Women in research, don’t be afraid of your own voice in media

11 May 2018

Angie Mezzetti. Image: Dak Photography

Pitch up, explain clearly and have courage, says Angie Mezzetti, who will soon MC a workshop for researchers on being your best media self. She spoke to Dr Claire O’Connell.

Women need to stop being afraid of their own voices, they need to value their expertise and they need to say yes to taking part in media interviews.

That’s according to journalist and documentary maker Angie Mezzetti, who later this month will MC a workshop for women and underrepresented groups in research and academia about being your best media self.

Future Human

Mezzetti studied economics and politics at Trinity College Dublin before becoming a journalist and newscaster with RTÉ, and making Broadcasting Authority of Ireland-funded TV and radio documentaries for RTÉ and Newstalk.

She co-runs Ocarina Productions and is the founder and presenter of the Women in Leadership podcast, which interviews women about their journeys and challenges in leadership.

Pitch up

The idea for the half-day workshop, hosted by Women in Research Ireland, with support from the Trinity Centre for Gender Equality and Leadership, arose when Mezzetti was invited to give a lunchtime talk last summer to PhD candidates about getting themselves media-ready. She found that the concept of pitching was not a natural one for women researchers.

“They were like women waiting at the side of the wall waiting to be invited to the dance,” she recalled. “Whereas we are saying to them, you have got to pitch your idea like the men do. You are not the wallflower, you are pitching. This was an eye-opener for a lot of people.”

To change any potential mindset of ‘Why would anyone be interested in what I do?’, Mezzetti encourages women to value their education, research and expertise, and to take the opportunity when they get a call to do media. She also suggests looking at the benefits of media engagement.

“Instead of thinking negatively, reframe your thinking – think positively,” she said. “If you do an interview with someone, think about how this is going to enhance your reputation, help you build your network. You can get a copy of it and repost it on your LinkedIn page. You might get invited to speak at [an international] convention – it helps you reach out to people.”

Say yes, panic later

Anecdotally, women tend to think of the barriers to doing media, she added. “[When a media organisation calls a woman to take part] the woman would say, ‘I don’t know enough about it, I need to get the hair done, I need to get someone to mind the kids, can you get someone else?’ If they ask a man, the man will say, ‘Yes, what time do you want me there?’ and secondly, ‘What are we talking about?’”

Mezzetti encourages women to say yes and sort out the details later. “Women need to get out of their own way and just do it,” she said. “If you get the call to be on radio or television, say yes first and then hang up and panic. You will work out the childcare, you will work out the hair.”

‘Women are terrified by their own voices and it is time to put that behind us’

Playing devil’s advocate

Scientists may have particular concerns about being asked tricky questions or being caught out, noted Mezzetti, but she likes to encourage people to think in advance about a ‘devil’s advocate’ question and how they might respond.

“What do you say to people who say that your research is a total waste of time?” she asked. “Take a deep breath, think about it before you open your mouth. Don’t answer in shock, but do answer.”

Another big fear is being misquoted and, again, Mezzetti has some practical advice: “Keep your sentences short and correct.”

Signpost clearly

A major challenge for researchers can be making the work accessible for a non-scientific viewership, listenership or readership. “This is not peer review. You are talking to a broader audience – you need to simplify the concept,” said Mezzetti. “You are not giving an in-depth lecture, this is only signposting. If they want more information, they can go and read your paper. You are just giving the edited highlights.”

Acronyms can ‘disenfranchise’ people who are not familiar with them, so avoid or explain them, noted Mezzetti. And, in general, stories tend to be better than statistics when making a point. “Don’t come out with a load of statistics, tell stories that engage,” she said.

Have courage

A key message from Mezzetti is to have courage on air.

“Women are terrified by their own voices and it is time to put that behind us,” she said. “If you are on a debate, a programme with other people, stand your ground. Don’t get shouted down or interrupted, and call it out [if you are]. Or, if you are on with someone else and you feel they are being shouted down, call it out as well. Don’t be afraid of your own voice.”

The Your Best Media Self workshop will feature journalists and comedy, and takes place on Saturday 26 May at Science Gallery Dublin. Tickets are €3.75 on Eventbrite and all proceeds will go to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

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Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication