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This article was written on 25 Feb 2015, and is filled under Performance, Science.

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Fran Scott: Science translator, demo- developer and TV presenter

Fran-BBC

 

Fran Scott is a woman on a mission, bringing science and engineering to those of us who feel intimidated by the field. Through her explosive live demos ( see her in action above for the BBC at the Edinburgh Festival) and TV presenting, Fran is demystifying science for everyone from CBBC viewers to Radio 4 listeners.

We asked Fran to describe the experience of working as a science translator for us in plain English.

OM: Can you describe an average day at work?

FS: In truth I have up to six jobs at any one time, but they do mostly fall into one of two categories; presenting (be that a live stage show or television) and demo-development, but what I do love about my job is there’s a variety of ‘typical days’.

Typical days of demo-development will involve a lot of research, a lot of thinking and then there’s the actual ‘making’. Depending on the commission, I’ll usually spend 1-2 days researching the topic, making sure I completely understand it, then I’ll just think and draw, and tinker (this can take weeks if it’s for a stage show). To come up with my best ideas I pull out the main elements I want to show; these will be ideas or feelings, not necessarily scientific theories, and then I’ll think about how I could visually show these. Once I’m armed with my idea, I have to then make it. This is the part I truly love. I’ve realised that I’m addicted to learning new skills, and so I always try to push myself with my makes, which may not be great for the stress levels, but does mean my skills-set is continually improving. The recent ‘make’ of which I’m most proud is a pyrotechnics firing rack made using a Raspberry Pi, which can be triggered using a turnip. Yes, you read that right!

As I said the other part of my job is presenting, and these days are very different. Firstly they’re much more social, which I love as I usually work alone when demo developing, but they are also rather intense. Typically I’d get up pre 6am and be on-site at an event or on a train by 7am. On arrival, it’s usually all systems go, either setting up the demo (if I’m doing TV) or setting up a stage show (if I’m doing a live event). TV is a very collaborative process, and everyone knows their role so set-up, although time consuming isn’t stressful as you have the hands you need. Stage shows are different; there’s rarely enough budget to have the hands that you actually need, and good science shows take an inconceivable amount of set-up, there’s not only the props, there’s also lighting cues to be programmed, health and safety tests, on-stage camera block-throughs, AV to prep, ushers to brief, pre-event interviews to do, the list goes on. Thankfully I have a very capable team around me, so this part is enjoyable, if busy. However, when I first started out I had to do everything myself! Once the 2-3 hour set-up is done, it’s time for a quick bite to eat, then the filming or shows start.

With filming, it may just look like you’re having a chat with friends whilst a camera points at you, but there is actually a skill to it, I promise. If you’re doing interviews, you have to hit the narrative of the script whilst allowing the contributor to relax, and still say their piece, and you also have to remember exactly what you’ve said as there’s a good chance you’ll have to repeat it two or three times. When it comes to demos, it’s about getting them to perform exactly as they should, and also having many, many spares so you’re not leaving the crew waiting around, when things don’t quite go to plan.

With stage shows, they are fun, but exhausting. I put a lot of energy into connecting with the audience, as to me that’s the most important part of a show; being genuine and getting the audience to ‘come with you’ on your science journey.

So, after usually two locations filming, or two to three stage shows, it’s time for pack-down. This is usually pretty quick, taking about 45mins, it’s amazing how a show that can take 3hours to set, can be packed away so quickly. Once the props are away with the courier, it’s then time for me to catch the train home, grabbing dinner on the way, usually getting back around 11pm.

OM:Have you always wanted to be a Demo-Developer and Presenter?

FS:

Quite frankly I didn’t even know this job existed. It was after University when I realised I didn’t quite ‘fit’ the jobs that the other science graduates were going for that I decided to look at what I actually enjoyed about Science.

After some thought, I realised it was the ‘thinking what may work’, ‘problem solving’ and ‘trying new things out’ parts that I liked the most, and so that led me into demo-development, which ultimately led me to this brilliant job.
OM: What was the hardest part about becoming a Demo-Developer and Presenter?

