Why Science Communication is so Important – Interview with Sophie Pavelle [I].

So who is Sophie Pavelle (@sophiepavs)?

Being outside, searching for wildlife and posting about it on social media. That’s what I like doing. Come the time to submit an idea for my MSc dissertation proposal however, and the question was how to roll all these things into a legitimate sounding research project…“I know!”, I thought back in January, “I’ll trek 300 miles around the Cornish coast and call it science communication!” much to the initial dismay of my lecturers…

I’m Sophie Pavelle, I’m an MSc student studying Science Communication at the University of the West of England (UWE), following a Zoology degree at Bristol University.

Sophie Pavelle smiling away on her hike around Cornwall

Call me dull, but I’ve become a bit of an unknowing fan of the old #staycation – and when you are lucky enough to live in a country that has some of the most varied, dramatic habitats and ecosystems all tucked in amongst each other, the U.K. is a pretty darn special place.

So what better way to test this than immersing myself into a one-woman sci comm adventure? 300 miles, 22-days and 22 videos later – and after surviving one of the most intense heatwaves in recent years whilst tackling some of England’s most relentless terrain, I finally crossed the line at the Cremyll ferry on Mount Edgecombe after my three-week trek around the entire Cornish coast.

Sophie hiking whilst filming with her iphone.

Your thesis topic is pretty unique.  Where did the inspiration for the study come from?

It was pretty random really. I was on a hike with my boyfriend just after New Year along the Devon section of the SW Coast Path near where I live and I saw a footpath sign saying ‘Minehead 400+ miles’ and I thought, “how demoralising would it be if that was your destination?!” Then we came across some beautiful grey seals very close to the shore and weirdly, it suddenly all came together!

Also, when I think about it, our master’s lectures about digital communication fascinated me – especially when learning of the prolific nature of digital content and the speed at which a video can ‘go viral’, reaching millions within minutes. In the ever-prevalent digital bubble within which we find inspiration, comfort, entertainment and knowledge, I believe there has not been a more important time to explore the potential of social media in communicating science to this digitally-savvy and visually hungry audience.

So, marrying my obsession with wildlife and hiking and capturing it all using social media seemed like a fun thing to do and something that interested me enough to motivate me all the way through!

A field of poppies!

You mention your thesis supervisor was concerned about your choice.   Why was it important to you to continue with the study?

Spending time on social media – is becoming an increasingly prevalent habit of our daily (or rather #instadaily!) routine. Research reports how the average British adult spends more time using technology than sleeping!! Of course I’m guilty of this — but I wanted to challenge the way that we tend to use social media and make the most of the online audience to show off British wildlife and highlight conservation issues in a way that was new for me too!

Science communication is all about getting the public on board with scientific concepts and research findings — engaging them to take notice of the things that matter and spark curiosity. The so-called ‘digital generation’ demands a more fast-paced and interactive approach to online material — science must be able to meet this in novel and innovative ways.  I believe harnessing social media is a great way to do this!

I think science and society still has an awful lot to learn about the rapidly evolving digital platforms we have created, and despite the drawbacks to increased screen time and ‘a life spent online’, I think it presents an exciting opportunity to make the most of how many people can be reached. It shows we might have to adapt the way we think about communication and showcasing the natural world, to make it more appealing and if the way to reach people first is to present it online, then so be it!

Part II of Sophie’s interview will be coming shortly.  So, stay tuned to hear all about her 3 week hike, including bottling seals, peregrines, buzzards, and a lesson or two about getting outside!

If you would like to be featured then send me a message 🙂

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