In this episode of R, D and the Inbetweens I am talking to Dr. Simon Clark - University of Exeter PhD graduate, Youtuber and author of Firmament: The Hidden Science of Weather, Climate Change and the Air That Surrounds Us.

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License



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Hello and welcome to R, D and the in-betweens.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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, and welcome to the latest episode of R&D in the In-betweens.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and in this episode, I'm going to be talking to one of the University of Exeter's doctoral graduates,

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Dr Simon Clarke, about his experience setting up a wildly successful YouTube channel during his PhD.

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And all of the science communication work he's gone on to do afterwards, and in particular, the publication of his first book Firmament.

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So my name is Simon Clarke. I am a full time professional nerd, and I mostly express that through making YouTube videos.

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So I have been running a YouTube channel about various topics in science, mostly Earth science,

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particular focus on climate change since I graduated with my Ph.D. in 2018.

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I had to think that because it's been actually quite a few years and I also do a variety of other things, I do a bit of livestreaming on Twitch.

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I have a podcast and recently I wrote a book called Firmament, which is an introduction to and history of atmospheric science.

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I guess the starting point for me is about how you became interested in what led you to

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become a professional nerd and particularly in times of kind of science communication.

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What was the route that takes you from kind of being a researcher and doing a Ph.D. to what you're doing now?

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How did that? How did that evolve?

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Well, it's something that sort of spon kind of spontaneously happened over a long period of time in that I so when I was a kid,

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I used to want to be a film director like I was obsessed with cinema and the moving image and stuff like that.

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And so I ended up doing science because that was sort of what I felt like was a

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responsible thing to do societally and financially and ended up doing my undergrad.

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And did my PhD? But when I was in my undergrad, I had this opportunity.

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I thought to make video content that would be worthwhile because I was a state school kid.

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I went to a comprehensive school just outside Bristol, and when I applied to study physics at Oxford,

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I was the only no one from my school had ever done that before. No one had ever gone to Oxford to study physics.

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And so I had loads of questions about how the process works.

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You know, what were the interviews like? Did you have to speak Latin to get in? Did you have to have a parent who'd been to Oxford to go there?

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And I just didn't know, you know, these are for someone who's been there. These are silly questions, but I didn't know any better.

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So when I when I got in, I realised that I had something of a valuable perspective as somebody who could help the student I was a year ago.

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So when I spent a term at Oxford and I'd seen what life was like,

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and I'd also seen the admissions process from the other side of the coin, I just made one video about what that was like.

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You know, what life is like in Oxford and advice to people who were applying. And that was I thought I'd be done.

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And then it hit the big time and it got like a hundred views, and I thought that maybe I could do another one because I've lots of people in the comments.

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You could, you know who had other questions. So I did another video a couple of months later and then another one and another one,

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and I gradually fell into this thing about just these sorts of becoming the internet version of a of a

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movie director in in that I was making my own short films and it was something that I carried on in the.

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And I eventually ended up doing a series where I was vlogging my life as a Ph.D. student,

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and that was something that was very deliberately as a an exercise in science communication and in outreach.

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It was trying to show what the process of doing a PhD was like,

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but also what I was doing in my research and sort of telling people about the field that I was really interested in.

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And that got to the point where towards the basically in the final year of the Ph.D.,

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I sort of weighed up my options and thought to myself, You know, I think I could do this as a full time thing.

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It wasn't at the point where financially that was anywhere near possible. Like, I was not earning very much at all then.

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But I thought that with a with a sort of a year of concerted effort and a little bit of luck,

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I could maybe do this as a job and it wasn't so much a deliberate choice that I've made

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thinking it would be successful as an opportunity that I thought I would regret not taking.

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So I ended up doing it, you know, giving it a go after the Ph.D. and ended up, you know, where I am now.

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But in terms of why I didn't want to stay in academia and I wanted to do that.

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Sci comm media production, basically, I thought I didn't have necessarily the best time in my Ph.D.,

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I didn't have the best working relationship with my supervisor because it's the first time

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I did a Ph.D. I didn't really know what that relationship was supposed to look like.

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And so we didn't, you know, get publications out. We basically had to scrape together a thesis at the end of the process.

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There was enough science that had been done,

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but it was just so disjointed and all over the place and stop start that we sort of had to compile it all together into a thesis at the end.

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But that meant that I felt whether this was accurate or not.

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But I felt at the time that I didn't have the option to go into academia because I didn't have those publications.

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But more than that, I just wasn't really having a good time.

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And it wasn't wasn't something that I was passionate about doing anymore, whereas the video stuff I was,

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I was very happily staying up until one or two in the morning editing videos, and it was something that I could really see myself doing.

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And I loved that process of coming up with an idea and crafting it and making it your own video And in that video,

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doing some teaching, because that's that's fundamentally sort of how I think about my content.

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You've got a learning objective. You have some educational objective that you want to try and achieve,

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and you craft a video to try and maximise the probability of your audience reaching that objective.

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And that's a process that I really enjoyed then and I still enjoy doing now.

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So, you know, I have no plans to stop doing this. Amazing.

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And I think it's it's and I find this with a lot of people.

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I talk to about what they've gone on to do after PhDs or research degrees is there's this kind of.

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Accidental, or is this kind of serendipity, I guess, of following various interests,

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various parts of their lives and then that kind of coalescing into a career,

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which it's done really beautifully for you. it's something that my dad calls proactive serendipity.

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Oh, I like that where you're, you know, it's very lucky that I've been in this position,

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but I was only able to be lucky because I've put sort of all of the work in before,

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and I've made hundreds and hundreds of videos before I turned full time, so I had the skills built up.

