Dr. Joff Lacey Interview

Hello everyone 🙂

I have just got back from a glorious week in Tenerife where I went in a submarine (!) and also found out that I did well in second year. I hope everyone reading this is having a similarly fun summer and is awaiting/has received good results too!

This week is a bit of a different blog— as you might know, I am in the process of discovering what sorts of careers are involved in science communication. To this end, I am hopefully (if I can find more willing volunteers) going to be asking a few questions to some of the people I talk to about their jobs and experiences for this blog.

First up is Dr. Joff Lacey, who is an anaesthetist and presenter on the TV Channel Al Jazeera’s medical science program ‘The Cure‘. The show covers cutting-edge health research, from wearable exoskeletons for people who are paralysed, to the effects of air pollution. Its coverage of Xtreme Everest—a huge project that is researching the effects of lack of oxygen on the body and for which Dr. Lacey was a researcher as well as presenter, won the Foreign Press Association ‘Science Story of the Year’ award.

How did you get involved in science communication?

I rather fell into media work. I’ve always enjoyed various forms of presenting, whether it was teaching medical students or talking at a conference, so the idea of being able to chat about science to a much larger audience was a very exciting prospect but a bit of a pipe dream. A good friend of mine works at Grain Media and they wanted medics to present a new show for Al Jazeera English- so I put my name forward, did a screen test and met with the executive producer…. two weeks later I was on a plane to Zambia to shoot my first film on Orbis (flying eye hospital)!

Do you have a favourite location to which you’ve travelled to film? 

That’s a difficult one as I have been lucky enough to film in several fabulous locations. One that does stand out however is Norway – we travelled deep within the Arctic circle and met up with scientists trawling the depths of the fjords in search on new antibiotics. It was summer time so it was dark for only a few hours each day and I got to see the beauty of the Norwegian coastline in all its glory. Absolutely stunning.

Are you familiar with most of the stories reported on, or are they sometimes things you have only just found out about? 

I am normally aware of the overarching scientific issue that the story covers, but the specific project is always new which is what makes the process so exciting. Before embarking on making a film there is, of course, substantial preparation and communication with the scientists involved in the project, but the filming itself is very much a method of discovery.

Do you have to stick to a script or are some bits (I’m thinking of the dancing that you did in the Flying Eye hospital!) spontaneous? 

There is definitely no script! Which is great – I think it gives the films a fresh and real feel.  As I have said, there is a lot of preparatory work and we will devise a general format to the film and what details we want cover but that can often change significantly once we’re on the ground making the film. And yes – the dancing was definitely spontaneous, otherwise I would have made sure it was a song I could dance to!!

I have heard some people say that they consider science communication a bit of a soft option and not really necessary. Do you think that making the public aware of their research is something that all scientists should think about?

Absolutely. In fact I believe that communicating with the public is an essential part to being a scientist. There will obviously be varying degrees of engagement depending on the science and the scientist but I feel every effort should be made to involve as many people in our work as possible. Science if fascinating and instilling interest in people is the first step to scientific exploration and advancement.

So there you go 🙂 Thank you Dr.Lacey if you are reading this—I am hopefully going to be doing some work experience for his film company Grain Media this autumn which I am really looking forward to!

Did I mention I went in a SUBMARINE??


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