Matthew Dale: Loving science through communication
Matthew Dale spent a summer working with the Earlham Institute comms team, where he found his passion for writing, such that he is now a prolific contributor to several publications while studying for a degree in biomedical sciences at Warwick University.
We asked Matthew, who writes on a range of topics from human health to politics, how working in such a vibrant team led him to hone his writing skills.
When I finished my first year of university and moved back home for the summer, my expectations were clouded. Whilst Norwich is indeed a fine city, I can’t deny that leaving the excitement of my freshers’ year at university was a shock to a system that had adjusted to a different lifestyle. I assumed my summer would be a quiet one that would oscillate between tranquillity and tedium.
When I got the job at Earlham Institute, I was excited to start because it was a good summer job that paid well and put me in an environment that was linked more towards science than retail or service.
I didn’t envision a summer that would cause a complete change in my career trajectory.
Matthew Dale's summer job at EI completely changed his career trajectory.
A summer of discovery
One of my most important roles, and the most enjoyable, was writing new content for the website which included profiles and scientific articles that explained the research happening at the institute. I enjoyed writing in my spare time as a teenager but I was aware that writing scientific articles utilises quite a different skill set to unfinished passages (skills like completing a piece of work). Nonetheless, I was keen to grab the opportunity and try writing an article about science like those I’d read in New Scientist or Scientific American.
As with most careers or hobbies in life, the first push is always the hardest to make. It’s a wall to be smashed down. I’m not going to directly compare it to running a marathon (in case my mum who has run multiple marathons takes insult to the comparison) but it’s the same principle.
Working for the EI comms team gave me an opportunity to break this wall, and it’s something I’m eternally grateful for. My experience at EI reinvigorated my passion for writing, and even after I left and went back to the university life that passion remained. It influenced me to write and become more involved in student and online publications which is something I enjoy immensely.
As with most careers or hobbies in life, the first push is always the hardest to make. It’s a wall to be smashed down.
Matt explains that running a marathon is the same if only in principle to taking the first step in a career path.
But it wasn’t just the writing that I liked doing. Curating content by searching the internet for new articles was a great source of inspiration that tapped into my innate curiosity. It reminded me of what inspired the passion for science enthused in me when I was a teenager, and even gave me ideas for potential new articles to write.
I was also very fortunate to help with the Genome 10K Genome Science 2017 conference that the EI did a stupendous job in organising. I was a small part of that process, being an assistant to help people and take photos of the conference. It was an exhilarating experience; the atmosphere of a conference is exciting and thrilling, as dozens of passionate experts congregate with a yearning to learn more. It was great to stand on the precipice and watch the results of this cocktail mix.
My experience at EI reinvigorated my passion for writing, and even after I left and went back to the university life that passion remained.
Broadening my perspective
I’ve often found that science is resistant to considering science in a different context, preferring to focus extensively and exclusively on specific scientific disciplines. I’ve found this approach implicit within my Biological Sciences degree. As much as I love my subject, there’s been little opportunity to do modules outside the scope of life sciences.
The only modules offered are Business Studies, so an opportunity to do modules in fields such as biophysics or bioengineering, or to do topics that look at science through the lens of other fields such as history aren’t available. I think that’s a major flaw of our approach to teaching and viewing academia, as inevitably different aspects of life intersect. For example, how the politics of a society influences what science eventually gets funding.
And the innovative opportunities available to those who combine subjects such as biology and engineering are abundant.
One of the most important experiences I had at EI was broadening my perspective. It made me realise how I could apply the subject I love in a different context. Writing articles keeps me in a scientific world constantly evolving, and it’s vital that the link between the scientific and non-scientific world is maintained to keep people informed.
I had stubbornly and stupidly assumed that the only good vocation to remain linked towards biology and science was research. But now, I know not only that there are other careers to express my love for science, but that there are better careers for me to do this.
The experience of working in the EI Communications team gave Matt a broader perspective on science.