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But you know, at the end of the day, it still takes.

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It's the whole 99 percent perspiration 1% inspiration thing like it's it's lots and lots of work,

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but you do need that break that you do that that bit of luck in order to be successful.

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And that's the bit that you just have to try and maximise the probability of, but is out of your control.

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So thinking about kind of. You know, you you you said when you were kind of in the final year,

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you were making a little kind of a little bit of money from it and not anything kind of, you know, to live on or anything.

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But how how did you go about thinking and turning that into effectively a business and a job for yourself?

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I mean, I'm not the kind of kid who who grew up wanting to be a CEO.

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I was very I was on. I very much am not still business oriented.

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So I mean, I personally, my personal opinion is there are two kinds of YouTubers.

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There are those who run a business and it happens to be making videos and there are those who make videos and they happen upon it as a business.

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And I'm definitely the latter.

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I am somebody who just made the content that I thought was interesting and trusted that if I thought it was good enough,

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other people would think it was good. And that was something that, you know, I just sort of put all my eggs in that basket, so to speak.

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And after I finished the PhD, I was like, Right, what are the topics that I find cool?

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What are these? What stories that I can tell? And I suppose just blindly trusted that that would eventually turn itself into a job.

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And we know that that I think I have been very lucky, but I think also that that is a general something that is true in life,

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that if you make stuff that's good, people will come to you.

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You don't necessarily have to do all of the the legwork yourself.

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You just have to make something that's good and get it out there and eventually think, you know, it may take a while,

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but eventually it does get to that audience and that audience then becomes something that you can turn into a business.

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But the process that last step is something that has happened almost entirely bungled through.

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I'm like the Mr Bean of the business world.

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It's the things that sort of happened to me, and I've been very lucky, but I have very little kind of wilful kind of agency over it.

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Yeah, Mr Bean of the business world is quite quite an image.

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So one one of the reasons why I wanted to have a chat with you is about the book that you've written Firmament.

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Can you tell me a bit about how

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I mean, what the book is about, but also how it came about the for you to write the book, how that opportunity presented itself.

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So I in terms of what the book's about first.

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So. So the book is it's as I said earlier,

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it's an introduction to and it's a history of atmospheric science and those two sort of key components of it, 50 50.

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Because when you're learning about atmospheric science in an undergrad or in Ph.D., the emphasis is very much on.

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Here are the equations. Here's how you apply them go.

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There's there's there's very little historical context and often actually very little scientific context to,

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you know, where these things come from, where do these expressions come from?

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And when I was an undergrad, my favourite lecture series was Thermal Physics, taught by Stephen Blundell.

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And there is one of the reasons it was my favourite, apart from the fact that he was an amazing lecturer,

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was that he went on these little historical asides and he filled in that context.

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And I don't if it was just me, hopefully not.

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But I found that knowing that historical and scientific context to why an expression is the way it is and how we came to know this stuff,

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how we know what we know was really useful and really interesting.

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So when I was when I sort of sat down to work out, you know, if if I were to write a book, what would I want it to be about?

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That was very much at the forefront of my mind,

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and I designed it to be similar to books that I read when I was in sort of sixth form, an undergraduate.

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So books like in such a Schrodinger's Cats or the Elegant Universe, or, you know, if you want to get grandiose like a brief history of time.

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So something that gets you into interested in a subject but is not necessarily very detailed in terms of the the academic detail.

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There's not very many equations, for example, in it, but it's something that sparks your interests or sparks your passion and provides that

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historical context because those books exist for physics and chemistry and for biology.

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But as far as I could tell, nothing existed for the atmosphere, meaning specifically the atmosphere,

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not just weather or not this climate, because there were a couple of books, have been written as sort of a historical introduction to climate change,

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like the discovery of global warming by Spencer Weart was quite a big sort of influence on me.

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But the atmosphere, specifically the physical system, how we, how we discovered it,

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how we understand it, and sort of how that understanding has evolved over time.

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Just nobody seemed to have written about for that audience before.

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So that was my my goal was to write a personal statement book that kids will say they've read on their personal statement.

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Hopefully they have actually read it. And then in terms of how it came to be, I like I said, I sat down and sort of worked out.

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If I were to write a book, what would it be about?

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And I, I sort of kind of wrote, I suppose, a rough book proposal in it mentally, and I think I must have written it down somewhere that I haven't.

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I wish I could find that original note, and I set it as a goal of mine.

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I wanted to write this book and I again the whole proactive serendipitity thing.

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I started a book series on my YouTube. I started a series of videos where I talked about books and reviewed what I was reading and suggested

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books for people with the explicit intent intention of that being something that a publisher would find.

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See me, see my social media profile and think, Oh, this guy's a science person who knows about books and seems to know what they're talking about.

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Maybe they should write a book and that that was a very explicit goal in my head of having a book playlist on my channel.

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And eventually, that was somewhat unbelievably one of my plans actually works,

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and I had an email from a publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, and they asked me to come in

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And basically, you know,

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if I had any ideas for book and I had that proposal basically ready and almost completely unchanged is what we ended up publishing.

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That's phenomenal, and I think you know that. You know, that proactive serendipity of going this, this is something that I would like to do this,

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this is how I can use the work that I'm doing and the platform that I have to perhaps.

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Work towards that. Yeah. Maximise the chance of having luck happened to you in a very wishy washy way.

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Yeah, but it's it's actually true. I was quite interested in what you were saying about the history and the science,

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but also kind of thinking about some of the the public speaking training and work that i've done,

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particularly with scientists where we're talking about kind of public engagement or science communication.

