Episode 39 – Interview with Austrian exchange student Isolde Gottwald

This week we absolutely loved talking with Isolde Gottwald (AKA Issie), an exchange student from the University of Vienna who spent semester 2 this year studying with us at the University of Melbourne. Listen to the podcast to hear how we got to know Issie!

Within her degree, Issie is particularly interested in environmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Out of her deep curiosity for science and the practice of science, she worked as a student assistant and intern at various research institutions. That’s when she discovered her passion for science communication, which led her to work at Wissenschaft im Dialog, the German National Organisation for Science Communication in 2021. The planned two-month internship turned into nine months of her working as a student on several different projects. She was primarily involved in planning and organising a public participation initiative that aimed to achieve greater public engagement in science and research activities in Germany. In addition, she had the chance to work as a moderator for the project “I’m a Scientist – get me out of here”, an online platform that allows students to have a direct and low-threshold exchanges with scientists. She was also involved in the jury for the project “Hochschulwettbewerb” – a competition inviting students, postdocs and young researchers from all disciplines to submit creative and interactive project ideas about projects that actively involve the public in their research and build trust and bridges between society and science. Isolde is particularly interested in climate change communication which combines both her interests for science communication and climate psychology. Besides her studies, Isolde is an enthusiastic skier, nature lover and mountain climber.

You can follow Issie and learn more about her work here:


Jen (00:00:00)
Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne Science Communication Teaching Team. I’m Associate Professor Jen Martin and my wonderful co-host is Dr Michael Wheeler and we believe that science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.

Jen (00:00:50)
Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Let’s Talk SciComm. I’m very excited to be here today. And as always, I’m joined by my good friend Michael.

Michael (00:01:02)
Hey Jen, I hope you’re surviving the wet weather we’re having at the moment.

Jen (00:01:07)
Yeah it has been a little bit wet hasn’t it? I think that’s a sign of what’s going on in the world.

Michael (00:01:12)
Yeah and terrible for anyone who’s visiting Australia from overseas as well, right?

Jen (00:01:17)
Ooh, are you trying to segue Michael? So I think one of the things that our listeners will know is that here at Let’s Talk SciComm we’re really passionate about including student voices in our podcast.
And so today we’re super excited to be joined by one of our current students for the whole episode rather than just for some tips at the end.
And Isolde Gottwald who is known to us all as Issie is a current postgraduate exchange student with us at the University of Melbourne and she’s on exchange from the University of Vienna. And in Vienna Issie’s studying a Masters of Psychology and she’s really interested in cognitive neuroscience and environmental psychology.
And completely out of the blue, I got this delightful email back in June from Issie saying that she was coming to Melbourne to study for a semester. And she was really interested in science communication and would there be any chance of kind of meeting up when she was here. And of course Michael and I wrote straight back and said “Of course! We’re super excited, we can’t wait to meet you”. And we were really thrilled when we got to meet up with Issie.
I think not too long after you arrived in Australia Issie. So welcome to the podcast. We’re so happy that you’re here. And tell us, how are you finding Melbourne?

Isolde (00:02:48)
Hi Jen. Hi Michael. Thank you both so much for having me here today. It’s a pleasure for me. It’s been a really exciting, rewarding experience to live in Melbourne. I mean as you said it’s, it’s pretty wet. The weather didn’t change a lot during my time here to be honest which was a bit disappointing.
But other than that, it’s been really exciting. I love Melbourne. It’s such a liveable city. I wish I could stay longer.

Michael (00:03:15)
Yeah no, it is great. And on behalf of everyone in Melbourne I apologise for the weather.

Jen (00:03:21)
Issie, we always like to start by asking our guests a little bit about your interest in science. You know, can you remember a particular moment or experience when you decided that science was something that you loved and that you wanted to pursue?

Isolde (00:03:40)
Yeah, that’s a good question. I was always interested in biology and psychology, medicine, but specifically in neuroscience. And I remember when I started studying psychology, I was almost a bit disappointed because it was very different to my expectations. I think at least a third of everything that I studied was statistics and data analysis and research methods. So my interests kept changing a little bit throughout my studies.
So from biological, psychology and neuroscience I kind of shifted to environmental psychology now, which is a growing field of research at my home university. I recognise now that I always kind of try to find something that consists of many different discipline’s works and that’s why I found environmental psychology so fascinating.

Michael (00:04:25)
Yeah, that is fascinating. And there’s so many different subsets of psychology and different things that you can be interested in. I really enjoyed reading the blog you wrote for Espresso Science on lucid dreaming. I really love the phrase ‘drunk with sleep’. I’ve never heard that before so…

Isolde (00:04:43)
Ah, you haven’t.

Michael (00:04:44)
Yeah no I haven’t, but I feel like I have been drunk with sleep.

