From London to Oxford

All, life, personal

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Just typing that title gave me déjà vu. Yes, I’ve moved again. This time though, I’ve stayed in the UK (despite the unfortunate Brexit timing) and have made the beautiful city of dreaming spires my new home. I’ve been in Oxford for the better part of half a year and so far, noticed a lot of similarities with the big smoke.

I’ll be real with you. Like London, it’s expensive. And, pretty polluted. But, I should add that as a Londoner these things, although real causes for concern, made me feel weirdly right at home.  I’ve fallen in love with the majestic tall spires which dot the Oxford skyline – the university buildings are a dream. The stars even shine brighter here in the green pastures of Oxfordshire and the noise levels are low enough to make me notice the quiet. The cobbled streets and sheer small size of the city remind me of my Dutch home of Leiden.

Since moving, life has gotten in the way of blogging. However, in true new year, new me style – I am determined to write more musings, share more travels and communicate fascinating science and the people behind it.

– Nikita

 

 

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Current Book Recommendations

All, science communication

DSCF6132 (3)Recently, I found that I’ve been reading less than I used to. It’s always been one of my favourite things to do, so to inspire both myself and hopefully some of you to dust those books off the bookshelf, here are some of my favourite books right now!

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Some of you may already know, I am a big fan of Amy Poehler. Her work, her voice and her honesty really speak to me. This book is the epitome of all three. She is down to earth and speaks frankly and light-heartedly about things that we all think, yet sometimes don’t say. Whether it be about who we are, what we want to do or who we want to be with – Amy dishes out some real life advice from her own experiences.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This novel is a classic. Set in 19th Century England, it centres around the lives of the Bennet sisters, in particular Elizabeth Bennet. I’m one of those people that tends to forget the details once I complete a book, so I love having this one on hand to re-read it all over again. Also, I have a soft spot for Mr Darcy..

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The Hands-On Guide for Science Communicators by Lars Lindberg Christensen

This book is slightly different to those previously mentioned. Written by my former boss from my time at the European Southern Observatory, it is a great guide to science communication. The foundations of communicating scientific concepts are explored in the book, illustrated by graphics which concisely present the information in a colourful way. I’d recommend this for not only those new to the field, but also experienced science communicators out there. 

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

The first time I got my hands on this book I was around 15. I found it in my parent’s house and in an attempt to try something more mature, I gave it a try. Needless to say, I didn’t really understand a lot of the philosphical elements back then. But, now at the ripe ‘old’ age of 24, this book is one that I think anyone can read and gain something from. It’s quite a dense piece of literature and can be slow at times, however the character of Dorian Gray is so different to others I think it is worth the read.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Usually, I like to read the original book before watching the movie version of a story. This was a rare exception. I caught the movie on my flight home from Canada last year and immediately knew I had to read the book. I was not dissapointed. Let’s just say, you will not have a dry eye when reading this one. It’s a very heartwarming and touching storyline for all ages. I also like the fact that my new home of the Netherlands makes an appearance in the book too!

What are your favourite books right now? Let me know and I’d love to give them a try 🙂

-Nikita

A Week in Vienna: The European Geosciences Union General Assembly

All, science communication, Travel

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A few weeks ago, I travelled to the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria. Vienna is one of my favourite cities so I was really happy to be there again! 

My previous blog post gave a sneak preview of what the week was all about but now I can share the experience with you, illustrated by some photos along the way.

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My office for the week was the European Geosciences Union’s General Assembly (EGU15), one of the largest conferences in the world on Earth, planetary and space sciences. 

DSC_3283~2 egu1 I worked as a Press Assistant in the Press Centre of the conference. It’s is the place to be for all things media-related. The Press Centre also acts as a great workspace for journalists to report on the many Press Conferences scheduled during the week.