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And this there's always this real kind of like really intense fear of dumbing the science down for a lay audience.

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And I wondered if you could say a little bit about kind of what it was like writing or, you know, just generally, obviously the science communication,

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what you've done about your experience as a as a researcher who's someone who's got that kind of

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scientific background doing the more quote unquote popular science or popular communication?

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It's tough at the fundamental problem of science. Communication is that balance between content,

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meaning having something that is scientifically accurate to the best of our knowledge and is

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truthful and weaving a story that people actually wants to listen to or read about or watch.

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Because, you know, a perfectly just just reading the IPCC report for the context of climate change, for example,

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would probably be a video that I could make that would be the most accurate thing I could possibly produce.

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But the problem with that would be nobody would watch it, but maybe some people would.

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I don't know. Maybe I could do an ASMR reading of the IPCC report just to have the maximum number of acronyms in the title

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But it's that's the fundamental challenge, really, and it's something that I've oscillated on over the years,

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I think, and what I've eventually hit on is you have to pick your battles.

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And by that, I mean, you have to pick a level of science capital.

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So you know, this concept of how into science a person is whether that's through their interest, you know,

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in terms of podcasts or videos or whatever it is, but also, you know, degrees that they have and things like that.

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And I delight in making stuff for a high science capital audience.

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So when I give talks at universities, I can go into, here's this equation I derive.

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Let's talk about all the different components and what they mean, and this is applying it to this data.

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And this is why this data comes from and these are the problems with it and the assumptions we make and all this kind of stuff.

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That's great. I love doing that. But at the same time,

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I recognise that aiming for that high science capital audience is aiming for a minuscule component of the people that you could be reaching with.

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Second. And furthermore, that the goal of talking to them is to raise their science capital.

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But you're only going to raise it by a tiny proportion. It's going to be the thinnest sliver on the top of that.

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That science capital on the bar graph.

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Whereas if you aim for a lower science capital audience, you can do more societal good and raise their science capital by far larger proportional.

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And honestly, I think absolute value. And so when I am writing stuff, whether that's the book or whether it's videos, I have this audience in mind.

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I sort of have this, this learning objective in mind of who needs to know this?

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And, you know, what do they need to learn? And therefore, what level do I need to pitch this at?

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And once I've done that, in a way, the script kind of writes itself.

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I don't know if this is because of my training as a physicist,

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but that the whole fundamental thing with physics is you neglect information in order to make a system solvable,

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like you make assumptions about there being no resistance or friction or whatever it is.

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Radial symmetry in order to be able to write an equation that describes what's going on,

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and I feel like that happens with me when I'm writing scripts for for for relatively low science

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capital audience in that it forces you to strip down to what is the core essential of this topic.

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And once you've got that? Making sure that you're not saying anything that actually contradicts the broader picture,

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are you saying anything that if you fill in all those other extraneous details and you put air friction resistance and friction back in?

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Are you still correct? And that is really the fundamental problem.

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It's trying to render something down as simply as possible without making sure that you're not contradicting anything in the broader picture.

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And the videos, I felt like I've got that down to a reasonable extent.

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Now I think I'm OK at that with with the book, the benefit was that I had much, much more time to work on it,

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like in the writing process for a YouTube video is typically about a week, whereas, you know, the book was about 18 months to two years.

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And so it really allowed you to write something and stew and look at it as like, OK, now how would a hydrological researcher look at this paragraph?

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What would they say and thinking, Oh, actually, yeah, when you look at it from that angle that that particular adjective is probably not quite right,

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let's change that to be, you know, rather than significant use substantial or something like that.

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So it's something that definitely gets easier the longer you do it, but also gets easier, the more time you have to do it for a given thing.

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Yeah. So on that on that note about the kind of the time and the process of writing the book,

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you said that Hodder and Stoughton got in touch with you through the YouTube series and

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what you went for a meeting and you had you had kind of a proposal already.

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Can you can you talk a little bit about kind of the process of, I guess, agreeing and doing a formal proposal to write the book?

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And then also like the big question of what is it like to write a book?

00:19:12,690 --> 00:19:16,260
Well, the big question, well, I mean, I'm like, OK, right, that's OK for you, those in order.

00:19:16,260 --> 00:19:22,260
So in terms of I went into their offices in London and I met up with my editor iIan Wong who was

00:19:22,260 --> 00:19:27,000
very enthusiastic and he knew me from my videos and was obviously very keen to work together.

00:19:27,000 --> 00:19:31,620
And he basically said, Have you got any ideas? And I I I tried to low roll.

00:19:31,620 --> 00:19:36,660
There's this idea that I've been so stewing for years and years and sort of pitched that.

00:19:36,660 --> 00:19:43,920
And basically, we agreed on the day that this is something that's interesting, and I'm pretty sure the publisher would like to go through with this.

00:19:43,920 --> 00:19:46,260
What? So I'll send you an email with all the details.

00:19:46,260 --> 00:19:52,470
And then I go back home and then got an email from Ian saying, Right, I want you to fill out a proposal and what that is.

00:19:52,470 --> 00:19:57,570
And he sort of walked me through and it was basically saying to the publisher, who I am,

00:19:57,570 --> 00:20:03,780
why I should be trusted to write a book, what my credentials, why I think people would be interested in this topic.

00:20:03,780 --> 00:20:07,170
You know, what's the selling points of the book? And then a writing sample.

00:20:07,170 --> 00:20:13,530
So basically, what ended up actually being, I think, almost entirely the introduction chapter of the book.

