Shweata N Hegde
Suchitha Champak – Founder and Managing Editor of SciRio – successfully concluded SciComm Lite 1.0. on March 2nd. SciRio’s first-ever workshop was a great success which left participants inspired and motivated in charting their path in the field of SciComm. We were curious to know how Suchitha came up with the first-of-its-kind workshop. So here we are behind the scenes with Suchitha, having a chat over her motivation, the ordeal, and other details of the workshop. Did you not know about the workshop and want to know how it went by? Don’t worry, we have got you covered. Click here to read about the workshop and what we learnt from there!
You can join us behind the scenes here on YouTube, where we have a heart-to-heart conversation with Suchitha on camera. We have also briefly summarized our chat here. Read below to get a gist of the interview.
Meghna(M): So tell us about how you feel after completing the workshop?
When I started, I was a little nervous. But towards the end of the workshop, I was pleased about how it turned out. All the credit goes to the mentors and the participants, who were very enthusiastic and interactive. They made the best use of the sessions, I must say.
Shweata(S): What inspired you to organize such a fantastic workshop?
When I started SciRio, all I wanted to do was communicate science. Then I realized this colossal void where science communicators themselves needed better opportunities to learn and a platform to communicate science. That’s when SciRio pivoted. I wanted to see how beginners in this field of science communication could get the entire landscape in front of them to do it part-time or even take this up full-time. If not now, in the future. Focusing on different elements of science communication and how we can blend the different elements and formats was also one of the core principles of this workshop.
M: How easy or difficult was the process for you, going from ideation to the execution process?
This was the first-ever workshop for SciRio. I’m proud of how it turned out. When I started, I was listing down the important elements of what science communicators should know.
It was a virtual workshop, and I had to figure out many of the back-end and technical details. When you have a virtual session, it’s not about how you will get the mentors and participants together. But also how you’re going to make the experience more immersive. Another thing I was conflicted about was the selection procedure. I was cautious about how I chose the applicants. We had a component of offering scholarships as well. So these were certain things that took a lot of time, thinking, and reiteration to understand how best I can execute it.
S: Could you talk about how you ensured diversity in the participants as well as mentors? How did you remunerate mentors’ effort and find that balance?
It was important for me to balance how I give value to the time and effort the mentors have put into this workshop versus how best I can provide value to the participants for what they pay. It’s not just the sessions that the mentors take. We also asked them to provide feedback for the assignments that participants submit post sessions.
Diversity was equally important for me because many courses offered in science writing or science communication in India focus mostly on PhD students. I wanted to make sure it was accessible to everyone. During selection, I made sure that there was a good mix of undergrads, post-grads, PhDs, and even postdoctoral fellows.
M: Apart from networking, what other features made you choose Airmeet?
Thinking about in-person events, at least for this entire year, it was ruled out. So, I was trying to see how to make the platform more inclusive and like an in-person session.
And the biggest factor for choosing AirMeet, specifically, was the networking sessions. You can get together in small groups, which sort of mimics your tea or coffee time during your workshops or conferences where you try to go around talking to new people and making new connections. And I wanted to see how little I can spend on these other technicalities, so I can balance between – how well I can pay the mentors versus how little I can charge the participants.
M: Let’s say COVID wasn’t there. Would you plan to conduct such workshops in person?
In-person events are the dream events that I want to conduct. One for training, learning, and exercise purposes for science communicators. On the other hand, another kind where we go out to the public, engage with them to actually communicate science.
There are a lot of things that we need to consider, like travel and accommodation. With virtual events, the best part is you can get to know people from different places. In this first workshop, we had people from Columbia and Canada. That sort of diversity is hard to see by in-person events. In-person events open up to many more collaborations and allow more human connection. You can never get this in a virtual event. I’m trying to see how we can get the best of two worlds in one place.
S: What did you learn from this workshop that you weren’t aware of?
I did have many takeaways from every session that I attended, and it was a pleasure listening to all of these mentors. There were many hypotheses and micro experiments that I had run during the workshop, which turned out well. So I wanted to see how the networking session would turn out. I was very nervous about how interactive the participants would be, but I’m proud of them. Proud of you guys! Because I know for a fact that it is difficult to come out of your comfort zone, talk to new people and learn many things.
S: Would you have any advice for the science communicators who would like to conduct their workshop?
So, for conducting their own workshops or sessions, I’d say, go ahead. If you’re not very confident and feel that you’re probably not the authority to conduct the workshop, don’t think like that. Just go experiment. Talk to newer people, go beyond your inner circle and your social network, make more connections. Once you start with something, you’re going to learn a lot, and you’re going to get more ideas from which you can stem, and you can go on from there.
S: Throughout the workshop, the emphasis has been on exploring new multimedia formats for novice science communicators. Why do you think such efforts are important now?
Hands down, multimedia content, is what people are consuming. Comics, memes, podcasts, short videos, reels, and short stories have picked up in trend. So, why don’t we go there to that space to talk about science? That was the biggest message that I wanted to pass on with this workshop. All the credits should go to the mentors. They just articulated it so well to make sure people understand how important multi-sensory content is.
I want people to explore different formats of science communication. Go all crazy, try different formats, and you never know what’s going to work out! If you’re interested, go ahead and try building your skills. But if you’re not interested, and it feels too tedious, maybe try something else that’s in your forte. I also want to add something important here with whatever both of you would have said. Yes, It’s important to explore different formats. But like every mentor has said throughout the workshop, writing is crucial.
S: What is next for SciRio?
Concerning this particular workshop, I want to have a sequel. That’s the whole reason I had SciComm Lite 1.0. I also want to see how the following workshops will have a different combination of elements and cater to a different set of audience.
SciRio just launched SciComm Fosters, where the participants can engage in more than just listening and note-taking from the sessions. Rather, they’ll be more proactive and have hands-on experience in communicating science. Thanks to the pandemic, people have realized how important science communication is, and people want to address the demand-supply deficit of accurate, verified, and creative forms of science content.
S: Do you have any thoughts or any concluding remarks that you want to add on?
SciRio is all about helping science communicators, upskilling, and helping them network. I want SciRio to become a household name for people who’d want to learn about science and learn about concepts in a more fun and creative manner. The last and most important aspect for SciRio would be in terms of creating opportunities for science communicators. Thank you so much Shweata, and Meghna, for making this happen. I always wanted to discuss how the event went by and showcase how more inclusive and interactive science communication workshops could be. I was thrilled when you guys came forward and said they wanted to report it and wanted my perspective.
We had great fun interviewing Suchitha on her experience. It was an equally enriching experience for us. We hosted the interview for the first time, and we wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for SciComm Lite 1.0.