The deep end

10 September 2014
By Sophia Berry

Channel 4 News filming in the Sequencing Laboratory at the Sanger Institute. Credit: Genome Research Limited

Channel 4 News filming in the Sequencing Laboratory at the Sanger Institute. Credit: Genome Research Limited

My background is in science. After the summer I’ll be heading back up north to start the last year of my degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology at Newcastle University. So when I arrived at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute for an eight-week placement in the Media, Public Relations and Communications team, it’s safe to say I felt a little out of my depth.

I was quickly thrown into a world of press releases, blogs, features, and websites, and, for the first time, I appreciated just how much work goes on behind the scenes of anything you see in the news.

One of the most exciting things I’ve been involved in here is the media work surrounding the 100,000 Genomes Project announcement. Watching Fatima Manji, reporter for Channel 4, do her piece to camera, which included an interview with the Sanger Institute’s Head of DNA Pipelines Operations, Cordelia Langford, was thrilling. Being able to watch it on TV later that evening gave me that, “I was there, I was involved in that!” kind of feeling.

I also had a chance to try my hand at writing press releases and news stories. One story I worked on was about tracking pathogen transmission to find the emergence of a disease, and even linking the emergence of one of these diseases with the use of antibiotics. Group B Streptococcus is a disease responsible for distressing infections of sepsis and meningitis in newborns that can result in death, so it was sad to learn that this disease has come about, at least in part, because of the introduction of the antibiotic tetracycline 15 years before.

From TV and press releases to radio: I was introduced to another aspect of media work when a journalist from the Naked Scientist radio show came to record a piece about the future of medicine. The piece included a fun experiment to extract your DNA using household items, but also looked at some more serious ethical aspects of work at the Sanger Institute surrounding data security and incidental findings.

It has been a steep learning curve, but over the past two months I have been fully immersed in all things media and comms, an exciting new world that, quite frankly, has left me wanting more.

I’ve learned to fine-tune my eye to see the news behind the science, and I’ve experienced at first-hand the journey of a news piece, from initial point of contact through to the finished piece going live.

Sanger Institute, it’s been a pleasure.

Sophia Berry is a student studying Cellular Molecular Biology at Newcastle University. She completed a summer placement in the Media, Public Relations and Communications department at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. After finishing her degree in 2015, she intends to explore a career in science communications.