Last Sunday I attended a Guardian Masterclass on building online communities. On the work dollar of course, and all for the sake of the project we’ve been working on for over a year.

Overall it was a good day with some excellent speakers and interesting coffee break chat (surprising given that we were all clearly missing our usual Sunday lie-in!). My stream-of-consciousness notes are below, and you can also follow more from the live tweets from the day on #socialconf. Continue reading ‘How to build an online community’


The final sessions in my social media series introduced the many new networks on the scene and a closer look at one often forgotten as a social network, yet one of the biggest websites on the planet.

The New Social Networks

New social media channels spring up all the time, but what are they and which are worth dabbling in? This session covered:

  • Google+

  • Pinterest

  • Instagram

  • Foursquare and Gowalla

  • What’s the next big thing? Branch, Medium, App.net etc.

  • What happened to the oldies? Friends Reunited, Myspace, Bebo, Friendster etc.

Crib sheet: http://wellc.me/newsocialnetworks

A Guide to YouTube

A guide to one of the biggest, most influential social networks. It is of course the biggest video sharing/hosting site in the world and actually the second-biggest search engine (after Google) too. Hosted by the Wellcome Trust’s Multimedia Producers Barry Gibb and Chris Chapman, this session gave a practical overview of the platform and many of the social functions people may not know about, as well as a discussion of how people are using it, how we’re using it for the Trust, Wellcome Collection, Wellcome Library and a chance to watch some of the best and most entertaining videos on the web.

Crib sheet: http://wellc.me/youtubecrib

You can see presentations and crib sheets from the entire social media series of talks here.


XKCD questions

Sadly not the questions in our book

Between December and May this year, my spare time has been spent working furiously on a book. The Big Questions in Science: the quest to solve the great unknowns is a popular science coffee-table book looking at, well, exactly what it says. You can read more about it in this feature we wrote for The Observer.

The book is a joint effort between myself and two friends and fellow science writers, Hayley Birch and Colin Stuart, and it’s now available to buy in hardback to decorate your fine shelves, prop up your wonky tables and, of course, entertain and enlighten you with our fine prose.

Shit just got real.

The book came about after the three of us pitched similar ideas through our agent and our publisher, Carlton Books, were interested enough to take a punt. The subject matter is inherently fascinating, giving an excuse to delve deep into questions we ourselves would like to know the answers to. And given how I spend much of my day job editing or in meetings, it was GREAT to exercise my writing muscles, particularly at a decent length and for such interesting topics.

Looking back, it’s been one heck of an experience and I’ve certainly learned a lot about the process of book publishing, my writing and myself. Here are a few of my lessons learned: Continue reading ‘Big questions from a first book’


http://www.aeonmagazine.com/living-together/james-palmer-traditional-chinese-medicinel/

As part of my work on a new long-form publication, I’ve been doing a lot of long-form reading. I’ve been scribbling notes about various articles here and there and figured I might as well start collating them centrally on this blog. So here’s note number one.

I very much enjoyed this piece by James Palmer in Aeon last week. It is pretty long and not exactly narrative based, but more of a long, very interesting essay, taking us on a journey through history, culture, ethics and pharmacology. He has a few anecdotes scattered around from interviewees but on the whole this is Palmer’s thesis (and indeed, it is a little like a dissertation) and an excellent explainer of what is and where it is today.

The difference between a traditional feature, an essay, and a ‘narrative-based’ story (the latter of which is maybe what we think of most as long-form) is an interesting question I’ve been pondering. For me, this feature succeeds because of its breadth; it is in-depth, it has been researched thoroughly and the author clearly has a structure for his thesis. Sure, it’s lacking that ‘story’ spine that might keep people from wandering after the first 1000w or so, but the subject matter and writing is interesting enough, I think, to make it worth your while.


Month 3 in my ongoing series, April built on some earlier skills and gave my colleagues and I a chance to talk about how blogging has evolved.

Advanced Twitter Skills

Building on the Twitter basic session, this session will provide more detailed advice and training on how to get the most out of Twitter for work purposes. Topics will include:

  • How the Wellcome Trust uses Twitter
  • Twitter Lists
  • Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and other ‘power user’ Twitter apps
  • Storify and other Twitter curation tools
  • Statistics tools (e.g. Topsy)
  • Advanced Twitter searching

Crib sheet: http://wellc.me/advancedtwitter

A Hitchhiker’s guide to blogs

The scientific community has taken to blogging in a big way, but just what are they doing. And with so many science blogs out there, where to start? Join a selection of the Trust’s best bloggers as we guide you through:

  • What blogging is and how it has evolved
  • A survey of the landscape of mainstream science blogging including the Guardian, Nature, Scientific American, Occam’s Typewriter and other blog networks.
  • Good blogs to follow and basics of how to subscribe to them via RSS
  • Key science, policy and medical history blogs to follow why we like them
  • What the Wellcome Trust, Collection and Library are doing with blogs
  • Basics of what we do and what other scientific institutions do (e.g. AMRC, CaSE, IoP, MRC, CRUK, BHF, Nature)

Featuring the picks of Danny Birchall (Web Editor, Wellcome Collection) and Ross Macfarlane (Blog Editor, Wellcome Library).

Crib sheet: http://wellc.me/hitchhikersblogs


Following on from the previous month’s successful run, I continued my series of lunchtime talks in March with two sessions.

