Alex Stockham

Current role: Communications Manager, IN-PART - London

Alex Stockham

For the final project of his MSc Science Communication course, Alex chose to make a documentary that followed an investigation into the weather in Sheffield; the findings of this have recently been published in a high profile journal. Alex is now the Communications Manager at IN-PART and applies the knowledge and experience he gained on the MSc every day.

"I think it was at some point during my second year of studying chemistry at Sheffield when I started to become interested in the wider structures, institutions, and human stories that make science tick. I started going to public lectures and engagement events, and began to learn about communicating science and what it has to offer through being shared and translated outside of its academic setting.

"I did some research into career paths outside of the lab and learnt about the MSc in Science Communication that had just started at Sheffield. I think it appealed because it seemed pretty broad, with plenty of opportunities to gain hands-on experience across all elements of communicating science, from public engagement to schools outreach, writing, filmmaking, and theory. I emailed the course director, met with them for a coffee to learn more, and went from there.

"Funnily enough, I grew up in Sheffield. I’m smitten by the city - as are most people that end up here, I imagine. It’s such a lovely place, there’s plenty to engage with outdoors, and it’s home to an honest, open and hard-working community. Plus, the beer is fantastic!

"For my final project I chose to make a documentary. It seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity with the resources, time and support that were available through the MSc. The subject I chose was the weather in Sheffield. Over the previous years I’d started to pick up on a recurring pattern of rainfall (or more precisely, an unexpected lack of rainfall) when the weather came into the city from the direction of the Peak District, so I thought that it would be an interesting thing to explore.

"I reached out to a number of academics in Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds to ask whether they’d be up for being interviewed for the documentary. One of these academics, Professor David Schultz at the University of Manchester, replied with a challenge to my assumptions about what was causing the difference in rainfall between our cities. He proposed that we do some research to investigate what was actually happening.

"The phenomenon we were looking at was the rain shadow effect - how mountains cause more rain to fall on the side of a range that’s first exposed to a prevailing wind. We analysed the rainfall records from our region over the last 30 years, and found that the prevailing wind across is easterly (207 days each year); that across a year Manchester gets more rain than Sheffield (around 1200mm compared to 700mm); and that there are 32 days each under westerly flowing weather a year that look like a distinct rain shadow (no rain in Sheffield and plenty in Manchester).

"We included the preliminary results of our research in the documentary, and after a few rounds of peer review our research was published this May in the Bulletin for the American Meteorological Society: ‘Quantifying the Rain-Shadow Effect: Results from the Peak District, British Isles’. The documentary, Chasing Sheffield’s Rain Shadow, is hosted on YouTube.

"I’m with the same company now that I joined straight after the Masters. On the day that I pitched my thesis I went to an interview with the founders of a tech start-up who were looking to hire their first employees. At the time, I was thinking about pursuing a career in documentary-making or article-writing, but soon realised that I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. There’s a whole world of start-ups out there doing really interesting things to improve science.

"At IN-PART, we run an online matchmaking platform for university-industry collaboration that provides the initial introduction for new partnerships. It’s essentially a for academics and R&D teams in industry who are looking to collaborate, unlocking innovation from science by getting research out of the lab and into new technologies, services, and products.

"At IN-PART, I coordinate everything we do that relates to communications (press, blogs, social media, web content, marketing, conferences, strategy, and design). In being their first employee I was gifted the opportunity to play a key part in the company and their growth. It’s given me the chance to apply all the knowledge and experience that I gained through the MSc in understanding how to digest and present complex scientific findings to specific audiences through the most relevant channels."

Read the full paper 

Watch the YouTube video