Working with the ABC

By Alex Russell, CQUni researcher and Radio National ABC Science Top 5 Scientists for 2019

I was recently incredibly fortunate to be selected as one of the ABC Top 5 Emerging Scientists for 2019. It was a huge honour, a lot of hard work, and a lot of fun. Here are some recollections.

Everyone was awesome

I really gelled with the rest of the Top 5. Lila, Chameen, Hannah and Dom are all the most amazing people, doing such incredible work in a wide array of fields. Chameen is an eye doctor. Dom looks at precious metals underneath volcanos. Hannah works with kids with developmental disorders. Lila studies stroke and fatigue.

We all have very different backgrounds, but we also had so many things in common.

The ABC staff were also incredibly awesome. They’ve all stayed in touch, and we’re working on more stories going forward.


Most of what we did centred around radio. We were each paired up with mentors. Mine was Robyn Williams (not that one), host of The Science Show, and I also worked closely with David Fisher, producer of The Science Show. Both are brilliant people, very patient, and made all the time in the world for us. You could tell they genuinely enjoyed having us there.

Each of us had to make our own radio pieces. Some of us interviewed people, and we learned about interview techniques. I recorded two scripted talks, one about a particular gambling project, another about my work in smell perception. That was an interesting challenge, learning to slow down the way that I speak, understanding which words to emphasise, and learning how to talk for six minutes in a way that doesn’t lose the listener’s attention. I’ve listened back to it, and I’m not sure that I like it because it doesn’t quite sound like me, but everyone who has listened has disagreed with me on that. So, maybe I’m wrong! One other great tip here was “one sentence, one thought” – avoid long, convoluted sentences. Short, sharp bursts of discrete info.

We also interviewed each other. I’ve been interviewed many times, but doing the interviewing is a whole new skillset. The first time I did it, I overprepared the questions, and it just sounded like a question and answer session. We tried again, and rather than prepared questions and answers, Hannah and I had a conversation instead. It sounded so much better! This is why an interviewer might not tell you the questions they’re going to ask in the leadup to an interview, so that it sounds natural.

We all did a few live radio spots – Radio National Breakfast, Focus (ABC Sydney) and even some spots with Dr Karl. I’ve done about 50 radio interviews, but it’s still such a thrill doing it. I enjoyed seeing the producers working behind the scenes, and we learned a lot about what they do when someone is being interviewed. That helped me understand how to make their life easier as an interviewee.

We also learned to edit audio, like removing annoying mouth noises. This was great for understanding prerecorded interviews too. If you’re doing a prerecord for someone and you stuff up an answer, ask them to ask the question again so that you sound like you’re genuinely responding for the first time, rather than restarting an answer.


We wrote an online article, and were also paired up with a mentor here. Mine was Ariel Bogle, who was also very patient. She worked through six drafts with me!

Writing for online is very different to other types of writing that we usually do. You have 800 words, and need to stay on track. Explain basic concepts, but get to the point of the story very quickly.

It took a while to nail down which story I wanted to do, so I pitched about 15 ideas! Ariel picked one, and we went from there. The story was on gambling advertising. Certain advertising doors have been closed for gambling operators, so the question is what they will do to respond. My thinking is that they’ll go for behavioural tracking, where they analyse the bets you place and then pitch new betting opportunities to you based on your style of betting.

We also worked with Rowdie Walden, who runs the social media accounts for ABC Science. We devised a social media strategy to spread out stories. Mine involved a short quiz about gambling in Australia.

Bottom line

This was a fantastic opportunity to learn how to work with the media, and an opportunity to get a bit of exposure. If any of you want to get into media, talk to me!

To learn more about dealing with the media from Alex click here.

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