Lesson Learned

One part of science communication is interviewing scientists. We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Juliet Brophy, a biological anthropologist specializing in paleoanthropology. She is a co-author of a ground breaking discovery, and a new member of the LSU Department of Geography and Anthropology.

We trekked out to the quad with Dr. Brophy to find a quiet scenic area for the interview. Colleen set-up the camera, framing the interview and getting the right lighting. Meanwhile, Lauren engaged Dr. Brophy in a pre-interview conversation to figured out what questions to ask, setting-up the story of Dr. Brophy’s research. After a few minutes of discussion and camera magic, we were ready to go. Colleen pressed record and filming began.

We started off the interview with asking Dr. Brophy about what captured her interest in paleoanthropology, a field dedicated to researching the fossils of human ancestors. She said it all started with one particular interest in a fossil she calls Mrs. Ples. But she wasn’t just interested, she “fell in love with a fossil”. Mrs. Ples, South Africa, and influential professors sent her into the world of paleoanthropology. A field which can tell us much about our own evolutionary history and the environments of prehistoric Earth.

Dr. Brophy studies teeth. They are common fossils of our early ancestors, easily preserved by the hard enamel coating. The shape of teeth can tell researchers what types of food organisms may have eaten. Knowing those foods can help identify what might be in the local environment. It was Dr. Brophy’s expertise in teeth that put her on the team of a new discovery, Homo naledi, a previously undescribed member of the human family tree.

We were excited, it was a great interview. Not long after, Lauren took to social media.

However, when Colleen plugged the video camera into her computer she discovered that video had not saved properly. The entire interview was gone. The practical and disappointing lesson: always have a back-up recording when you are interviewing someone.

Despite the technical difficulties we learned a lot about the interview process for scientists (and had a great interview with a distinguished professional). During the interview it is important to communicate research in a way that is understandable to the non-science community without “dumming it down”, even if it means asking questions to clarify points during the interview. Reporters will often use similes or metaphors to try to understand what is the focus of the research. Its those discussions between reporter and scientist that help the public understand research. Science interviews are not just about the most recent discovery, its about the people involved. It’s about fossil love-stories and scientists wanting to learn more about the world.

-Lauren Hull and Colleen Murphy

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