00:20:13,530 --> 00:20:20,850
So it was a couple of thousand words like not very many that allowed them to see what my authorial voice was like.

00:20:20,850 --> 00:20:30,660
And I remember I so clearly remember writing that in a Wetherspoons in Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire, which is where I lived at the time.

00:20:30,660 --> 00:20:32,350
I used to go into towns like do a bit of work,

00:20:32,350 --> 00:20:39,510
and there's an image of me with a pint of Diet Coke in the middle of the day and this almost empty Wetherspoons writing this book proposal,

00:20:39,510 --> 00:20:41,790
which I eventually finished and sent over.

00:20:41,790 --> 00:20:47,250
And there's a brief period of deliberation, like a couple of days and they got back together like, great, we want to green light it.

00:20:47,250 --> 00:20:53,190
We're noe going to talk about contracts. And at that point, I realised I probably should have should get myself a literary agent.

00:20:53,190 --> 00:21:03,720
And I just so happened to have a friend of mine who had just written a book and you know, it was Andrew Steele.

00:21:03,720 --> 00:21:05,370
I should probably give him a shout out, actually.

00:21:05,370 --> 00:21:12,660
Andrew Steele, who wrote a book called Ageless about the Science of Ageing, and he had a literary agent that heintroduced me to.

00:21:12,660 --> 00:21:16,890
And basically, he liked the sound of the project as well. So he agreed to represent me.

00:21:16,890 --> 00:21:22,680
And then he spoke to the publishers and we got a contracts hashed out, which we then signed.

00:21:22,680 --> 00:21:26,340
And it was basically then right? You've got a year.

00:21:26,340 --> 00:21:34,170
I think it was. It wasn't exactly. It was about a year to write this project and that was the start of 2020.

00:21:34,170 --> 00:21:38,880
And then everything went tits up and the whole plan.

00:21:38,880 --> 00:21:46,530
What a time to start? Yeah, it really was. And especially because I got covid quite early on in the pandemic in the first couple of months.

00:21:46,530 --> 00:21:50,880
So I immediately I was like, right, I'm like a month behind already.

00:21:50,880 --> 00:21:55,140
I think we're going to need to realistically change this delivery date.

00:21:55,140 --> 00:22:01,290
And and also, it changed how I wanted to write the book because originally my plan was to go to

00:22:01,290 --> 00:22:04,920
the Met Office and talk to people in the archives and feature interviews with

00:22:04,920 --> 00:22:09,870
people and actually put myself into the book a little bit more a bit like how Naomi

00:22:09,870 --> 00:22:14,310
Klein does this and some of her her works and sort of be a character as it were.

00:22:14,310 --> 00:22:18,720
And that just was not going to happen because travel was just going to be totally impossible.

00:22:18,720 --> 00:22:26,370
So we ended up pushing the delivery date back a bit, and I just sort of got my head down and started working on it.

00:22:26,370 --> 00:22:30,680
I mean, originally, the plan that I had.

00:22:30,680 --> 00:22:35,870
Was to much like you'd write a paper, I suppose, was to write out all of your research to,

00:22:35,870 --> 00:22:39,710
you know, find all these these books for every chapter you're going to write buy a bunch of books,

00:22:39,710 --> 00:22:45,820
take notes from each of them, find articles online, find papers, take notes and then coalesce those all together into a chapter.

00:22:45,820 --> 00:22:52,350
And I did that for one chapter, and it took me about two or three months. So it was totally unfeasible for the rest of the book.

00:22:52,350 --> 00:22:57,560
And so what I ended up doing was more of a kind of rolling road approach of I had a structure.

00:22:57,560 --> 00:23:01,220
I knew what was going to go into each chapter and I knew what the big points were going to be in each chapter.

00:23:01,220 --> 00:23:06,110
Because at the end of the day, when you writing an introductory text, you know the science that you're talking about.

00:23:06,110 --> 00:23:10,130
But what you don't know is all the detail that goes in between.

00:23:10,130 --> 00:23:14,690
It's all the historical detail and the fleshing out of characters and little bits of

00:23:14,690 --> 00:23:18,110
information that you can drop in here and there that really make the book what it is.

00:23:18,110 --> 00:23:29,090
That's the that's what hangs on the skeleton of the science. So I ended up just sort of researching and writing, not immediately writing something.

00:23:29,090 --> 00:23:34,550
As soon as you researched it but sort of pulling together a document, pulling together notes and then doing a bit at a time.

00:23:34,550 --> 00:23:38,360
And originally, my strategy was I would write for an hour a day.

00:23:38,360 --> 00:23:42,800
That was my my goal in my notion database for every day, write for one hour.

00:23:42,800 --> 00:23:50,690
And I found that what happened was I would just sort of open my word document and you'd piddle around for a bit and then go,

00:23:50,690 --> 00:23:54,890
Oh, would you look at that? And time was up. I've done my objective and then carry on with the rest of my day.

00:23:54,890 --> 00:24:01,040
And it meant I wasn't writing enough, so I switched to writing a certain number of words a day.

00:24:01,040 --> 00:24:07,970
And originally I think it was 100 words in a day, which is a pitiful writing target, but is very achievable.

00:24:07,970 --> 00:24:12,290
So what you and I inevitably did was I would write 100 words and go, Well,

00:24:12,290 --> 00:24:18,380
yeah, but I've got the laptop open now, and I felt like kind of in the flow. So I'll just keep going and you end up writing a couple of hundred words.

00:24:18,380 --> 00:24:25,880
And then gradually just upping the workcount I wanted to write per day, so eventually writing 500 words a day and then a thousand.

