Connecting with a Like-Minded Science Communicator

Last week, I took the bus to Chalandri, a suburb of northern Athens, to meet with Theo Anagnostopoulos. Anagnostopoulos is the cofounder of SciCo, a nonprofit organization that aims to facilitate communication of scientific topics in a creative and interesting way. After spending more than 10 years developing a background in genetics and cancer biology in the U.K., Anagnostopoulos, who is also the president of the board of the Onassis Scholars’ Association, chose to pursue a career in science communication even though, in his words, “there was no market for it” in Greece.

“How do you survive in a field that has no market?” he said. “You have to open the market.”

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The (somewhat hidden) entrance to the SciCo offices in Chalandri.

At SciCo, Anagnostopoulos helps run various programs that enable science communication in Greek society, though he also hopes to expand internationally. This includes the Athens Science Festival, which was started in 2014 and now draws 30,000 visitors each year, and the Thessaloniki Science Festival, which was instigated shortly after. They also have developed a program called Mind the Lab, which places research demonstrations in Athens metro stations for one day each year in order to integrate science into everyday life. Volunteers are an important part of making these programs a success.

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Theo Anagnostopoulos, general manager of SciCo, at his desk.

Anagnostopoulos says that SciCo has two main pillars: communication and empowerment. “A lot of the issues that drive global attention involve science,” he said. “Once [people] leave the festival, hopefully they will engage with something scientific afterwards.”

This type of work is essential in a world where science research is flourishing but communication and engagement are still lacking.

“We’re trying to create education based on rational steps,” Anagnostopoulos said. He says it’s important to help people navigate the science communication landscape in what’s been called the “infobesity” era. “There’s so much confusion about the masses of information coming out on the same topic. I think the more you have, the more confusion is created. You need someone who is balanced.”

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Employees working at the SciCo office.

Anagnostopoulos is passionate about creating engagement on crucial issues like global climate change. However, he also admits that Greece’s ongoing financial crisis has created a distraction from dealing with these issues firsthand, as have the ongoing antics of the U.S. government.

“You get distracted by the U.S.’s position,” he said. “You feel as though you’ve got an Olympic Stadium full of water and you’re using a coffee cup to empty it, but you have someone throwing buckets of water back in.”

As someone who wants to be a science communicator in the U.S., I found that metaphor to be equal parts accurate and depressing. Still, it was fascinating to hear the perspective of someone who’s observing Trump’s actions from the outside, and I was glad to offer my own opinions on the reasons for what’s happening.

While in Greece, I’ve been able to pursue many different types of reporting, some of which I’m already accustomed to and some of which I definitely am not. In the midst of those different experiences, I’m glad to have found time to meet with someone who is in the thick of the field that I hope to make my own career in someday.

Anagnostopoulos says he enjoys science communication because of the “creativity of how you will express what you learn.”

“Whatever tool you use, you are on a stage,” he said. “Being a researcher is an isolating profession. I like having the chance to talk to and interact with other people outside of my job.”

Anagnostopoulos is working on expanding SciCo internationally and says that he would love to have an office in the U.S. someday, so who knows, maybe we will have a chance to connect again. For now, I am excited to move forward with my own goals of helping create more scientific awareness in society with the knowledge that there are people around the world trying to do the exact same thing.

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Run Around

Last night as I was having dinner with Luke, Paxtyn, Hsiang-Yu, and Suma and we were recapping our days, Luke, who had spent his day tracking down sources for a story on LGBT refugees, mentioned that he loves this part of journalism: working on deadline to the point where you have to literally track people down in order to get them to talk to you. “I think I gain energy from this type of reporting,” he said over our dinner of pork legs and pasta.

This morning, I reflected on that conversation as I set out to track down a representative at the Greek Ministry of Migration and Policy to talk to me after I wasn’t able to get through to them on the phone. What was supposed to be a five-minute walk turned into an hour of wandering the streets looking for the right government building. I kept being sent from one building to another, all of which contained nice, helpful people, but unfortunately, none of those people were available to answer my questions.

Finally, one particularly accommodating woman at the Department of Citizenship gave me the correct address of the Ministry of Migration (quite different than what I had pulled up on my Google Maps) and the name of someone to talk to. As I set off in the opposite direction, I realized I was sending myself a series of negative messages along the lines of:

I hate this part. I don’t understand why I even want to BE a journalist if it involves going up to random people and asking for directions and what is even the point of being here if I don’t even LIKE talking to people at all? In fact, after this is over I’m never going to talk to anyone ever again. 

If you haven’t already picked it up from reading this blog, I can be a little melodramatic.

It’s true that unlike Luke, I don’t thrive in these type of reporting situations. My favorite kind of reporting is when someone responds to my email saying they’d be delighted to talk to me and suggests an exact time and place. I don’t like the back-and-forth, I don’t like being rejected, and I especially don’t like tracking down people unplanned.

Here’s the part I do like. Once I arrived at the Ministry of Migration and found the right floor, the representative started looking up potential information that would be useful for my research. I struck up an informal conversation with her about the subject of refugees integrating into Greek society, which turned into a 15-minute interview where I took down notes on the piece of paper she’d just handed me.

My journey had not been in vain, as I had feared while walking along in the drizzling rain. Instead, I’d struck up a rapport with a new person and gathered information that would hopefully prove useful. Leaving the building, I felt triumphant.

“Sounds like journalism,” was my mom’s response after I described my morning of running around. It is journalism. But do I like it or not?

Sometimes, these types of reporting escapades are entirely unsuccessful. Today, Paxtyn took an hour-long train ride out of the city for an interview, and her interviewee stood her up. Even though finding someone to talk to made my trip today a small success, I would have had to be okay with the winding journey even if I had come up empty.

Part of the reason I don’t enjoy cold calls or tracking down sources is because I have a fear of failure. My general strategy as a reporter is to feel like I can’t until I do. It would be great if I could skip the I can’and go right to the I do part. That goal is a work in progress, but coming on this trip has brought me closer to achieving it by putting me in situations where I ultimately feel more capable as an international journalist. I still don’t enjoy wandering the city to find sources, but I’m starting to realize that I can. 

 

 

Reflections During a Sudden Hailstorm

I am currently taking shelter in the Omonia metro station as hail beats down on the escalators and water rivulets begin to flood the space at the bottom of the stairs. The “caution: wet floor” sign does not do it justice.

I am surrounded by locals and tourists who are either watching the sudden hailstorm with a combination of amazement and annoyance, filming it on their phone, or bravely charging up the escalator to run to their destination. One woman takes a look at one of the ice-cube sized pellets at my feet and makes a gesture of prayer. 

Less than half an hour ago I was leisurely walking through tourist shops with Hsiang-Yu under sunny skies. How quickly things change. 

It’s reminiscent of a time two summers ago when my parents were visiting Boston. I wanted to take my mom to try her first bubble tea, which would have been a five-minute walk from where we were having lunch. As soon as we started walking, however, it began to hail. We took shelter next to a nearby nail salon and my dad literally had to cover my arms and face to protect me from the pounding hail and strong winds. It was brief but terrifying. Afterwards, we had to go the mall and buy replacements for our soaked clothes because the hotel was too far away to go back. 

My parents have not yet arrived in Athens, so I am alone in the metro station. I do not feel scared or lonely, though, as I am surrounded by others who are having the same experience. It is strange to share this moment with strangers who I will probably never meet, but it is also  nice to know that I am not alone.

I can relate to the fury of sudden storms because sometimes my emotions change in ways I have difficulty controlling. One minute everything is fine; the next I feel like a terrible person. It’s not unlike the sudden change in the weather. Sometimes my changes in sentimentality aren’t in the forecast, but happen anyway. Sometimes it hails when it’s only supposed to rain. 

I can only take shelter inside this metro station for so long, just like I can only mope in my room for so long when I am upset. It is therefore time to join my fellow train riders in ascending the escalator into the next phase of the day. Despite sudden changes, we have no choice but to move forward. 

Update: I am now safe in the lobby of our hotel. 

Blue Skies and Gorgeous Sunsets

Yesterday was our third full day in Athens. So far, my impression of the city is that it’s much larger and more bustling than Thessaloniki, but in a good way. Every time I turn a corner I see a cute coffee shop I want to try.

I have really enjoyed my time in Athens so far, but very little of it has been spent in the city. On Friday, I took the tram one hour from the downtown area to Glyfada, where the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre is located. During the very crowded tram ride, I listened to music as we passed by some lovely beaches that hopefully I will get to before the end of the trip.

The reason for my trip to Glyfada was to film and take notes on the release of a sea turtle, Angelliki (Greek word for “angel”), back into the ocean. Angelliki was found with a head injury and rehabilitated for about seven months at the rescue center before she was declared ready to resume her life in the ocean. The release was amazing to watch, and I also really enjoyed talking to some of the volunteers at the rescue center – who come from countries all over the world – about their experience so far. Stay tuned for my upcoming story about sea turtle research and conservation in Greece.

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Two of the volunteers at ARCHELON just before releasing sea turtle Angelliki into the ocean.

The trip to Glyfada was also a great opportunity to see a couple of different beaches here in Athens. The release of the sea turtle took place in collaboration with the Aqua Divers Club, which is about a 45-minute drive from Glyfada. I’m really glad I had the chance to visit such a beautiful place, and the drive there was absolutely breathtaking. Not to mention the brief but exhilarating boat ride.

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The beach at the Aqua Divers Club.

My ocean tour continued yesterday when we took a group field trip to Aegina, one of the closest islands to the mainland. We took cabs across the island to visit the Marina Beach, one of the largest beaches on the island. Lying on the beach and swimming in the ocean provided some much-needed relaxation, and by the time we left around 6p.m., everyone looked sun-kissed and happy. I also got to try some of Aegina’s famous pistachio ice cream!

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Enjoying the ferry ride on the way to Aegina.
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Marina beach on the island of Aegina.
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Aegina is known for its delicious pistachios, as Pavlos Tsaros, rescue network coordinator at ARCHELON, told me during our car ride to the Aqua Divers’ Club on Friday. I’d say the pistachio ice cream lives up to the hype.

The best part of the day, though, was the ferry ride back to the port of Piraeus. Our timing on the 7:30 ferry was perfect, and we got to witness one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Watching the sun set over the Aegean Sea is an experience I will never forget.

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Not pictured: dolphins also enjoying the sunset in the distance.
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Pure happiness. Photo by Suma Hussien

I know we only have about a week remaining in Athens, and I think that by then, I will be ready for a vacation. But moments like the sunset last night help remind me just how lucky I am to be here.