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Humanities student finds new passion in science communications internship

Monday, 10 July 2017 4:07pm

Jean Balchin image
Jean Balchin holds one of her 25 Objects of NZ History, a pinus radiata cone. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

As a student in the Humanities Internship Programme, Jean Balchin decided to mix disciplines and tackle a new challenge.

English student Jean took an internship with the Science Media Centre of New Zealand, the country’s only trusted, independent source of information for the media on all issues related to science.

With a background in journalism and English literature, Jean found herself in a “thoroughly exciting and informative adventure” linking the two disciplines and felt that the risk she took challenging herself to a science communications internship was worth it.

During her internship, Jean’s main project was to write a series of news articles and podcasts called “A History of New Zealand Science in 25 Objects,” which spanned ingenious pā fortifications and Tā moko uhi (chisels) to disposable syringes and the Britten motorbike. The series combines well-researched scientific information with rich storytelling to draw out the human side of some of New Zealand's biggest innovations, and features on Sciblogs, a website for the best science bloggers in the country that is managed by the director of the Science Media Centre, Peter Griffin.

Inspired by the History of the World in 100 Objects project by the director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor, Jean calls New Zealand’s scientific innovations “fascinating, varied and internationally appreciated.”

“I believe my project is important in that it can educate the New Zealand public on the amazing science and technology Kiwis have engineered.”

Being raised in a Christian homeschooling programme that taught creationism over science, Jean grew up fascinated to find out about the real world and scientific discoveries she was removed from as a child, and started her university studies as a neurology and psychology student. However, feeling stifled by the thought of working in a lab, Jean discovered science communications, and realised she preferred writing about and teaching science.

Jean says the internship experience has added another string to her bow, and that she would love to continue her work in science journalism and communication.

“I will be staying on as a guest blogger with Sciblogs, and write the odd news article and book review for them.”

“Jean has been quick to pick up the skills required in writing for an online audience” said John Kerr, News Editor at Sciblogs and Jean’s supervisor.

“She has been enthusiastic about the project and committed a great deal of time and energy to her work, which has been of a consistently high standard. We are very grateful to have Jean on board.”

A particular highlight for Jean was the chance to interview Dr Brian Greene, one of the leading proponents of String Theory and professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University.

“I had to stay up all night reading up on String Theory so I had a basic understanding of the interview topics. I spoke with Dr Greene about his theories on multiverses and tried to wrap my head around that elusive character, Father Time.”

Jean admits the internship has been challenging at times, but she’s enjoyed the experience.

“While I’ve worked in journalism and radio before, I’ve never tackled science journalism and I’ve learned a lot.”

Working with the Science Media Centre has given Jean a healthy respect for those who work to fairly and accurately report science.

“They work incredibly hard to link together the media and science professionals.”

Jean's internship experience was made possible through her enrolment in the Humanities Internship Practicum paper, which is a paper for undergraduate (HUMS301) and postgraduate (HUMS401) students. The paper provides academic, work-base and personal skill development and enhance students' post-study employability. To find out more, head to the Humanities website.