from day one, Zoe says that’s perfectly normal:

“I worked outside the industry on and off in retail until last year… but while you are outside the industry, tell people what you’re looking to do and ask for advice, and build a really broad network.”

And if you’re looking for paid work, but you have a scarcity mindset, try and overcome that by reminding yourself of Zoe’s words:

“The world needs more science communicators than ever, more science journalists than ever as there’s so much misinformation going around. We should all be advocating for more of these jobs to exist. There’s not enough of us.”

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more from Zoe? Tune into the podcast to listen to our conversation. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @zoe_kean_sci, Tik Tok @zoe_kean_sci or Twitter @zoe_kean_sci or you can check out some of her website here. If you’re interested in Zoe’s articles, you can check out her ABC articles at her by-line.

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