SciCommer Interview: Sam Illingworth, PhD

By the Fancy Comma, LLC Team

We talked to #SciCommer and professor @samillingworth, who teaches about how to teach effectively, and how to help scientists communicate their research to a wider audience. #SciComm

Fancy Comma talked to Sam Illingworth, a professor who teaches how to use SciComm effectively at Edinburgh Napier University. An atmospheric scientist by training, he blends science and artistic expression as a vehicle for SciComm to share the “poetry of science.” Read on to learn more about Dr. Illingworth in our interview with him.

photo of sam illingworth
Sam Illingworth is associate professor at Edinburgh Napier University, where his research involves using creative ways like poetry and games in science communication. Photo Credit: Twitter.

Fancy Comma: What do you do professionally?

Sam Illingworth: Currently, I am an associate professor at Edinburgh Napier University, where my research involves using creative methods such as poetry and games to help develop dialogues between scientists and non-scientists. I also use poetry to explore issues of staff and student belonging at the university. You can find out more about my work via my website.

FC: How did you get into science communication as a career? Did you come to it by way of science, via communications, or by some other way?

Sam: My journey into science communication began during my PhD. I realized that there was a significant gap between the scientific community and the public, and I became interested in bridging that gap through a creative approach. I then went to Japan to study the relationship between science and theatre and soon after was fortunate enough to get a lectureship in science communication at Manchester Metropolitan University. I haven’t looked back.

FC: As an associate professor, what subjects do you teach, and to which level of students?

Sam: My teaching these days is mostly focused on providing training to other teaching staff at my institute with regard to effective pedagogic practice. However, I still run webinars and seminars all over the world on effective science communication and am always open to new opportunities!

FC: You’ve published a book, “Effective Science Communication.” What motivated you to write it, and how did you learn the lessons you provide in the book? Do you teach those same lessons in your courses?

Sam: I wrote “Effective Science Communication” because I saw a need for a comprehensive guide to help scientists communicate their research to a wider audience. The book provides practical advice and strategies for communicating scientific ideas to (and with) different audiences, including policymakers, journalists, and other publics. The lessons in the book are based on my own experiences as a science communicator and are also informed by research in science communication. I incorporate many of the lessons from the book into my workshops, seminars, and other materials taught, as I believe that effective communication is a vital skill for scientists to develop.

FC: Do you have any quick tips for effectively communicating complex scientific ideas in academic writing?

Sam: One tip for effectively communicating complex scientific ideas in academic writing is to use clear, concise language that avoids jargon and technical terms as much as possible. It’s also important to use visual aids, such as graphs or diagrams, to help illustrate key points. Additionally, breaking down the information into manageable chunks and organizing the material in a logical manner can help readers better understand and retain the information.

FC: In your experience, what are some of the common challenges faced by students when writing about science, and how can they overcome them?

Sam: One common challenge faced by students when writing about science is the tendency to rely too heavily on technical language and jargon, which can make the writing difficult to understand for non-experts. The best way of overcoming this is to get feedback from your intended audience to ensure that your work is engaging to their actual needs, rather than what you think they might want to know.

FC: Lastly, how do you balance teaching, science communication, and other responsibilities, and what strategies do you use to manage your time effectively?

Sam: Balancing teaching, science communication, research, and other responsibilities can be challenging, but I try to prioritize my tasks and plan my schedule in advance. I also make sure to set aside time for self-care, such as exercise and spending time with my family and friends. I have found that effective time management and prioritization is crucial for balancing my various responsibilities. I make a point to prioritize my tasks and set realistic goals for each day. Another strategy I use is to block out specific times of the day or week for certain tasks, such as teaching preparation or writing. Learning when to say ‘no’ is also a vital skill that I am still trying to hone…

About Dr. Sam Illingworth

Dr. Sam Illingworth is a teacher of teachers. He is Associate Professor of Academic Practice in the Department of Learning and Teaching Enhancement in the School of Health and Social Care at Edinburgh Napier University. His teaching focuses on instructing teaching professionals in the art and science of effective communication. Dr. Illingworth is an atmospheric scientist by training as well as a poet. He uses poetry to make “the poetry of science,” as written and spoken word, visible and accessible to the broad public. Dr. Illingworth has created numerous SciComm pieces, from formal articles to written poetry and spoken word recordings, to share the “poetry of science.” Sam has published numerous works including his recent co-authored book, Effective Science Communication (Second Edition): A practical guide to surviving as a scientist (read Fancy Comma’s review here), which breaks down the importance and methods of SciComm. Follow Dr. Illingworth on Twitter @SamIllingworth or visit his website at


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