Dr. Tim Sandle discusses career as a scientist and journalist Special

Posted Feb 13, 2018 by Markos Papadatos
Dr. Tim Sandle chatted with Digital Journal about his respected career in science as a pharmaceutical microbiologist, and his career as a distinguished science journalist. He also opened up about the digital transformation of the science industry.
Dr. Tim Sandle
Dr. Tim Sandle
Dr. Tim Sandle
Meet Dr. Sandle: Scientist and Scholar
"I started out early on in my career as a trainee parasitologist, but some of the testing into a parasite that causes schistosomiasis was straying into an area that I wasn't too keen on," he said. "I began my career in microbiology with a division of the blood service for England and Wales," he added.
He continued, "Having taken an Applied Biology degree was I wasn't too sure what field I wanted to be in, so I undertook a degree in political science part-time. I was also a local government councilor for ten years, chairing leisure services for a while and serving as a non-executive director of Elstree Film Studios, but that’s another story."
Dr. Sandle revealed that he completed his Ph.D. on a part-time basis. "After weighing things up, microbiology became my work vocation and my main interest. I've written or edited some ten books on microbiology, and been fortunate enough to have over 30 peer-reviewed articles. I also currently work for a pharmaceutical organization, as the site microbiologist, and I do some lecturing at the University of Manchester."
Meet Dr. Sandle: The Science Journalist
Dr. Sandle has been an integral part of the online news publication Digital Journal since 2011, where he serves as the Editor-at-Large for Science News. On his career in science journalism, Dr. Sandle said, "I've been a journalist since 2011, specializing in science. I began writing a blog and then, I took the plunge. At the start, I was very much finding my feet. I think of myself as being a 'proper journalist' since about 2014, since it takes a while to learn the system. I've been lucky to work with some excellent editors, such as David Silverberg, Michael Thomas and Jack Derricourt. I'm still learning, but I think I'm much better than I was when I first started."
He continued, "I tend to only write journalism for Digital Journal, because of its freedom to allow journalists to select stories that matter and because of its great technology, science and business focus. I still write a lot of more formal science material. Lots of juggling of different things to do sometimes, but it's rewarding."
On his love for science journalism, he explained, "For me, I like to try to get something complex over to general readers. Science is still regarded as something impenetrable by many, perhaps because people are put off at school. To engage and to help inform someone about a science topic is something which gives me pleasure. This can be achieved through communicating in a way that non-scientists can understand and derive value from, while presenting the information accurately."
"I also think, in this bizarre counter-factual era, not helped by the dismissal of experts by the current President of the U.S., there's an ever greater need for putting facts forward and helping to explain them, through theory or empirical evidence," he further added.
Tim Sandle (Digital Journalist) addressing a conference.
Tim Sandle (Digital Journalist) addressing a conference.
Dr. Sandle opens up about his proudest moments
On his proudest professional moments in science, he said, "This is a tough one. In science, I think it is getting my first book published. That's a great feeling to see many months of work appear in print. I've also had the opportunity to work with some very interesting people. Awards are nice too. I was very pleased to be awarded the 'Excellence in Pharmaceutical Microbiology' award by the microbiology society Pharmig in 2013, which was the inaugural lifetime achievement award from the professional body."
Regarding his proudest moments in journalism, he shared, "In journalism, there was a period of time when some compounding pharmacies (companies that repackage medicines) were carrying some practices that could potentially put patients at risk. This wasn't getting that much media coverage, so I ran a series of articles across Digital Journal. Also, in terms of original material, two articles, again on Digital Journal, about what makes for a good science article and what makes for a bad science article, are, I think, among the best pieces I've written."
For Dr. Sandle, the key to longevity in science journalism is about being "fresh," as well as "staying relevant" and "focusing on the new developments." "There's so much going on. In biology, gene editing is the big thing and holds the promise to eradicate several genetic diseases. In physics, there's the Space-X projects and the tantalizing prospect of a mission to Mars. Then, with business there is the various advances with artificial intelligence and machine learning, with are vital for digital transformation initiatives," he elaborated.