FS: As always it’s the balance. You see, being a science TV presenter is not a full-time job, and so it doesn’t pay as such. Therefore, although I know that the TV is important, as its reach is unrivalled, I can’t fully focus on TV work as, just like everyone else, I have rent to pay.

So I also have my demo-development and stage show work, which (to me) is equally important as it gives that live contact with an audience, which just doesn’t happen with TV. However, usually these types of jobs need organising in advance, whereas TV work all comes in rather last minute. This brings on a somewhat delicate balancing act where you need to fill your diary enough so you know you can pay the rent, but not so full that you don’t have space for the inevitable last minute call regarding TV work. It is a difficult balance to reach, but I’m just about getting there.

Fran-CBBC

Fran on CBBC

OM: And what’s the best part of the job?

FS: The excitement and being able to pass on that feeling to those who see your work.

To me, Science and Engineering are incredibly inventive and creative, and to be able to show others this side of a subject that they sometimes just think of as ‘facts’, is absolutely brilliant.

OM: Do you feel you’re treated differently in your industry because you’re a woman?

FS: Not really. Sometimes I do find it harder to be ‘listened to’ than perhaps if I were a man. But, honestly, that could be down to my own behaviour, as sometimes I lack confidence in my own abilities, and so don’t speak with the authority I should in areas where I know I’m an expert. And those in meetings or at events can sometimes sense that fear, and mistake it for lack of knowledge, rather than a lack of confidence.

OM: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? And what other advice would you give to anyone looking to become a Demo-Developer and Presenter? What qualifications and experience do you need?

FS: As a freelancer you never really get any feedback from your employers, especially in TV. And annoyingly I’m the kind of person that unless someone tells me I’ve done “an absolutely amazing job”; “the best they’ve ever seen”, then I think I’ve failed at my brief. Therefore some advice I was given by a Series Producer in children’s TV, which really hit home with me was “No-one in TV stops filming, until they’re happy with what they’ve recorded, so once wrap is called, you, as a Presenter, have done your job, and done it well.”

The advice I’d give anyone is “being a science TV presenter is not a full time job”. There are just not enough science commissions to get you the work you need, so you need another string to your bow. Luckily for me, the presenting came second; my first love was science demonstrations and inventing new takes on old favourites. A lot of people do ask me, “How do I become a TV presenter”, and unfortunately there’s no real career route to that, it’s a case of just doing what you love, and if someone decides that it would translate well to TV, then you become a presenter. So my advice is always… do what you love, do it well, and just see what happens.

Qualifications wise, I also think it’s important to have passion. It’s passion that I find alluring in other people. So if you want to work in TV or on stage have a passion; one distinctly separate from media. Mine, obviously, is Science and Engineering, but yours may be gardening or knitting or food.  Don’t ignore that passion, and get your qualifications in that, rather than media. You’ll be much more employable at the end. You can’t learn passion.
OM: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the workplace or in your career?

FS: Sometimes I think I should have stayed in Academia and done a PhD. It increasingly seems that’s the way you can have the best of both worlds; an all-year-round job where you have access to incredible facilities and libraries, alongside opportunities to show the public how incredible Science and Engineering can be.

I also wish that I’d chosen Engineering at University. Instead, I studied Neuroscience, which disappointingly at my University was heavily focussed on the pharmaceutical industry. It’s only in the last 5 years that I’ve realised that all I love fits under the ‘Engineering’ umbrella. Then again some people I’ve spoken to hated Engineering at University, and so you never know. Perhaps the fact that I found my own way into the Engineering and making world is not a bad thing. And perhaps the best description I have for myself is that I’m Neuroscientist by training, but an Engineer in my heart.
OM: What does success mean to you?

FS:

I do what I do to give normal people the confidence to enter the Science and Engineering world; not just those who went to private school and not just those who have a Science Teacher as a parent, but every day, normal people.If my shows can encourage even 10 people to not drop science when they get to A-levels, then I have achieved what I set out to do. My ambition is to make Science and Engineering ‘the norm’ and remove their intimidating façades.

Science Resources:

Stemmettes

Science Grrl

Guerilla Science

Finding Ada

Tweet Fran here. 

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