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Goodbye…… for now

Goodbye…… for now

After 3 years of blogging, (can you believe Jenga has been going for 3 years already?!), the time has come to wave goodbye to the EGU Blog network.

Dan and I have very much enjoyed being part of this active, fun and engaging community of geoscience bloggers. However, our circumstances have changed signifiantly since we embarked on this journey. We no longer work at the same Univeristy, nor are we even in the same country and juggling our current commitments with Jenga hasn’t been easy, especially over the past 12 months! It’s with a heavy heart that we say farewell, at least for now. Follow Dan and I on twitter for news on our future plans for Jenga.

We are grateful for the opportunities that have come from being a part of the network, especially for the friends we’ve made along the way. A big shout out to all those who have contributed great guest posts to the blog and to all those who read our posts too!

If you want to keep on reading, and make use of the guides and tips on science communication and the PhD journey we’ve shared in past, you’ll still be able to find them all here.


An Andy Warhol Moment for Liverpool’s Geomagnetism Group – dating the formation of the Earth’s Inner core

An Andy Warhol Moment for Liverpool’s Geomagnetism Group – dating the formation of the Earth’s Inner core

This week, my PhD supervisor, Andy Biggin, had a paper out in Nature. The findings of this new research point towards the Earth’s inner core being older than we’d previously thought. Recent estimates, suggest that the Earth’s solid inner core started forming between half a billion and one billion years ago. However, Andy’s (and co-workers) new measurements of ancient rocks as they cool from magma have indicated that it may actually have started forming more than half a billion years earlier.

I’m not going to go into the details of the findings, you can learn more about those from the paper itself and also from the press coverage (BBC news and an article in The Conversation by Andy himself). Instead, below you’ll find a blog post which Andy originally posted on the Liverpool Geomagnetism Group blog (I reproduced it here with his permission). I found it interesting because it explores (from a scientists’ perspective) the sometimes difficult relationship between research and media coverage. One way to inspire future generations of scientists is by getting new and exciting research in the public eye; something not always easy when researching the workings of the inner Earth – it just doesn’t have the mass appeal and wow factor of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis! The new research has had plenty of media coverage, as Andy describes below, and it’s exciting, not only for palaeomagnetism, but also the broader public as it shed’s light on how the Earth formed and came to be as it is now.


Pop-artist Andy Warhol famously stated that: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. I suspect yesterday may be the closest we will ever get to proving him right.

A paper on which I am lead-author claims that we have may have pinned down the point in Earth’s history when the inner core first started to freeze at the centre of the Earth to between 1 and 1.5 billion years ago.  I already thought this was big news so was a bit deflated when Nature decided not to run with the excellent picture (above) created by Kay Lancaster (cartographer at the University of Liverpool) on its cover or even feature it in its press release.

Nevertheless, our excellent press officer at Liverpool helped produce a great press release which saw a story featured on the popular website from the outset and an article in one of Spain’s top newspapers El Pais.

Things were a bit slow-burning for a while – except in India and Finland. Then the break-though – a beautiful piece by Simon Redfern for BBC news online! I checked and it was even linked to the front page of BBC news (though you did have to scroll down a LONG way to get it…).

This was quickly followed up by a piece on the Daily Mail which our press officer tells me is the “most read online news site in the world”. A number of other things have followed including a post on one of my favourite blogs – IFLScience.

Then, just as I was packing up to go home, I received a phone call from the BBC World Service who wanted a short interview. I obliged in the evening and my nervous responses aired a few hours later. You can listen to the podcast here (it is the very last feature – “And finally…”). They refer before and after the interview to the finding as being that the magnetic field is much older than previously thought – incorrect in this specific case but relevant to another recent finding, albeit one that Liverpool people were not involved in making.

More informative is a piece I wrote for “The Conversation”. There has only been one comment at the time of writing – hopefully they will improve…

A summary from our press office indicates that there are 39 news outlets and counting featuring the story  and tweets still coming through every few minutes. The coverage extends over at least 11 countries ranging from USA to China,  Argentina to Pakistan so, while I can, I am claiming (brief) world fame for our research!

By Andy Biggin, Lecturer at the University of Liverpool

This article was originally posted in, you can view the post here.

Help! I’m appearing as a scientific expert on TV

Help! I’m appearing as a scientific expert on TV

At the beginning of the year, the small village of Rutland, in the heart of the UK, was hit by a 3.8 Magnitude earthquake. The quake didn’t cause any significant damage or injuries, but hit the headlines as seismic activity is a bit of a novelty in the UK!

In the wake of the quake, the UK press and media picked up the story and sought the opinions of experts to take part in interviews and give their views on the ground motions. Amongst those approached was my colleague and friend, Steve Hicks, a final year seismology PhD student, at Liverpool University. Steve took part in a BBC children’s TV programme called Newsround. On hearing of his TV appearance, I asked Steve to write a guest post for Jenga; I thought his personal account of his experience with the might be useful for other researchers too. Steve gives a brief account of his TV experience before listing his top 10 tips for talking to the media. You can watch Steve’s appearance on the children’s news programme here.