Tweeting for the Trust – personal and professional uses of Twitter

Slightly unusual one. This was a panel discussion, chaired by me, featuring 4 very active Twitter users from various parts of the Wellcome Trust who use Twitter in a professional and personal capacity. The idea was to provide an insight into why and how Twitter has been so valuable to them in their work, but also how (and if) they keep their personal and professional Twitter lives separate.

The speakers were:

  • Mark Henderson, Head of Communications @markgfh
  • Hillary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning @hleevers
  • Danny Birchall, Web Editor, Wellcome Collection @dannybirchall
  • Amy Sanders, Programme Manager, Wellcome Trust @amyplatypus

I managed to persuade (bribe) two of our graduate trainees to live-tweet it for us, so here’s a summary: http://storify.com/ayasawada/tweeting-for-the-trust

LinkedIn for Beginners

Very popular session explaining the nuts, bolts and best practice for LinkedIn. I learnt a lot of valuable things about the service – more than I thought I did, although a few features still puzzle me. I also, usefully, discovered that LinkedIn’s privacy settings are on the whole very transparent and easy to understand, which makes a change from most social networking services!

(Rather detailed) crib sheet: http://wellc.me/linkedincrib

The next sessions are on Advanced Twitter Skills and a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Blogs. Will blog here once they’re done.


Every year for the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize (now in its third year) we run a series of blog posts with our partners at the Guardian, offering advice on science writing from those of us lucky enough to be doing it as a day job.

This year I’ve had the pleasure of running the series, picking the writers, the format, the questions and editing their answers. In the first year we went for our personal tips, last year we asked for our favourite pieces of writing. This year I went for a straight Q&A format: several of the most commonly asked (at least to me) questions we get asked by those looking to break into the field – and exactly those on the minds of anyone looking to enter the competition.

We’re posting a couple every week and you can read all of them on the Guardian and the Wellcome Trust blog.

It’s been a real privilege to work with the words of such wonderful professionals, and such an inspiration to hear their thoughts. There are already several highlights for me, but I’ll save them to pick out when the series is over and the whole bunch are there to read. In the meantime, back to the editing…


#story2013

23Feb13

What did I learn from this year’s The Story conference (can we technically call it a conference? Event? Fun gathering of creative nerds?)? As ever, lots but, as ever, I mostly took away inspiration.

This year I tried to spend less time tweeting/taking notes and more time just listening. As such, I’ve taken the lazy route: here’s a Storify of some of the #story2013 tweets as my ‘notes’. No doubt there will also be the usual podcasts and blog coverage (check The Story website over the next few days/weeks). There’s also a good collection of all tweets, Instagrams etc. put together by Eventifier.

My highlights in brief though: Continue reading ‘#story2013’


I’m a big advocate of blogs, social media and the many ways in which digital media have helped inform and improve a writer’s craft, not to mention break down the barriers to writers communicating more effectively with each other and everyone else. And I’ve spent the last three years trying to convince staff at all levels in my organisation to dip into the conversation at least listen, if not participate.

In October 2012, the Financial Times ran a three-day ‘Digital Learning Week‘ for their staff, in a bid to “inform, educate and encourage dialogue around digital and social media topics and trends”. This inspired me to organise our own ‘Digital Learning Series’ covering all manner of social media and blogs, from the very basics to more advanced skills and an overview of what innovative and interesting things people in science, science communication and medical history are doing with these tools. With the help of our HR department, I put together 9 classes and a workshop spanning 4 months basically brain-dumping everything I know. The sessions are run roughly every couple of weeks at lunchtimes as “brown bag” affairs with staff encouraged to bring a sandwich or salad and learn while they munch. They’re mostly me talking through some sort of presentation-demonstration and trying to be somewhat entertaining for people’s free time.

The series kicked off this month and have been reasonably successful so far. Seventy people came for a session on ‘Twitter Basics’ with 40 attending ‘Facebook: a practical guide’. I’m trying to provide a decent ‘crib sheet’ for everyone to take away with them and to share more widely for those who couldn’t attend. In the spirit of sharing, I’m putting them here too. Continue reading ‘Social Media sessions: Part 1 – Twitter Basics & A Practical Guide to Facebook’


#Story2012

18Feb12

For the third year running, The Story gathered an eclectic bunch of creatives from all corners to tell their stories and talk about storytelling.

It’s interesting to see how the event has evolved over the years. When it first began the result was unexpected – most who’d come for a bunch of presentations about the ‘process of narrative’ were instead treated to more of a stories round a campfire affair. I loved it, but I know some people were after something a bit more explanatory and, for better or worse, this is what the event seems to be leaning towards.

The 2012 event still had the variety; music, games, photography, art, design, programming, magazines, journalism and anarchism. Yet there are more one on one ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ style interviews now than at that inaugural event, with the majority of talks discussing a project (often a pet one) and how they went about it.

Not that that is a bad thing – we’re all keen to learn. But I felt the best talks were the ones that, even if about a particular piece of work, encompassed something of the speakers personal, rather than professional, experiences and how it changed them. Maybe it’s my own need for that kind of personal detail to connect with the story.

I still really enjoyed it though – who wouldn’t love an event where the running order is given in chocolate? Here are my 10 highlights: Continue reading ‘#Story2012’




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