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Jenny Leonard is a science communicator who has been working with the Beyond Myrtle Rust Programme for over four years. This year, we were able to send her to her first Science Communicators Association of New Zealand (SCANZ) conference, where she presented some of the lessons she learned behind the scenes of the Beyond Myrtle Rust social media presence. Here, Jenny shares her experience of SCANZ via a Q and A.

How long have you been a science communicator?

I started my science communication journey in 2012 in a line outside a sandwich shop near the Botany Department at the University of Cape Town. A professor-type started a conversation with me because he was interested in my shirt (an unfamiliar bird to him, a zoologist). He asked me what I did and although I was a Master’s student in Creative Writing and a field assistant in the Botany Department, I took it as an opportunity to talk at great lengths about the importance of good communication in the sciences. I had no idea I was speaking with the editor-in-chief of the South African Journal of Science. He asked if I’d be interested in writing a few profile articles about prominent scientists for the front section of the journal—it was my first time getting paid to write about science. 

What do you love about science communication?

It gives me great pleasure to “discover” new things about science through reading and conversations with researchers. I’m then very excited to share what I’ve “discovered” with others through writing, my other great love. This cycle of discovery and enthusiastic sharing through writing drives me and makes science communication my passion.

Another thing I love about science communication is its potential to have a real impact. Without effective, outward-facing communication, science gets stuck in the spiral staircases of those ivory towers and research silos. When science topics and outputs are made available to a broader audience, there are more ways for it to grow and influence the world around it.

What were your impressions of SCANZ?

It was fabulous. There was a wide variety of talk topics and some really unique ways of sharing and presenting information. It was so fun to spend the two-day conference surrounded by other science communication nerds—I really felt like I found my people. And the outfits! I’ve never seen so much science fashion on display. I heard the fashion compared to (1) a Ms. Frizzle convention and (2) a Dangerfield advertisement.

How did your presentation go?

It went great! I presented some of the lessons I’ve learned in launching the Beyond Myrtle Rust social media presence. It was a five-minute lightning talk, and I’ve never spent more preparation time per slide in my life! In one of my lessons (a pretty obvious one: “retweeting/sharing is the easiest way to amplify a message”), I gave a shout out to the Science Learning Hub, because anything they retweet or share reaches exponentially more people. And they were right there in the audience! It was really gratifying to connect with them afterward and thank them in person for their awesome work.

What’s one thing you’ll take with you from the conference?

Through circumstances that have led to habit, I tend to work in isolation. I work from home and while I often have conversations with scientists, I don’t often have conversations with other science communicators. This conference was a great reminder that there are other people out there, great people, who share my passion and who do the kinds of things I do. I don’t know how I’ll serve or use this network yet, but I’m sure this community will be a great resource going forward.