On Wednesday afternoon at 1.30 pm, our research lab in Liverpool received a call. The caller was a member from the production team of the BBC’s Newsround programme – a national news show aimed for children. They wanted someone from our research group to appear live on their afternoon bulletin at 4.20 pm to talk about a significant earthquake that had occurred the night before.

Our Prof. was tied up with meetings all day. No one else in the lab seemed particularly keen on the idea. I decided to go for it. And I’m so glad that I did.

Preparation was key

Although I didn’t know I was going to be appearing on TV, the preparation actually began the night before. A magnitude 3.8 earthquake struck England’s East Midlands region; it was felt by thousands of people. That night I kept myself updated – mainly via Twitter – with reports from the earthquake and what preliminary results were telling us about this seismic event.

A seismogram being recorded by a seismograph at Weston Observatory in Massachusetts, USA.

A seismograph being recorded by a seismograph at Weston Observatory in Massachusetts, USA.

As part of an on-going outreach project that our research group is involved with, one of my roles is to produce informative PowerPoint slides about significant earthquakes in their immediate aftermath. These resources are aimed at educating schoolteachers, pupils and the general public to educate about earthquake science and their associated hazards. This outreach work meant that I was already fairly clued up about the earthquake, its context, and how to explain some complex scientific ideas to a non-specialist audience.

I had previously taken part in a practice radio interview at a public engagement course; this made me feel slightly more confident, but still, a live TV interview was a massive step up. I felt that with the TV show being tailored for children, if I messed up the interview, then I could maybe get away with not many people knowing about my cock-up!

My colleagues in the lab were awesomely supportive and very helpful. They offered to help me prepare and to get anything I needed to take with me.

Before I knew it, my transport had been organised by the BBC and I was about to arrive at the studio in Manchester.

A surreal experience

As I arrived, I was sat down with a cup of tea and got straight into a discussion with the production team about their proposed plan for my section of the show. Due to issues with booking my transport and the fluid nature of news that day, the production team were a little stressed – there were only 20 minutes left to prepare until we went live on air. I’m sure they are used to such last-minute stress, yet they were still hugely friendly and made me feel very relaxed. The team openly discussed with me the type of questions the presenter will plan to ask. They were even open to me changing the questioning slightly! This freedom made me feel much better and more in control. I knew what they were going to ask me and I could tailor a nice ‘model’ answer.

We went into the control room and I was fixed up with a microphone. Now I was starting to get nervous. However, I did get a view of the famous Blue Peter studio and managed to rub shoulders with some of its presenters! A big tick off the bucket list!

Screenshot of Steve's appearance on the BBC children's programme, Newsround.

Screenshot of Steve’s appearance on the BBC children’s programme, Newsround.

The countdown starts … 5,4,3,2,1, … and the show is on air! In a flash, the show is over. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as nervous as I had expected. I have definitely been more nervous when giving conference talks. Maybe it had something to do with not having an audience in sight. There were only four crewmembers in the studio and talking with the presenter felt like a fairly regular conversation. I’m very glad I chose to bring a couple of props to explain the earthquake. I brought a seismometer and a trusty slinky, which were very popular with the production team and presenter.

I hate hearing my own voice so I haven’t yet watched the full video without the audio being muted!

My Top 10 Tips for Giving a Media Interview

  1. Get involved in outreach and public engagement projects

Getting accustomed to outreach work will you to get you used to telling stories about your field of research that can capture the imagination of a lay audience.

  1. Get involved with the conversation on social media.
Use social media as a source of information. ( SMM-Jigsaw-Banner, by greyweed pn Flickr)

Use social media as a source of information. (
SMM-Jigsaw-Banner, by greyweed on Flickr)

Using Twitter and Facebook will help you to find out more about a topical subject and will give you an idea of what your fellow scientists in the community are saying about a newsworthy topic.

  1. Get on a public engagement short course.

Public engagement courses may be offered by a society or funding body in your field. Your PhD support funds may be able to pay for such a course. I attended the Natural Environment Research Council’s excellent public engagement training course. This was free and were able to carry out a valuable mock radio interview with an actual radio show presenter. Laura, do you know of any other media training courses here that you add here? Your University/Institution’s Press Office may also be able to provide some basic media training.

  1. Try to get a gig on local radio.

Speak to your University/Institution’s Press Office and say that you would like some media interview experience. Most local radio channels will love to hear about some ground-breaking research that is being done at their local university. This can be a great way to get some media experience without having to face a camera and a large audience. Try to persuade your Press Office to add you to their directory of experts, which media outlets often use to get people they want.

  1. Don’t rely on your undergraduate degree / PhD research alone to get you through the interview.

In all likelihood, your audience will not be interested in convoluted theories and innocuous scientific methods. The educational pages of a well-known institution in your research field that regularly communicates with the public and media can be priceless. I found the British Geological Survey and IRIS websites particularly helpful for ideas on answering frequently asked questions and for providing me with a few basic statistics that I could recite.