Isolde (00:04:48)
Yeah it’s funny because I remember in a science communication class we were taught that you should use some humour and sayings and analogies. And ‘drunk with sleep’ is actually a saying in German and I kind of, I wasn’t sure if it’s, can translate it to English. I’m glad that you liked it.

Michael (00:05:11)
Yeah, that’s interesting. It must be also a challenge though right? When you’re used to doing science communication in one language and then you’re switching and trying to do it in another language. I imagine that is quite hard.

Isolde (00:05:06)
Definitely. It is yeah, it’s quite challenging.

Michael (00:05:27)
Yeah and I’m just curious you know, whether you think Australians or Australian university students are as interested in science or are interested in the same types of science as people over in Europe. The types of conversations that you’ve been having about science over here, are they similar or are they different?

Isolde (00:05:49)
Within the subjects that I’m doing here I met a lot of students who are doing climate science or environmental science, whereas I don’t know a lot of climate science students, environmental science students back home.
So I feel like this is really a large topic that I’ve been talking to other students here at Melbourne Uni, climate change and climate science in general. And I also got the feeling that especially in the class, the science communication class, a lot of students from environmental science are doing this subject.
So I think I got a pretty clear impression here and back home, the distinction between science students and art students is… I don’t feel that distinction to be so strong as it, as it is here. The subjects that I’m doing here, I’m doing some art subjects as well as science subjects which is awesome because I kind of get an impression of both.

Jen (00:06:52)
Yeah and I think the art/ science distinction is a really interesting one Issie because when I was an undergrad I did both. I did an arts degree and a science degree because I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to do.
And of course looking back now, I think one of the things that really drew me to science communication was that it could bring those two things together. My passion for storytelling and writing and all of those sort of communication aspects added to my love of science.
And I know that you share those passions because when you first got in touch with me you said that you’d worked as a student assistant and an intern with Wissenschaft im Dialogue which from my understanding, I had a look on the website is a, kind of a central organisation for science communication in Germany.
So can you tell us how did you get interested in science communication? What work did you do there? What did you learn? You know, what brought you into this world of science communication?

Isolde (00:07:48)
Yeah, that’s an interesting question because it was, it really was a coincidence. I would say that from the very beginning of my studies I was always interested in research and I always considered that as what I want to do in my, my future career. So I did a lot of research internships.
But then two years ago, it’s already two years ago, I was invited to come to Switzerland for a research internship at a sleep research lab. And I worked together with a scientist who turned out to be in, such a great science communicator. Her name is Christine. She really is a role model for me when it comes to science communication. And she kind of invited me to get engaged in her ongoing science communication projects.
So I found that very fascinating and a lot more fun honestly than you know, trying to learn programming language to analyse sleep science EEG data. So I discovered that passion for science communication during that internship. It was a very important internship for me.
So I reached out to another scientist. She’s a science communicator now working at Wissenschaft im Dialog in Berlin. And because teaching was online, it was possible for me to actually move to Berlin and continue studying in Vienna and at the same time work at Wissenschaft im Dialog in Berlin.
And it was all in all such an, such a rewarding and enriching experience there. The interesting thing about that project was that the goal was to ask the public in Germany what they are interested in. And as science and research in Austria and Germany is largely publicly funded, Wissenschaft im Dialog initiated that project because they considered it very important and relevant to let the public participate in creating an agenda about what should researchers dedicate their work, what would be interesting and worth investigating.

Jen (00:09:50)
Sounds amazing Issie.

Michael (00:09:51)
Yeah, great.

Jen (00:09:52)
I mean, what a way for somebody who’s a student to enter into the world of science communication and see these really big projects that are going on.
I mean, good on you for contacting somebody and getting the opportunity.

Isolde (00:10:05)
Definitely yeah. That was always kind of my intuitive approach to… I always found it very supportive to do internships.
And it was, I always had this feeling that it’s, it’s this intuitive feeling that I should just approach people whose work I found interesting and just reach out to them such as I reached out to you. And tell them that I’m interested in their work and get an impression of what their work looks like and if that’s something that I can imagine doing myself and kind of explore.

Michael (00:10:33)
Hmm yeah, it’s great. I mean, I think sometimes people can feel a bit hesitant reaching out to people. They might feel like you know they’re, they might be pestering. But you know, we always advise students that people actually like people reaching out to them. They like talking about their work.

Jen (00:10:49)
And themselves.

Michael (00:10:51)
Yeah, especially if you’re going to be, you have an interest in them, they will have an interest in you. So you know, anyone who’s listening who’s feeling a bit hesitant about sending that email. Yeah, do because if no one gets back to you, it’s the same as if you never reached out in the first place. And then if they do, usually it will be a positive response.
And yeah, great sign that you know, if an internship kind of goes on for longer than originally planned, as you said Issie that you know you’re, you were having a good time there but they also valued you as well.