00:24:25,880 --> 00:24:35,090
I think towards the end of the process, right at the end when I had the book in my head and I just needed to flesh out the last few bits and,

00:24:35,090 --> 00:24:37,160
you know, basically do the set dressing.

00:24:37,160 --> 00:24:42,770
I think I was writing two or three thousand words a day, but that was because the words were already written in my head.

00:24:42,770 --> 00:24:49,790
I just had to put them down on on keyboard. And yeah, that was sort of this little bit of a little bit of a mad rush to some.

00:24:49,790 --> 00:24:54,650
Suppose anybody who's done a thesis or writing a dissertation will have experienced as well. Towards the end, when you have that,

00:24:54,650 --> 00:25:01,160
that concept and you just want to get it down and then delivered that first draft of the manuscript and foolishly,

00:25:01,160 --> 00:25:05,420
I thought that was what I was mostly finished. But then obviously you have to do a bunch of edits.

00:25:05,420 --> 00:25:11,180
And originally there's there's the round of edits where you speak to your editor and you effectively ask,

00:25:11,180 --> 00:25:17,180
right are all the chapters in the right order and are the points in each chapter in the right chapter.

00:25:17,180 --> 00:25:19,730
And once you've done that, then doing a second round of edits,

00:25:19,730 --> 00:25:24,290
so you're saying right are all the paragraphs in each chapter in the right order, are they

00:25:24,290 --> 00:25:25,160
Is there a logical flow?

00:25:25,160 --> 00:25:34,220
Is there a story that's being told here and then going through a copy editor goes through and kind of goes word by word is everything spelled correctly?

00:25:34,220 --> 00:25:40,550
Is the grammar correct? Well, this kind of stuff. And then you get a copy editor who will go in sorry no

00:25:40,550 --> 00:25:43,640
That's the copy editor. Then you get a proof reader who comes in and does the same thing.

00:25:43,640 --> 00:25:49,190
And you'll get notes from each stage of this, where the the amount of work you do generally decreases with each step.

00:25:49,190 --> 00:25:52,820
But every time you'll get a big document, they'll say, right, these are the suggested changes.

00:25:52,820 --> 00:25:58,250
Review them. You don't have to do them, but we think you should do these things. And so there's that big block of work.

00:25:58,250 --> 00:26:04,700
And then a kind of spaced repetition almost of going through with a fair bit of work and then a little bit of work and then a tiny bit of work.

00:26:04,700 --> 00:26:13,670
And then eventually you get what you think is the finished book and you record the audiobook for it or in my case, I did.

00:26:13,670 --> 00:26:22,250
And you go into the booth and then you find a whole bunch of other stuff that you want to change and things that are very minor typos.

00:26:22,250 --> 00:26:28,280
That have just been missed up until now, and sometimes they'll be version problems where they'll be two versions of a paragraph.

00:26:28,280 --> 00:26:35,440
That one's slightly different, but for some reason the old ones are still there. And that's like the final time you have, you know,

00:26:35,440 --> 00:26:39,740
it's like gradually taking your hands off the wheel of a car and originally you're gripping on really tight.

00:26:39,740 --> 00:26:44,990
And then eventually it's sort of like letting Jesus take the wheel. Eventually, you've just got like a finger on it.

00:26:44,990 --> 00:26:51,530
And then as you record the audiobook and you send off the last sort of few bullet points to change the last few atoms of your skin,

00:26:51,530 --> 00:26:58,900
leave the wheel, and suddenly it's completely out of your hands and it's getting printed 10000 times and it's being sent all over the world.

00:26:58,900 --> 00:27:06,980
So that's kind of what it's like to write a book. I was interested about what you said about the audiobook, actually, and about reading.

00:27:06,980 --> 00:27:20,010
I'm reading if I'm. Because I mean, partly personally, I can't imagine anything I would hate more than recording something that I had written.

00:27:20,010 --> 00:27:23,740
But. What, what was that like?

00:27:23,740 --> 00:27:26,950
What was that like? Because that's a whole other machine.

00:27:26,950 --> 00:27:37,030
Yeah, I mean, so I the only analogy analogy that I can make is that so the other thing that I do in my spare time,

00:27:37,030 --> 00:27:47,050
I paint models, so I paint Warhammer. And it's like spending what you think is a really long period of time on a model and getting it perfect.

00:27:47,050 --> 00:27:50,500
You're looking at for every angle and you think that's absolutely where I want it to be.

00:27:50,500 --> 00:27:55,450
And then you put it under somebody basically pulls you aside and says, for the next two days,

00:27:55,450 --> 00:28:01,090
you're going to be looking at that thing through a microscope and you're going to write down every little thing that you find wrong with it.

00:28:01,090 --> 00:28:05,770
And as a process, I'm sure that it has made me better as an author.

00:28:05,770 --> 00:28:11,470
And it's made me better as a narrator. But it was a massive hit to self-confidence.

00:28:11,470 --> 00:28:17,470
It was definitely a massive hits to thinking that I knew what I was doing in the first place.

00:28:17,470 --> 00:28:23,980
Because, yeah, it just exposes every little thing that you've done wrong because there is no room for interpretation.

00:28:23,980 --> 00:28:30,220
There is no at no point are you allowed to change what is actually written on the page unless there is an actual mistake.

00:28:30,220 --> 00:28:33,460
You have to read out every syllable as you wrote it.

00:28:33,460 --> 00:28:37,600
You can't use contractions. You can't switch the order of words around.

00:28:37,600 --> 00:28:43,990
If you do, they'll be a little voice in your ear that will say, Nope, sorry, you've got to do that again. And so it locks you into to what you have done.