  1. Speak to your supervisor/boss before accepting any offer to give an interview.

Many outlets – depending on the programme and audience – may prefer to interview someone more youthful than an ancient Prof. It is also likely that your supervisor is an old hand at media interviews, but they may be too busy and might offer an interview to another member of the research group. If they have media experience, they may give you some valuable tips and will tell you whether or not they think you will cope with the interview.

  1. Props are priceless.

The production team are always keen to have a ‘hands on’ aspect during your piece, especially if the audience is quite young. A prop or two may also mean that you do not have to think on your feet for as much time.

  1. Be prepared for a last-minute call up.

Keep some key props in your lab that you can take to an interview. Your look: maybe keep a smart-ish shirt in your office in case you get an emergency call-up. But, you need not look too smart. I hadn’t shaved and my woollen jumper still had dog hairs on from my previous home visit! But nobody seemed to care or notice. They didn’t give me any make-up either!

  1. Be patient with the production team.

The show’s team have probably had just as much, if not more, of a stressful day as you. The show structure will constantly change as breaking news comes in. They have got to get guests in at very short notice. Making a live TV show is hard work! It is also possible that someone has asked you to appear on their show, but you get cancelled at the last minute; news programme schedules change fast, so this can happen often.

  • Most importantly of all, go for it!

You’ll regret it if you don’t take the opportunity and it will any future decision a little bit harder. Body language is key – smile, keep your back straight and enjoy the moment!

By Steve Hicks, PhD student, University of Liverpool

Is it your duty to communicate your science?

Hello everyone!

Gosh! It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, I apologise! I am in the deepest, darkest hole that is called thesis writing. To make matters worse, the post today isn’t even my own! Having said that, it is a a fantastic guest post  by Ekbal Hussain. on why scientist SHOULD communicate the science that they do!


Ekbal’s main interest lies in natural hazards and he feels passionately about science communication and the importance of divulging our scientific knowledge to the wider public, particularly those at risk of natural hazards. He is currently undertaking his PhD in geodetic monitoring of strain accumulation along the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey. I highly recommend his blog, Climate and Geohazards hosted by Climate and Geohazard Services at Leeds University. Ekbal tweets at @ekh_rocksci.

In the post today Ekbal outlines why it scientist should communicate their science. I agree, we certainly do that on a regular basis by attending conferences and producing papers, but Ekbal argues we have a responsibility to make our research accessible to other, much wider, audiences. What is the best method for reaching those audiences? Undoubtedly face-to-face communication is paramount, but a a man after my own heart, Ekbal is a huge advocate for the use of social media, particularly twitter. I’ll finish with this, as Ekbal says, when it come to twitter: JUST DO IT!

After the really great discussions at the science communication splinter meeting at the EGU General Assembly on Monday, I felt inspired to write up some of my thoughts on why science communication is so important.

All scientists have a responsibility to communicate their science. To a large extent that is exactly what happens. We write scientific papers and present at conferences. These are all important forms of communication. However, I believe that we also need to communicate it to the non-scientists and the non-specialists.

Why? Well for multiple reasons: to inform and educate others particularly if the the scientific results could impact their lives, e.g. natural hazards and climate change, raise awareness of your field and the dynamic nature of science.

For me, a very important aspect of science communication is to inspire! You may one day become the world leader in your field but after you retire who will take over the mantle from you? We obviously love what we are doing, (yes yes, I know research has its ups and downs but we love the science really). So we have a responsibility to encourage, enthuse and empower the younger generation to get involved with the geosciences and equip them with similar communication skills so they can do the same.

We all have a responsibility to inspire, for without it the flame of discovery in our science will fizzle out and leave the world a much darker place. (That’s a really cheesy line, but I’m quite proud it …)

At the splinter meeting we discussed the importance of science communication via social media compared to face-to-face communication.

Undoubtedly both are very important and applicable in different settings. I am a great fan of face-to-face communication. Because you can directly share your love and passion for your subject. So be naturally appealing, be enthusiastic and energetic and use all the tools at your disposal. Be expressive with your hands, your face and your eyebrows because these all give social cues to the listener to become more engaged and attentive. There is nothing worse than an inattentive audience. Use your charisma to reel them in.

Face-to-face communication does not have to wait till you are in a classroom either. You can communicate science to your housemates, to your friends, on the train, to the person sitting next to you in the plane etc. Make Everywhere your playground and the World your audience!

In terms of digital communication…. just do it! Why? because you are helping to populate the internet with good, correct science. So when the concerned citizen wants to know about the risks of fracking in his/her neighbourhood and they Google ‘fracking risk’, make sure your blog is the first hit!

Maybe more importantly, you are doing it for yourself too. By writing blogs and tweeting you are developing skills in communication and dissemination of what is actually fairly complex knowledge. These are very valuable skills not only for an academic career but for a non-academic one too.

At the risk of waffling, I’ll end here and encourage you all to talk, write, be enthusiastic and engaging. Stop hoarding all that love for your science and let others experience it too!


Happy communicating!



P.s. Follow me on twitter: @ekh_rocksci

P.s.s. And check out my blog on climate and natural hazards: