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Research communication to the public: a scientist’s perspective

Below you can find an interview with Jeroen Alkema, a PhD student at Wageningen University who works with fruit flies. His research may benefit agriculture around the globe, and therefore he has great plans to engage with society.

Name: Jeroen Alkema Current position: PhD student, 3rd year Research area: Biological control of the new invasive species Spotted Wing Drosophila Institution: Wageningen University and Research

Hi Jeroen, thanks for agreeing to answer our questions. Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself? I’m a PhD candidate at the department of entomology at Wageningen University. I studied Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences in Groningen, where I volunteered a lot of my time in a Drosophila (fruit fly) lab. In this lab I also did a lot of my course-related work. This has driven my passion for everything Drosophila. The knowledge and skills I obtained in Groningen are very useful in the fight against a different species of Drosophila which is harming fruticulture around the globe. I try to do my (small) part in that fight.

Your research seems to be of high interest for the general public. So do you promote your research through outreach activities? If so, what kind of activities are you involved in? In my work I’m very focused on teaching and promotional work for my committees. Through these, I practice and develop my communication skills, which I then try to use in my outreach. I’m currently working on a Youtube channel to promote science literacy, and share the fun of science. This is a slow progress for which I’m currently working on resources and networking. Other than that I’m planning a trip to Uruguay and Colombia to give a few seminars on Drosophila suzukii (the pest species I study). This is mainly for scientists, but I will also meet with farmers. I’m hoping to turn this trip into one of the episodes for my channel. Other than that I treat my science like a hobby. If I meet people in a bar or any social setting, I’ll gladly talk to them about my work.

That sounds like a great, and at the same time ambitious, plan! So how will you continue to use research communication in the future and how could platforms like MindMint assist you in doing so? I’m planning on joining more outreach competitions and I’m always looking for collaborations. Things like The Night of Art & Science or Noorderzon are great platforms, for which I’m always available. My main focus now is getting my channel up and running. For this, I need to connect to enthusiastic scientists and communication people. And it would be great if MindMint could connect me with others with similar goals and passions. Further advertising my channel there would benefit me greatly. But just having a platform to write and communicate is already a leap forward.

Well, enough about work. Any other interests other than your PhD? I’m an amateur brewer of coffee and beers. I’m always playing around with different tools and recipes. Other than that everything nerd: cinema, comics, books, D&D, Star Wars, Marvel, you name it. Of course working for the department of entomology is a good way to develop my entomology and photography skills too. Finally, I love theatre. I don’t perform anymore, as I did back in Groningen, but I do love to watch it or join in on some improv. And, of course, science communication!


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