00:28:43,990 --> 00:28:50,410
And it was two days that were about eight hours each in a booth of just reading stuff

00:28:50,410 --> 00:28:56,060
that I'd written and going over a real journey with that because I realised that,

00:28:56,060 --> 00:29:03,160
as I said, I assume most authors do. I started writing the book at the start and then worked my way through.

00:29:03,160 --> 00:29:06,820
And that means that you find your your voice as you, as you go.

00:29:06,820 --> 00:29:13,690
Sure. And you will then loop back to the start after you found your voice and you know what you're doing and you'll edit what you wrote.

00:29:13,690 --> 00:29:17,290
But even then, I found the first couple of chapters.

00:29:17,290 --> 00:29:20,680
I was like, Oh, this isn't. This isn't quite what I wanted it to be.

00:29:20,680 --> 00:29:24,640
It's fine, and everybody has been very lovely about it and we've not had any negative feedback.

00:29:24,640 --> 00:29:31,570
It's all about the first few chapters, but to me, I didn't think they matched up to the image that I had in my head of the of the book.

00:29:31,570 --> 00:29:33,280
By the end of it, by the second day,

00:29:33,280 --> 00:29:41,080
I was really in the flow of it and I was better at narrating in that I was tripping up less and I wasn't mangling my words quite so frequently.

00:29:41,080 --> 00:29:47,320
So you'd actually go over a couple of pages at a time without fouling up and having to start again.

00:29:47,320 --> 00:29:49,810
But also, I felt like the book really got into its own.

00:29:49,810 --> 00:29:56,920
And so that was that was a real kind of journey of going in very naive, being really smacked down in terms of self-confidence.

00:29:56,920 --> 00:30:04,250
And then by the end of it finding, actually, you know what? This is, OK? You've done pretty well with this book, I think.

00:30:04,250 --> 00:30:16,160
Yeah, and that must be really, really challenging as well for someone who's used to YouTube as a medium and speaking much more.

00:30:16,160 --> 00:30:27,800
Fluidly and freely, I guess, or improvising? Yeah, that's the word, and having total control over and sole control over what I make,

00:30:27,800 --> 00:30:33,140
I don't have to put things through 20 people in order for a final product to come out.

00:30:33,140 --> 00:30:38,060
The other end, if I wanted to, I could turn on my camera right now, film a video.

00:30:38,060 --> 00:30:43,100
Not even edit it at all if I didn't want to just put it on YouTube, and it goes out to my audience.

00:30:43,100 --> 00:30:45,950
And you know, that's not something I'd ever do, but it's not.

00:30:45,950 --> 00:30:51,440
But I like having that control and having having that sort of final say over the stuff that I make.

00:30:51,440 --> 00:30:57,980
So definitely adapting to being limited in that sense, and it was limiting in terms of the audiobook.

00:30:57,980 --> 00:31:03,830
But also, you know, when you're writing the book, you're obviously having to work through other people and having people caution you and say,

00:31:03,830 --> 00:31:10,460
Actually, I don't think this works and all that kind of stuff. It was it was a definite shift, and I think it has made me better.

00:31:10,460 --> 00:31:14,180
And the book is undeniably better for that process.

00:31:14,180 --> 00:31:17,240
And I think it's also made better as as an author, because at the end of the day,

00:31:17,240 --> 00:31:24,200
I'm borrowing other people's expertise and hopefully using that to improve my content going forwards.

00:31:24,200 --> 00:31:34,720
But yeah, it's a definite change to what I was used to. And so moving kind of forward to the kind of the publication of it, so I mean,

00:31:34,720 --> 00:31:39,520
I'm interested to know what that was like to have it to finally have the book in front of you.

00:31:39,520 --> 00:31:45,490
Yeah, I mean, that was so I.

00:31:45,490 --> 00:31:49,240
There had been several moments where I've been kind of like, Oh my gosh,

00:31:49,240 --> 00:31:58,000
I'm writing a book like I have written a book and, you know, submitting the the manuscript.

00:31:58,000 --> 00:32:04,480
The final version of the manuscript is one of them. Seeing the proofs of what the outside was going to look like was another one.

00:32:04,480 --> 00:32:10,270
See what the you know, the typeset version of the book. A PDF of what it was actually going to look like on the page was another.

00:32:10,270 --> 00:32:15,860
But the ultimate one was a couple of weeks before it was released holding it in my hands.

00:32:15,860 --> 00:32:21,920
They sent me a box of about 12 of them to distribute to people, and I was just sort of struck dumb.

00:32:21,920 --> 00:32:26,000
That was it was a really emotional moment to hold this thing that I've.

00:32:26,000 --> 00:32:34,010
I spent so long on, but also it was this ambition I'd had for years and years and years to to write it was a it was a really,

00:32:34,010 --> 00:32:36,680
really big moment for me.

00:32:36,680 --> 00:32:43,640
And in a way, I told myself that because of all of that, because I'd had that big resonant emotional connection holding the book.

00:32:43,640 --> 00:32:50,960
I thought that the actual release date itself wouldn't be that significant because we'd actually had some press before then.

00:32:50,960 --> 00:32:55,670
And I'd had sort of reviews from people who I'd sent early copies, too, which were very nice.

00:32:55,670 --> 00:33:01,130
And, you know, I just didn't think that was very much to do itself on the day. But it still was a whirlwind.

00:33:01,130 --> 00:33:06,410
It was still absolutely overwhelming because you you put the post out on social media and everybody's,

00:33:06,410 --> 00:33:11,210
you know, sort of overwhelming with congratulations and everything like that on on Twitter and on Instagram.

