Photo: Daniel Kause
A few years ago I founded a start-up with two friends and I continue to work there as a managing partner in this company. We are called "sciencehoch3" and we are an agency for science communication. I mainly work as a concept developer and trainer for science communication.
I studied physical geography, spatial planning and media studies. At that time still as a ‘magister’ [older German degree/title], because interdisciplinary work was important to me. Later on, I completed a master's degree in science communication and marketing at the TU Berlin while working.
This was interest-driven. I've always enjoyed communicating about environmental and science topics. When I was at school, I worked with friends to design an exhibition on the Washington Convention on Endangered Species, and we even received an award for it in the federal environmental competition. During my studies I worked as an editor for various daily newspapers and designed a geo-educational trail with fellow students, on which we also offered guided tours for school classes. In my thesis, I produced web films for our research group. I think they are still online, even after more than 15 years ... So the topic of science communication has been with me for quite a while.
We have just launched a website on a spectacular research project at the South Pole that searches for neutrinos from space with a detector built into the glacier ice and thus tracks the Big Bang. Then I just led various online workshops on science communication for young international researchers and coached scientists from a Collaborative Research Center. And of course I also took care of the “classic managing director activities” - shareholders' meetings and annual financial statements.
We often support various institutions and working groups at universities and research institutions. For workshops and training courses, these are often graduate academies or career services or similar institutions for management training and personnel development. In the area of editorial services, we often work in a team with press offices or communication departments. We also advise individual scientists, thematic working groups and research associations who want to communicate their work in a targeted manner. In recent years we have also increasingly accompanied projects for ministries such as the BMBF or state ministries, and for funding organizations such as the German Research Foundation.
As an agency, we specialize in science and research communication, which also differentiates us from classic communication or advertising agencies. We mostly work across a wide range of topics, but of course we have our own professional background as well. They range from the natural sciences to the humanities, for example geography and media for me, and astrophysics, journalism, German studies and mathematics for my business partners. In addition to our professional experience, other topics come into play: press spokesperson and speaker activities, moderation, marketing, EU project management, science management, career development in science. Of course, we have to be very familiar with our core topic of science communication and we are networked accordingly in the German-speaking and international community, and we regularly train ourselves and follow new formats and developments in the field. It is often a lot of fun to try out these new formats for yourself. We can then pass this knowledge on to our customers.
There is actually no typical project. Our assignments are as diverse as science itself. They range from individual conceptual workshops or press releases to years of accompanying communication projects. For a single customer up to large research consortia with ten, fifteen partners, for example universities in Germany and abroad, non-university research institutions, other agencies from the creative industry, etc. So the constellations are always new, there is much variety. That's exactly what I love about my job: We always have to remain flexible and, thanks to our company structure, we can adapt to the needs of our customers. Then we expand our team with graphic artists, designers, and photographers. It also gets exciting when we work with international partners or when the projects become purely digital. With our customers and partners in Berkeley, for example, we did everything via Zoom conference long before Corona. For international projects, there are still smaller "global" challenges to consider, for example at what time meetings are scheduled. But all projects have one thing in common: It's always teamwork, and it brings a wide variety of people together.
Openness and always being able to get involved in new situations. It is very important to change your perspective and to be able to empathize with others. It's not about how I see my research topic myself, but what others understand about it. I have to design my communication for them. In such a way that it can be connected to the life situation of my counterpart. Regardless of whether it is a website, a book, a lecture, a student workshop, a short video or a social media campaign.
It plays a very important role, because that is exactly what our customers expect from us: to think outside the box. For me that fits perfectly, because we complement each other perfectly. And maybe some people know this from their own experience: The view from the outside, without specialist or specialist knowledge of the details, is often very helpful in identifying the central content for communication.
When you think of online media, clearly moving images. So web video formats for various platforms. Videos or films can quickly and easily convey content that is difficult to express in texts. Videos also give a personal, authentic insight into everyday research. And that's exactly what we often want to depict in science communication. For several years I have been a volunteer on the jury of the “FastForward Science” web video competition from “Wissenschaft im Dialog”. It's great fun to look through the many videos submitted and to see how creatively science and research is presented here.
What I enjoy most in my workshops is the elevator pitch. Here, too, it's great to see how incredibly creative researchers are with this lecture format. For me, this always gives me a live insight into research. And when everyone starts talking to each other during the coffee break, the pitch has already worked perfectly.
Always keeping up with the times. There are so many good science communication initiatives around the world that it's almost a full-time job being well informed. A wide variety of working hours and working days of up to 12 hours can be a challenge, as projects cannot always be planned down to the smallest detail and our customers often act under great time pressure. Of course, employees also know these work peaks. To be honest, it is easier for me than in previous jobs because we have a lot more influence on the selection of our tasks and then it is not really noticeable that you have a long “shift” behind you.
A tip that probably applies to many professions: Test as early as possible to see whether you enjoy working in this area. So it is essential to work on smaller projects or initiatives during your studies or during your doctorate. Often there are also jobs for students that have to do with science communication, possibly you can maintain a research website, use social media channels or work in the broad field of public relations. If you want to get more involved in journalism later on, you should start looking for internships, smaller editorial jobs and perhaps also an internship or traineeship at an early stage. It is also good to make contact with people and institutions. That means taking part in events or - currently virtually - joining them and listening in. If you want to communicate your own research topic to an audience outside the field, you can also discuss it with friends and family first. Maybe it's so fun that the next thing is an appearance at a science slam or participation in university competitions. You can of course also take part in workshops - often at your own university - and if you want to do even more, you can also take appropriate courses or seek training as a specialist journalist. The website “Wissenschaftskommunikation.de” has a very good overview. In any case, I am looking forward to a large number of good science communicators becoming active in the near future.