Here, they can utilise interview rooms with scientists and gather quotes on fascinating research that’s announced during the week, before writing it up for publication that very day.2015-04-12 20.06.58

I was lucky enough to work alongside this bunch of lovely ladies. Together, we formed the Press Team and ensured that all things press, media and outreach related was going well at the conference.IMG_0040

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Some EJR-Quartz colleagues attended as speakers, sharing insights and lessons learnt from ESA’s Rosetta Mission. Personifying spacecrafts using social media and engaging the public through competitions were discussed by them in outreach sessions. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) were also present, revealing the first large mosaic images of Mars ever at the conference! 

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The highlight of the week for me was going to the ESA Rosetta Mission Press Conference. Here, scientists from DLR and ESA – such as Project Scientist Matt Taylor (pictured above mid-selfie) shared the latest results from the comet-chasing mission. I wrote an article for the EGU blog about it so take a look if you want to see what the spacecraft duo are up to right now.

I also wrote two articles about other new findings that were announced at EGU15. The first, is on the influence of climate change and the second describes interesting new findings from the NASA Dawn mission. I really enjoyed blogging about both space and environmental subjects and writing about time-sensitive topics.  

This week in Vienna was a wonderful experience, one that I shared avidly online through my Twitter account – especially when there was cake involved!

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What can I say…food makes me happy 🙂

The next EGU General Assembly will be held in Vienna between 17 and 22 April 2016. I look forward to finding out what new science results are announced next year!

– Nikita

(Photo credits: EGU/Stephanie McClellan)

Creating Communication: Blogging for Science

All, Creating Communication, science communication, Space

I recently interviewed EJR-Quartz colleague Daniel Scuka to discuss the field of science blogging. Daniel works as Senior Editor for Spacecraft Operations at ESOCESA’s Space Operations Centre in Germany. He had a wealth of information and advice to share on the best ways to blog, why it is a wonderful method of communication and also mentioned the challenges he has faced when blogging for science.

A sad Daniel on his last day blogging for ATV. (Credit: @AndreasSchepers )

A sad Daniel on his last day blogging for ATV. (Credit: @AndreasSchepers )

Daniel has been writing on the dedicated blog for ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) series of missions since 2007. Responsible for delivering cargo and reboosting the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit, the last ATV re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on 15th February 2015.

So Daniel, what exactly is ATV used for?

First of all, the ATV vessels are used to deliver cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. An ATV docks for about five or six months, comprising the so-called attached phase. There’s dry cargo that is carried inside the cargo compartment, including food, clothing, supplies and equipment for experiments on board the ISS. It also supplies wet goods, which is fuel, air, oxygen, gases, nitrogen, water and as all of that gets delivered to the ISS, garbage and waste gets loaded onto the ATV. So, when it undocks it takes all of this off the Station and it burns up in the atmosphere.

ATV has a thruster system so it can reboost the Station which naturally steadily decays with each orbit. Furthermore, it can be used to provide debris avoidance manoeuvres when any space debris  are predicted to come too close — then the ATV’s thrusters can be used to either raise or lower its orbit avoid whatever piece of debris is coming over. That’s ATV in a nutshell.

What’s so special about this particular ATV, ATV-5?

When ATV-5 was launched last July, it was the heaviest payload ever put in space by

ATV5 re-entry coincided with Valentines weekend. A lovely way to say goodbye don't you think? (ESA)

ATV5 re-entry coincided with Valentines weekend. A lovely way to say goodbye don’t you think?
(ESA)

Europe (weighing in with a mass of 20,245 kilograms). It’s interesting that the last of the five ATV vessels ended up being the biggest and the baddest.

What are the challenges of communicating technical topics to a general audience?

Well, knowing who your audience is, is rather important and you absolutely have to accept the fact that you will never satisfy your entire audience all the time because the audience for this kind of information or for what ESA does with space is so diverse.

Secondly – there’s a whole range of requirements to be satisfied there in the sense of knowing who is actually the right person to provide that kind of information. Therefore, as the blog editor, you’ve got to make sure that when you’re getting information, you then turn around and publish it in the right way: don’t quote the junior engineer working on the ATV propulsion system about the value of why the ISS flies at all. Conversely, a high-level programme manager may not know the details of how the propulsion system works, so maintaining contact with those working-level engineers can be pretty valuable. I don’t think that this is unique to ESA and it’s not a bad thing either. If you do want to quote about the value of flying ATV or Europe participating in the ISS, go to the source.