00:33:11,210 --> 00:33:15,470
And I did a livestream on Twitch where I was answering people's questions and I did a bit of reading.

00:33:15,470 --> 00:33:20,120
And the day just flew by. Like, I had very few things to do that day.

00:33:20,120 --> 00:33:25,940
And I'm glad of that because I just I there was no way I was going to be able to do anything else.

00:33:25,940 --> 00:33:29,690
I was just so emotionally spent trying to keep up.

00:33:29,690 --> 00:33:35,180
It was almost like, hold the day was going away from me and I was just trying to keep a handle on it and keep a handle on what was going on.

00:33:35,180 --> 00:33:42,980
So, yeah, it was totally overwhelming and something that I think I'm just about.

00:33:42,980 --> 00:33:49,070
OK with the idea now that I have published a book and it's in shops all over the all over the world now,

00:33:49,070 --> 00:33:55,280
and people have been very nice about it and people have written nice reviews. And I previously I understood that in abstract.

00:33:55,280 --> 00:34:00,080
I think now I actually I believe it and actually understand that it's something that matters.

00:34:00,080 --> 00:34:05,300
And so what? What's happened since, you know, after that kind of really intense day of publication day?

00:34:05,300 --> 00:34:16,850
What what's happened sense in terms of, you know, publicity for the book or, you know, what opportunities have you got as a result of doing the book?

00:34:16,850 --> 00:34:20,210
Yeah, I mean, I've done quite a few literary festivals.

00:34:20,210 --> 00:34:25,910
I was in Warwick University of Warwick last week and previously I had talks in Bath and Bristol and London.

00:34:25,910 --> 00:34:30,020
I'm off to Hexham later this year. I actually just got invited to the I.

00:34:30,020 --> 00:34:38,510
Hopefully I'm allowed to say this to the Jersey Literary Festival, which is amazing because I love Jersey as an island.

00:34:38,510 --> 00:34:46,910
So, yeah, you know, there have been great opportunities to travel as a result. I think it gives you a certain level of second gravitas.

00:34:46,910 --> 00:34:54,830
If you if you have a book and you know that that is, I think, probably going to be around for a little while.

00:34:54,830 --> 00:34:58,700
The other thing which has happened is that I am now constantly thinking of and my publishers,

00:34:58,700 --> 00:35:03,570
asked me about, you know, doing another one, and it's a process that I would like to repeat

00:35:03,570 --> 00:35:10,580
And so, you know, every pretty much every day now I've just mulling over ideas in my head about like, what do I think is important?

00:35:10,580 --> 00:35:14,210
How would I change what I did before?

00:35:14,210 --> 00:35:23,240
Yeah, like the stuff now that is sort of I think I have it in my head that I like writing books and I would like to write more of them.

00:35:23,240 --> 00:35:27,680
And that's something that I imagine is going to only intensify and grow over the years.

00:35:27,680 --> 00:35:30,470
And eventually, I do not want to stop making YouTube videos,

00:35:30,470 --> 00:35:36,110
but maybe eventually I'll be author and part time YouTuber rather than the other way around,

00:35:36,110 --> 00:35:44,960
because that was going to be my next question is the kind of the what next in terms of, you know, continuing with the YouTube channel.

00:35:44,960 --> 00:35:53,610
Obviously, you know what? If the kind of the goal that you were trying to manifest was the right in the book, what's what's next?

00:35:53,610 --> 00:35:58,590
What's the next thing that you're kind of thinking about that you'd like to do?

00:35:58,590 --> 00:36:07,050
I mean, I would love to the project that I think is most would be the most valuable to do is a book about geoengineering,

00:36:07,050 --> 00:36:12,420
and that's something that I didn't quite deliberately didn't cover in firmament.

00:36:12,420 --> 00:36:21,030
But I think it's worth its own book and introduce people to what I unfortunately think he's going to be a big political issue

00:36:21,030 --> 00:36:28,470
this century is this idea of should we deliberately change the climate to undo some of the damage that we've previously done?

00:36:28,470 --> 00:36:34,170
And there are a couple of other things that are mulling around my head, but that's the one I keep coming back to.

00:36:34,170 --> 00:36:41,550
So in the short to medium term, I imagine that it would look like my future is going to involve making that.

00:36:41,550 --> 00:36:48,270
And if that one does well as well, because you know, Firmament has certainly done, it's far out performed my expectations in terms of sales.

00:36:48,270 --> 00:36:53,940
And Hodder and Stoughton have been very, very happy with it. So another one goes, Well, then who knows,

00:36:53,940 --> 00:37:00,510
maybe this is something this maybe this is sort of the way that things are for me for the foreseeable future is doing a book every couple of years.

00:37:00,510 --> 00:37:10,140
And if that involves me getting to meet interesting people and visit interesting places and just have to write about it, then that's that's fantastic.

00:37:10,140 --> 00:37:20,090
I'm very happy with that. It's incredibly, incredibly exciting, and I usually kind of try and finish things up by saying, you know,

00:37:20,090 --> 00:37:26,490
if if there's one of our kind of researchers out there who's listening to this, who's thinking?

00:37:26,490 --> 00:37:35,040
You know, science communication sounds like a really exciting career path and something that I might want to investigate,

00:37:35,040 --> 00:37:41,470
what kind of advice would you give, particularly what they're still doing their research degree about what they might.

00:37:41,470 --> 00:37:48,810
Explore what opportunities to make the most of, to kind of put them in a really good place when they're coming out of it to.

