Giving interviews is a great skill for scientists who are open to partaking in science communication, but are pretty busy, and those who want to learn about the basics of SciComm before adding technical skills – like writing, podcasting, or even film-making.
Science Communication: Giving Interviews. The day of the interview.
In this episode, I take you through an in-depth interview as I would structure it, and how to prepare on the day of the interview.
Let’s finally give the interview.
I’m Dennis Eckmeier, a neuroscientist working as an independent science communicator. I interview scientists for podcasts and YouTube videos. If you are interested in communicating science to expert and lay audiences, subscribe and press the bell, or you might miss my occasional videos on academic writing and science communication.
The easiest interview to master clearly is the written interview, for which you fill out a questionnaire. If you watched the first two videos of this series, you are already prepared but might want to look up some quick tips on science writing.
The most challenging interviews are probably those that are live – be it on stage, on the radio, television, or live streams. That’s where you would want to look into additional public speaking skills. Thankfully those come in handy for scientists, anyways.
Remote interviews may also have technical challenges when the audio and video are going to be presented to the audience – be it live or not. You want to look and sound your best. Thankfully, 2020 gave us a lot of tutorial videos on how to set up audio and video for online conferences. I myself made some videos about the technical side of being a guest on a podcast.
When I interview someone, it’s in the context of audio podcasts or videos. Everything is recorded, but I do have the ability to edit the material to streamline the information flow and support storytelling. Writers will often record the interview in order to transcribe it, later.
day of the interview
Especially as a novice, try and schedule the interview on a low-stress day and block out ample time.
Use the time to get mentally prepared for the interview. Go over your notes and get into the mood. You want to be focused, but still ready to have a chat about your favorite topic. I’d compare it to visiting another institute and getting to know the researchers following your presentation in the morning – your career isn’t at stake, but you still want to make a good professional and collegial impression.
Having some extra time at the end of the interview allows to go over a bit, in case there are technical difficulties or things that need discussion.
I usually ask my guests to block out between 90 minutes to 2hrs for an in-depth interview, which I know is a lot. But I rather have my guests positively surprised by ending the interview early, than stressed-out by the interview taking longer for some reason. So, if you will be interviewed by me, know that I already thought about that.
Once everything is set up, the conversation can begin.
Depending on the scope and depth of the interview and of course the interviewer, the conversation can take different shapes. They develop organically. Let it happen!
I am reverse-engineering advice for you, a scientist, from advice shared among science writers that I found to align well with my own experiences.
So, if you are going to be interviewed by me, the following will pretty much describe what – I hope – you are looking forward to. But it should also work well with other interviewers.
Just like any other conversation, it will likely begin with some chit chat. How is your day going? Was it hard to get set up? Lean into it. Let the interviewer know in what state you are – within your comfort zone, of course – and try to relax. Don’t worry, this usually is over, quickly.
If there are any open questions on your mind about how the material will be used, get them off your chest before the actual interview begins. Interviewers will typically ask you whether there are such questions, but sometimes they forget.
During the rest of the interview, let yourself be guided by the interviewer, but don’t be afraid to also steer the conversation a bit, where you feel necessary.
Also, interviewers will often patiently let you talk. If you are used to keep talking until interrupted, this might feel unfamiliar. This is where it comes handy to have your answers prepared. Then you can give a clear answer right away and then elaborate as you please. When you find yourself beginning to ramble, you at least are sure you already covered everything. At the same time, please, don’t let having prepared answers keep you from elaborating.
It is, by the way, much easier to have a natural, dynamic conversation, when you can see each other’s faces. So, if possible, agree to videoconferencing, even if the video won’t be used. Interviewers will sometimes check the recording equipment and write things down, and so on. Try not to be distracted by it.
During the interview I’ll try to cover two or three sides to the story.
First, I’d ask you about your personal journey from deciding to become a scientist to the current moment. The audience and I want to understand who you are as a person – what are you passionate about, how did it lead you to your current research questions, and how does it connect with your research approach.
The second is the stakeholder’s view. Let’s say you are researching a treatment for a rare disease. We want to know what the patients and their families are going through. If you are developing technology, what are the issues the users are facing?
Only the last major section will be about the actual research. What is known, what did you do, what was the outcome? Think of the introduction to your paper on the subject. Very interesting are the obstacles you had to overcome and how you did it. Importantly, don’t forget to give credit to your team members where appropriate. Science is a team effort, which needs to be communicated.
Also, Science communication in the past has focused on spreading facts. But we also need the population to understand the process of how we got to those facts. Please don’t forget this when giving your answers.
At the very end an interviewer should ask whether there was anything you wanted to cover that you couldn’t cover, yet. If that’s the case, please make use of the opportunity. It also gives you the chance to tell them what you hope the audience will take away from this interview, and maybe repeat a point or two that you think may not have been very clear.
Sometimes this opens up a whole new and insightful conversation. Thankfully, we blocked out an extra half an hour. That’s what it’s there for.
Make sure to be prepared at the day of the interview. Set aside sufficient time to get set up – especially when you need special equipment – and to get into the mood to talk about your favorite topic in a business casual way.
In a typical interview you will first get to know each other a bit, and clarify eventual questions on your side. Then, during the interview, you will explore different angles to the topic. Your personal story, the story of stakeholders, and the story of scientific research. Don’t forget to mention interesting obstacles you overcame and give credit to your peers, where applicable. In the end you should be given the opportunity to add something that’s on your mind, clarify things you thought weren’t clear, and share you hope the audience will take away from the interview.
And this is it.
From now on it’s all out of your hands. Usually, you won’t hear back from the journalist or communicator until the piece is published. Except maybe if they ask for additional material, like your portrait photo, or other pictures that can be used for illustration.
With this I end this mini-series on giving interviews. If you are preparing to be interviewed for a podcast, check out the two videos that I linked in the end card for some technical advice.
I thank you very much for watching,
I hope your interviews will be enjoyable,
Have a good day,