The third challenge has been technical because when we started off our blog, it was literally sitting on a server underneath somebody’s desk. It crashed a lot and it  took a long time to get the technology right. Now it’s finally properly hosted and properly

backed up. Now the only time it occasionally crashes is when it gets overwhelmed by NASA retweeting one of our posts such as this one – How many calories does it take to bring a calorie to the ISS?

Can you give any tips or advice on blogging for aspiring and practising science communicators out there?

1. Get your facts right. Be humble when it’s pointed out to you that you have got them wrong.

2. Understand your audience as best as you can and adapt how and what you write or publish to match your audience. Be dynamic, don’t just simply follow some kind of monolithic style that you think is the right style on Day 1, adapt your style over time because you’ll find that your audience is never monolithic.

3. Know your topic, know your domain. If you’re doing science communications, you’re talking about some specific domain. Find out who’s not providing some needed information and that’s where you’re really going to prove valuable.

One last question, what is your favourite ATV vessel?

I guess the first one and that’s because there was no way to test the ATVs in-flight prior to the  actual ATV-1’s launch. Every single line of code, every single mission activity, every single button that was pressed at ATV-CC was monitored by NASA and Russia to ensure that ATV was safe and that the ATV Control Centre team – staffed by ESA and CNES, the French space agency – knew their stuff.  I think in retrospect that it was the most impressive vessel in the series because it put the ATV design through everything it could do then and since then, they’ve all performed flawlessly and they’ve all done what they were meant to do. So ATV-1 was probably the most impressive and my favourite. Also, the ATV-1 mission was our first intro into blogging and our learning curve was certainly the steepest so that has given me lots of fond memories.

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A screenshot of the official ESA dedicated ATV blog updated by Daniel and other editors on the science and stories of ATV since 2007. (http://blogs.esa.int/atv/)

So there you have it! An insight into the world of science blogging from an expert who has spent almost a decade communicating the wonders of ATV in blog form. Blogs are definitely here to stay, it seems 🙂

-Nikita

An edited version of this article originally appeared online at EJR-Quartz.

Creating Communication: 5 Ways to Improve your Writing Style

Creating Communication, science communication

Doing what you love for a living is one of the best things in life. However, as a Science Editor, writing for both work and as a hobby can sometimes lead to times of creative slumps or writer’s block. Ever had that frustrating feeling of wanting to write and/or having something to write about but for some reason the words just don’t seem to flow? Or, maybe you’re writing something but your writing style is still not coming across how you would like it?

Stepping away from your desk and taking a walk, a coffee break or talking to someone are great to distract the mind from overthinking your style of writing. But what about when you attempt to write again? It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the pages and forget what you’re communicating. Here are five ways that I’ve found help me to produce great content whilst ensuring that my writing style stays on the right track.

  1. Read More

It may seem obvious, but great reading leads to great writing. It allows you to grow as a writer, grow in vocabulary, inspiration, story arcs and sentence structure. The next time you find yourself in a creative slump, dust off your bookshelf and settle down on your couch for a few hours with a good read. That’s always a good idea.

  1. Write Like You Talk

Overthinking can lead to writers block. Often, writers that are great communicators in person can struggle on paper. When in doubt, it’s always better to be conversational.

  1. Know Your Audience

Keeping your reader in mind during the writing process is a vital element to ensuring that your article engages, inspires and most importantly is understood by the audience you are directing your words towards. The only true measure of how good your writing is, is the impact that it has on your audience.

  1. Feedback

The first attempt is almost always never how the article will look upon publishing. Seeking comments and criticism from editors, other writers, friends and perhaps a mentor helps to identify where your writing falls short. From this, you can now return to it with a fresh set of eyes and hone your style of writing with further iterations.

  1. Write What You Know

Research is key. Write about things that you know about and through extensive research, have earned the right to communicate. The more you know, the more confidence and credibility will come across through your words.

Hope some of these tips prove to be useful, happy writing!

-Nikita