00:37:48,810 --> 00:37:55,610
Yeah, perhaps think about going into. So the the toughest piece of advice I was ever given,

00:37:55,610 --> 00:38:03,950
and this was fortunately very early on when I was making videos was also the piece of advice that I give everyone because I think it's very true,

00:38:03,950 --> 00:38:09,620
which is you have to accept the fact that the first hundred videos you make will suck.

00:38:09,620 --> 00:38:15,830
And it's just unavoidable because you're not very good at it. But every time you make a video that sucks,

00:38:15,830 --> 00:38:22,070
you get a little bit better and you get to the point where you've learnt enough enough mistakes and you've

00:38:22,070 --> 00:38:28,130
learnt enough lessons that actually you can probably make something that's half decent on your first attempt.

00:38:28,130 --> 00:38:33,500
And it's the same in any other field. It's the same in drawing, you know, I think it's is it Chuck Larry?

00:38:33,500 --> 00:38:40,850
He was the artist for Bugs Bunny, said that every artist has a million bad drawings in their pencil, and it's your job as an artist to push them out.

00:38:40,850 --> 00:38:42,470
And eventually you get to the good ones.

00:38:42,470 --> 00:38:49,250
Or if you're writing the first piece of writing you have to do is going to be bad, but the next piece will be better because you learn from it.

00:38:49,250 --> 00:38:59,540
And if you are interested in making stuff, if you're interested in communicating science in a particular format, then don't worry about doing it well.

00:38:59,540 --> 00:39:03,140
And don't worry about doing it. When you're doing it full time, just start doing it.

00:39:03,140 --> 00:39:08,930
Just make stuff, because the first step to being good at something is being bad at something.

00:39:08,930 --> 00:39:14,930
And that is the hardest step. I think actually is to take that initial step of I just I want to do something.

00:39:14,930 --> 00:39:20,270
This is this. I like the idea of making a podcast. I'm just going to make it, and it will probably be bad.

00:39:20,270 --> 00:39:25,820
But the next time around, you'll probably learn from it quite quickly, and the second thing you make will be a lot better.

00:39:25,820 --> 00:39:30,080
And sure, maybe the first, you know, it might not be 100. It might be 10 or 20.

00:39:30,080 --> 00:39:33,950
Things that you try are going to not be popular.

00:39:33,950 --> 00:39:35,060
They're not going be very good,

00:39:35,060 --> 00:39:41,360
but you're not going to get to the point to make something that will be good and will be popular without making those other projects.

00:39:41,360 --> 00:39:48,350
So, so if you are interested in doing this down the line, don't think in terms like down the line,

00:39:48,350 --> 00:39:54,800
start doing it now and start learning those lessons whilst you're still in a structure, like doing a Ph.D. or lecturing or a postdoc.

00:39:54,800 --> 00:39:59,240
That gives you that flexibility, and it means that you're not dependent on doing this.

00:39:59,240 --> 00:40:03,080
It's almost like a bird growing feathers before it tries to flee the nest.

00:40:03,080 --> 00:40:07,610
Like you don't hop out of the nest and then hope that you grow feathers on the way down.

00:40:07,610 --> 00:40:16,430
You get to the point where you're able to take off. And whilst you're still in a safe environment, so definitely just start making stuff.

00:40:16,430 --> 00:40:21,980
And in terms of getting the message out there, I'd also recommend people to develop social media platforms.

00:40:21,980 --> 00:40:26,630
So it depends. It's entirely down to personal taste and sort of the audience you're trying to reach.

00:40:26,630 --> 00:40:33,950
I developed my Twitter and my YouTube, obviously, as I was going through the Ph.D., but allows you to signal boost something.

00:40:33,950 --> 00:40:38,450
It means that you make something and you boost it to an initial audience of people who, if it's good,

00:40:38,450 --> 00:40:41,780
will then boost it to other people and they'll bosst it to other people and so on and so on.

00:40:41,780 --> 00:40:48,470
But you have that little Kickstart so that starter engine for, for attention and publicity, for the stuff that you've made.

00:40:48,470 --> 00:40:48,920
And of course,

00:40:48,920 --> 00:40:56,150
the way the best way to do that is grow what your your social media presence is to start making stuff and for people to start organically finding you.

00:40:56,150 --> 00:41:00,950
And eventually, the content will get to the point where it stands on its own two feet.

00:41:00,950 --> 00:41:07,160
And the social media profile will get to the point where people want to find you based on the merits of the stuff that you're making,

00:41:07,160 --> 00:41:13,070
rather than necessarily just being your mates or your research group or whatever. And there's no hack to that.

00:41:13,070 --> 00:41:16,820
The unfortunate thing is you just got to you've got to start and grind it out.

00:41:16,820 --> 00:41:23,630
And the longer you put off starting that process, the longer it's going to be until you reach that end point.

00:41:23,630 --> 00:41:30,020
So start growing your feathers now and start making stuff. What a brilliant note to end on

00:41:30,020 --> 00:41:35,840
Thank you so much to Simon for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me.

00:41:35,840 --> 00:41:39,470
And yeah what he says. Go out there and try stuff.

00:41:39,470 --> 00:41:42,530
I know in my career in very different ways.

00:41:42,530 --> 00:41:52,860
To Simon, trying new things and being willing to fail at them have kind of led to the really the best parts of my job and my career.

00:41:52,860 --> 00:41:58,460
And look out for firmament in a bookshop near you, and that's it for this episode.

00:41:58,460 --> 00:42:01,610
Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe and join me.

00:42:01,610 --> 00:42:15,330
Next time we'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.



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