Kat Arney: Using Storytelling to Communicate Complex Concepts
Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.
Kat Arney is the author of two books about genetics – Herding Hemingway’s Cats and How to Code a Human – and presenter/producer of the monthly Naked Genetics podcast. Following a PhD at Cambridge University and a postdoc at Imperial College, Kat left the lab to become a full-time science communicator at Cancer Research UK. Now freelance, she is passionate about telling stories about science and juggles her time as a writer, broadcaster, speaker, trainer and communications consultant.
What are you working on right now?
The biggest thing is my next book, which is exploring the story of cancer, genetics and evolution. I’m researching it at the moment, which means I get to travel around meeting amazing scientists and have fascinating, inspiring conversations about their work and ideas. At some point, I’ll have to write it all up though. That’s less fun.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?
Convincing people that high-quality communications – whether that’s a great piece of writing, an absorbing podcast, an inspiring talk, or an engaging training workshop – is worth paying for. Communicating science well is like being fluent in another language. It takes time, practice and talent, and has become woefully undervalued.
The Naked Genetics podcast visits the Festival of Genomics 2018
Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.
I’d like to see researchers, universities and companies engaging with the idea of using story and narrative to communicate complex concepts, and I’m working on doing a lot more talks, coaching and workshops focusing on storytelling in science. Facts are forgettable, stories are sticky – but they also need to be authentic and based on solid research.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m incredibly proud that my first book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, was well-received by leading researchers in the field as well as the general public. Of course, I want people to read it, but it’s most important to me that I get that science right as well as writing something that’s enjoyable and engaging.
Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?
I’d love to have a ‘girls night out’ with Barbara McClintock, Mary Lyon, Hilde Mangold, Rosa Beddington and Anne McLaren, downing a few cocktails and talking about genetics, embryology and sexism in science.
What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
The main piece of advice I give people now is “Know yourself and know your sh*t.” You are the captain of your ship: when you truly discover who you are and what makes you tick, and also spend the time and effort on developing your specialist skills and knowledge, then you can steer your life in the direction you want to go.
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