In March 2017, physical oceanographer Kim Martini hopped on a seaplane from Seattle to visit Victoria, BC. Kim works with Seabird Scientific and she was invited by Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) to deliver a boot camp on how to get the best data from Seabird's oxygen sensors. Not only is Kim an experienced ocean scientist, but she is also a well-known science communicator and blogger with Deep Sea News.
We sat down with Kim to talk about the value of Twitter, pitching stories, leveraging humour, and what's next for science communication.
ONC: As a physical oceanographer, how did you get into science communication?
Kim: I spent a lot of time alone in my office, working on problems. Twitter and blogging were a way for me to talk about science, to talk about what I'm doing and also to learn about what I'm doing. If I can explain it to somebody in 120 characters, I can explain it to anyone. I love it because it's more than that, I can find all this cool new science. That's how I keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on-and not only in my field. That's the beauty of Twitter, you can really choose who you want to follow and meet all sorts of new and interesting people. I like that, it makes me happy!
ONC: Do you find there are people who don't understand why you're on Twitter? And if so, what do you tell them?
Kim: Some people love it. And other people don't like it, they think it's turning science into popular culture. They separate science from the world. I don't necessarily think that's true; science is shaped by everything around us. So, to say that science is separate seems crazy.
While I think Twitter is a great tool, not everyone has to use it. If you don't want to, if you don't have a passion for it, don't do it because it's not going to be fun. But for people who are interested, there's so many levels of entry. You can talk to people, or you can just read about things. You get to see a diversity of voices of people in science, and that's what I really like about it.
ONC: Deep Sea News has 15,000 Twitter followers. What's your secret sauce?
Kim: I think our secret sauce is humour. We definitely leverage humour and popular culture too. But we are also scientists and we are really strict about what we write. We make sure that our facts are correct. We might be comparing facts to a Justin Bieber song but if it's a good analogy, then it gets people to read and keeps people entertained. There's plenty of people that love to read about science that way.
Maybe they just want to laugh and if they're going to learn some science in the process, that's fine for us. They find out more about what we're doing.
ONC: Who is your core audience for Deep Sea News?
Kim: Graduate students, younger researchers, and science enthusiasts, up to mid-career scientists are the audience that resonates most with our content. I also think of the general public, too. We do our best to appeal to everyone. I don't write for scientists, but I make sure the wording is always very correct for scientists.
Turns out I can easily prattle on for hours about CTD data processing philosophy #data4evs- Kim Martini (@rejectedbanana) 16 March 2017
ONC: What do scientists need to know about communications professionals and vice versa?
Kim: The biggest thing that scientists need to know is that science doesn't exist in a vacuum and that you need to communicate your science in some way. That being said, the scientist doesn't need to be the science communicator. You can be, if that's your passion and you love doing it. But if it's going to cause you strife or it's extra workload, don't do it. That's when you come to the science communication team.
For science communicators, their challenge is “getting” the science. That is really hard because you might look at a word and change it to another word that you think is the same thing, but in science it doesn't mean the same thing. So the science can easily be misconstrued or taken out of context and that's a huge fear for scientists. Scientists want a back and forth. That's how science works: there's the peer-review, where you banter back and forth and you find the solution.
But that's not necessarily how the media works. That is a disagreement that I do not see going away any time soon. That's why a lot of scientists blog, because they want to get the information out there, but they want to do it correctly, and they want to get that back and forth peer review.
ONC: Is there value in helping scientists to think like storytellers?
Kim: Scientists are surrounded by cool awesome technology all day long. So much so that they don't realize how awesome it is. What seems normal to scientists is actually really unique and interesting.
For example, if a scientist says to someone on the street, “I have a glider at my workplace”, would they know what that is? Probably not. What is it? It's an ocean robot. That's a great story right there. There's always a really simple description that will get people saying ooh, an ocean robot! Scientists have a hard time recognizing those stories because it's just part of their everyday narrative. It's like waking up and putting milk in your bowl of cheerios. We don't realize that's not what it's like to the rest of the world.
The downside of being able to prattle on about CTDs for days? I lost my voice! I sound like a disgruntled frog. #data4evs- Kim Martini (@rejectedbanana) March 17, 2017
ONC: How can science communicators get better at what they do?
Kim: Figure out the size of your stories. I became bogged down with blogging because I was writing these long, complex posts. They were great, but they were a lot of work and I don't have the time to do that regularly. So I had to step back and realize there's lots of smaller stories to tell. That got me back into the storytelling groove, which was really helpful. Then you can work your way back up to those long stories, but don't do them all the time.
Talk to people, go for coffee and find out what people are doing. It might be fruitful, or it might not. Ask scientists to take pictures every time they go out. I think that's a really good strategy because if you don't know what's in the photo, you can say “tell me about that”. And there's a story.
It will help your readers too. Realistically readers don't always want to read a long story on social media. They do and they don't. So mixing it up helps.
At Deep Sea News, we bring readers in with humour, like an octopus eating a seagull, which is ridiculous! That gets readers checking back in for these kind of stories. And then we do longer stories about radiation in the Pacific and whether it's harmful or not. And they're going to read that because they already know where to look. So mixing it up helps.
ONC: What is the greatest challenge for science communication?
Kim: Turning something complicated into a simple story. That's a really hard thing. But then the other one is, who are you going to tell your story to? How are you going to get it out there? And that's a huge barrier.
People feel like they have to do all the work, but they do not have to do all the work! They just need to figure out the tools to get their story to someone else who can get the story out there, whether that's contacting a reporter or a blogger.
I like the idea of piggybacking. If you have a story to tell, you don't necessarily need your own infrastructure. Find a blog that's well-liked that will publish it for you. There's people out there that blog for a living and they look for cool stories all day long. If you can give them a special story, that's great.
And you should pitch your stories. Be really transparent, make it short and sweet. And with newspapers, too. People still read newspapers whether it's online or whatever. They can say yes and they can say no, but then you get better with your pitches and better with your stories.
ONC: What does the future hold for science communication?
Kim: The venue will always change. The Internet's not going anywhere, but how you access it is always going to change. Much to their credit, major news organizations are hanging in there. They've had to change their model. A lot. They're fighting hard and they're keeping up.
I love Snapchat, I just don't have the time to maintain it. I love the bad photoshop aspect of it. You can do something silly. It's easy and it's not permanent.
Instagram is fun too. I think it will stick around because it's photos. Sometimes at the end of the day, people just want to look at pretty pictures. There's a reason why we love coffee table books, and why we love Instagram.
Do what you're good at. If you're good at the newest thing, try it. And, if you're not so good at it, meh! Maybe try harder [laughs}. But sometimes you have to realize that people aren't good at certain things. I think that's okay because you're really good at something else, you just have to find out what that is.
ONC: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Kim! See you online.
Tweet with Kim @RejectedBanana
Find out more about Kim at kimmartini.com
Read Deep Sea News
Engage with the science communication community via Twitter hashtag #SciComm