Dr. Sandle talks about the future of science journalism
The acclaimed scientist feels optimistic about the future of science journalism. "I think science journalism will continue to be very relevant and, as I mentioned earlier, much needed in order to provide a reasoned and robust rebuttal to some of the wilder claims and polemics from politicians," he said. "Developments in science and technology are not going to slow down; however, I have noticed that there are fewer science stories being produced by major media outlets. This isn't a result of a lack of stories but fewer science journalists. This might reflect the disruption of traditional news media."
He continued, "Here, I think, print journalism is in retreat and more content will be on-line only. Print journalism won't disappear over-night, but people will buy newspapers for bigger features and lengthier articles. The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, has the right model in running a journal section that looks at the news in more depth. Books, on the other hand, seem to be holding up well."
"The appeal of digital is its immediacy. If I see something interesting I could turn it into an article within an hour and be tweeting it. The problem social media users have is in working out what real news is and what is ‘fake’ (or inaccurate). It's important to digital media to quote and link to sources, for legitimacy to be maintained," he underscored.
Digital transformation of science industry
On the impact of technology on the science industry, he said, "Technology continues to disrupt and transform science. This is inevitable as things advance. Digitalization has helped science tremendously, in terms of sharing data. You can go for a medical scan in one country, and doctors in another country can be looking at the results, using help from an artificial intelligence platform to help decipher the images. Then, if you need an operation, it might be a surgical robot performing the procedure. Your aftercare medication might be in the form of a smart medicine with controlled drug delivery, developed using nanotechnology. It's all amazing, and increasingly interconnected."
Dr. Sandle opened up about his use of technology in his daily routine as a pharmaceutical microbiologist. "At my workplace, automation has been gradually introduced, with many tests now requiring a lower level of human input and with computers performing several tasks," he said. "The biggest change has been with what are termed ‘rapid microbiological methods’, which are alternatives to the older era of agar plates and test tubes. These methods improve accuracy and can deliver faster results."
Switching his hat over to the science journalist, he added, "With journalism, it is primarily the Internet. It's a good way to discover news since so many companies, as well as governments, want to post about their activities. The job of the journalist is, however, to cut through the spin and get to the facts. Just walking around, though, can be a source of new. There is a great deal of automation and digitalization going on."
Dr. Sandle defined the word success as follows: "Immediate success is my family and making sure they are content. Outside of this, a new paper or book coming out is a good feeling. With journalism, it’s writing about something that hasn’t been covered widely, even overlooked by other media, but which then gains some attention, thus engaging readers. The ideal thing is to inspire someone to do startup in science or science journalism. The epitaph of a maverick British politician called Tony Benn was 'he inspired others'; that sounds pretty good to me."
Dr. Sandle offers advice for hopefuls who wish to pursue careers in science and journalism
For aspiring scientists, he said, "Make sure you are focusing on the aspect of science that you enjoy the most. Also, make sure you enjoy science. Often, there's no instant discovery and there is a lot of repetitive work, but it is worth it when something breaks through. It's a good idea to join an association or professional body, to network."
His advice for aspiring science journalists is for them to "never forget their audience." "You should think of your audience as smart, but they may not necessarily understand all of the jargon. Write simply and succinctly, but don't lecture your readers. No one liked being spoken down to. Explain early what the point of any research is, get across why it matters, and then layer on the detail. End with where the research is heading next and, if it's been published, always quote the paper," he said.
He continued, "For science writers, make sure that the stated claims of any research are not overly exaggerated. Sometimes scientists over-inflate their findings. A phrase I dislike is 'The first ever…' Also, see if there is any related research or secondary sources, especially if the research sounds good to be true. This also means steering clear of pseudoscience…like 'a cure for cancer.' For the final review ask yourself 'would my best friend or my mum want to read this?' If the answer is 'yes,' you've got a story to tell, and you've hopefully pitched it right."
To learn more about esteemed scientist and journalist Dr. Tim Sandle, check out his Digital Journal profile, and his official website; moreover, you can follow him on Twitter.