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August 28, 2023

Sweaters & Sketches

A recap of the Journalists in Residence at ISTA

The Journalists in Residence initiative, which premiered earlier this year, underpins the successes of collaborative working to deliver engaging stories of scientific advances. Recognizing this opportunity, the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA) offered those in the residency program a chance to work closely with the Institute’s scientists and science writers alike. For several months, the first two journalists in residence delved deep into life at the ISTA campus. A look back.

Interest in science is limited in Austria, as the alarming results of recent studies show. Science journalism is also taking somewhat of a backseat in many media outlets, and, therefore, this was a chance to change the narrative, putting science journalism at the forefront and taking some of the spotlight.

Everything is content

The first journalist to own that spotlight was Jackson W. Ryan. As a celebrated science editor from CNET, Ryan used to be a scientist himself before finding his way to narrative, long-form science journalism. Bringing to ISTA a fresh energy and a narrative-style approach to science writing—as well as many ugly Christmas sweaters—Ryan christened the program, with his residence backing the achievements of interactive collaboration to deliver stories of scientific breakthroughs. In particular, his interdisciplinary background offered a different perspective on science writing. In his experience, everything is content. As a journalist he knows, a good story can evolve from anything. However, “for Pete’s sake, make it interesting”, as one of its mottoes goes. ”Hook and grab the attention of the reader or the audience, giving them something to engage in,” says Ryan.

Jackson Ryan, Journalist in Residence 2023 at ISTA
A different sweater every day. Jackson W. Ryan. © ISTA

“Being the first Science Journalist in Residence at ISTA was an honor and it’s an experience I’ll hold dear for the rest of my life. The fledgling program demonstrates the importance of having journalists and scientists share the same space, learning from each other to strengthen the way science is communicated to the public. It presents the opportunity for journalists to step away from the daily grind and focus on big picture thinking.”

Ryan’s three months at ISTA inspired and gave the science writers at ISTA new ideas for how to communicate breakthroughs in science. On top of this, he wrote some pieces that will be published in the upcoming months, including a fascinating story about red giants and asteroseismology with Lisa Bugnet, ISTA’s first astrophysicist, for Quanta Magazine. Additionally, his piece, Revelations on the 142, offers an anecdote of his experience in the program.

Making knowledge enjoyable

The second journalist in residence we welcomed to ISTA was Mark Belan. He pursues art and science, as a visual storyteller transforming complicated, advanced, and scientific ideas into beautiful images and visualizations. Also coming from a science background, Belan values the significance of scientific communication, particularly from a visual standpoint. His work shows that creativity has an amazing potential to bridge gaps and make science more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Art can explain complicated subjects and fascinate broad audiences by introducing a different kind of creativity into the world of scientific study. Illustrations and infographics turn abstract theory into approachable pictures that captivate and teach. Using visual strategies in scientific communication also helps individuals engage on an emotional level, making the subject more approachable and memorable.

Belan does just this, fusing art with science, producing a perfect combination that piques people’s interest, stimulates involvement, and makes the quest for knowledge accessible and enjoyable for everyone. He closely worked with many research groups on campus and created beautiful and descriptive visuals for the latest publication by the Fink group.

Farewell of Mark Belan, Journalist in Residence 2023 at ISTA
Mark Belan and the Communications & Events team at ISTA.  © ISTA

With its Journalist in Residence Program, ISTA offers outstanding journalists the opportunity to exchange ideas with leading scientists from numerous research fields directly on campus, to immerse themselves in their daily routine in cutting-edge research, and to use the Institute’s resources in the process. This way, the Institute promotes free quality journalism. The first two guest journalists shared an energizing spirit and novel perspectives, bringing forth ideas for an alternative landscape of scientific media and its future. The opportunity to be on campus while enjoying open access to ISTA’s respected professors, academics, and resources proved to be an exceptional source of inspiration.

Florian Schlederer, the ISTA’s Head of Communications and Events, “Mark’s and Jackson’s respective approaches to science journalism have had a great influence on the team and the scientists on campus. Visually attractive information and captivating narratives that take you on a rollercoaster through research—that´s exactly what state-of-the-art science communication must look like!”

Find more information about residencies at ISTA here.


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