A Q & A with Kate Allen, York University’s first Science Communicator in Residence

Kate Allen

This year, the Faculty of Science launched the York Science Communicator in Residence program – a one-of-a-kind program in Canada that aims to recognize outstanding science journalists and communicators and to promote excellence in science-related communications.

Kate Allen, science and technology reporter at the Toronto Star, was selected as one of the first York Science Communicators in Residence. She just wrapped up her five-week residency. Margaret Mroziewicz, communications manager in the Faculty of Science, spoke to Allen about her residency.

What did your day-to-day look like here as a Science Communicator in Residence?

Well I would arrive on campus, get a coffee, and then go to as many meetings as I could with researchers. On a slow day I would meet with about two scientists; on a busy day, five. I wanted to find out what they are working on in as much detail as possible and beyond what I would learn from press releases or previous phone calls with them.

I certainly didn’t meet everyone, and I could keep doing this for many more weeks. But I really appreciated how a lot of researchers fit me into their busy schedules.

What drew you to this residency?

It was an opportunity to get uninterrupted time to meet researchers without any deadline pressures – something that you don’t really get while working at a daily newspaper. It’s easy to stick to stories that come out via press releases and harder to find stories that are unreported. The latter are the kinds of stories that I like to focus on.

What were your favorite moments here?

Biology Professor Amro Zayed invited me to his lab and asked his students to each give four-minute synopses about their work. It was really fun. They competed with each other to be the fastest. It was a good way to learn about everything going on in Zayed’s lab and put faces to names. I was so impressed with how great they were at distilling their research into such a short presentation.

It was also great to meet Chemistry Professor Cora Young and her team of atmospheric chemists. I was interested to learn about what they’re doing with all of their neat instruments, like their massive smog chamber.

Were there any surprising or unusual moments for you?

I was invited to attend one of the department meetings in the Faculty of Science. It was interesting to hear about all the ins and outs and nitty gritty details – it was a perspective that I had never really seen before.

You mentioned once before (jokingly) that you want to get a PhD in whatever you are covering at that moment as a reporter. So, after being here for five weeks, what would you want to do your PhD in?

Don’t make me pick! Something in wildlife and conservation biology. I am jealous of people who get to spend their time in the field, and the questions they are working on have so much relevance to the future of this country and its environment.

You go back to your regular job now. Will your residency at York change the way you approach things as a reporter?

I would like to build my beat around stuff that doesn’t come out from press releases. I hope I can take what I have learned about what others are working on and write more in-depth features on that research instead of shorter stories when studies come out.

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