Isolde (00:11:23)

Michael (00:11:25)
And speaking of science communication work, I know you, you’ve also recorded a podcast with a sleep scientist, but that it’s in German. So I’m sorry that I haven’t listened to it but I know Jen has listened to it.

Jen (00:11:37)
I had to laugh because it, in Issie’s initial email she said something like “Oh, I’ve done this podcast but I won’t bother sharing the link because it’s in German” and I’m like, “I only speak one other language other than English but it happens to be German so I’d love to listen”.
And it occurred to me just before we also should have translated this organisation that Issie was working with, Wissenschaft im Dialog. Issie, I don’t know what a colloquial translation would be but to me “Wissenschaft” is knowledge and “im Dialog” means in conversation. So, how would you translate it into English?

Isolde (00:11:58)
I would say “Wissenschaft” is more like science and research and “Dialog” really is dialogue. So, I think like the organisation’s approach is to create a dialogue between the scientific community in Germany, and the public. That explains the name, I think.

Jen (00:12:24)
Yeah, Okay. Isn’t that funny that my out of date German just associated Wissenschaft which now as soon as you said, I’m like of course that’s science.
But in my mind you know, having not learned German or spoken German for many years I’m like it’s no, it’s just knowledge, all knowledge is clearly science.

Michael (00:12:36)
But yeah, I guess some, some words can be like have kind of multiple meanings as well right? And it’s kind of the context that you use it in and then, yeah, it’s really interesting.
I bet you there’s a… I’d love to be able to speak another language Jen. I just have to say I’m very jealous. We did learn, we did learn a little bit of French and also a little bit of Gaelic in school. But yeah, I couldn’t hold a conversation now but I wonder what it does for your science communication, you know?

Jen (00:13:04)
Well, that’s, that’s, that’s the product of being an exchange student. The only reason I speak German is because I lived there for a year as a, as a high school student.

Michael (00:13:12)
Yeah, what a great experience.

Jen (00:13:13)
So, the power of exchanges. If anyone’s listening thinking oh, you know the pandemic, it’s made things so difficult and overseas travel is so hard.
If there’s any way you can organise an international exchange do because it really is incredible.

Michael (00:13:25)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But I think I was originally asking about the podcast that you recorded in German, that’s right.
And yeah, I just have, you know, just asking for a friend Issie. But you know, what did you learn about that experience in terms of what you think makes a good podcast or how to be engaging on a podcast?

Jen (00:13:45)
Asking for a friend of course, not that we have any vested interest Michael in knowing what, what a good podcast is.

Isolde (00:13:52)
So what I found very important was not to write down everything that I was going to say because I… it was not easy to make it sound natural. And I felt like if I wrote down everything that I was going to say, it would, it would sound very artificial and not a podcast that someone would want to listen to.
So engaging with and preparing the needs and wants for the audience that you want to reach and that you’re addressing which was mainly students for that podcast episode, that really helped me in preparing the structure of the podcast episode. Engaging with the audience, thinking about some, some aspects which could make people laugh about that topic, thinking about putting yourself in the audience.
I mean, it was pretty easy for me because I’m a student and I’m like part of the audience that I wanted to reach. So I kind of put myself in what would I as a student who has no idea about sleep science would want to know about that topic and what is, what knowledge could be integrated in my everyday life.

Jen (00:15:01)
Issie, I’m really interested to know is there anything that you’ve learned about effective science communication while you’ve been in Australia that has been new to you or that you weren’t expecting or that you think reflects something particularly Australian or something particularly English speaking?
Because I feel like you know, you’ve come and studied science communication and with us which we think is wonderful, but of course you were already quite an experienced science communicator already.

Isolde (00:15:28)
Thanks Jen. So compared to my, my previous existing knowledge about science communication which was not so much about actively communicating science. I had some knowledge about the, I do have some knowledge about the you know, like the national level of, of science communication in Germany for instance. But I didn’t really apart from that podcast and the one seminar that I took, I didn’t really have a lot of experience and knowledge in communicating science myself.
So especially what I found very enjoyable in this class and getting taught in science communication here in Australia was the variety of formats that you can engage with when you want to communicate science yourself.
So I was expecting to learn a lot about written formats of science communication. But then I discovered throughout the class that there’s so many different formats that you can communicate science through, be it a talk or your performance and a video. There’s so many different, different possibilities that you can engage with as a scientist to communicate your science. So that was particularly enriching for me to get a sense of variety in science communication activities, I would say.

Jen (00:16:49)
Yeah, cool. Oh, that’s an exciting thing for you to leave Australia with, I think, with this sense of all of the, all of the possibilities of all of the different things you could do.
But it does leave me to ask Issie you know, what’s next for you? I know research is something you’re very passionate about and you’re going home to do a research project that you’re really looking forward to. Is there more science communication on the horizon for you as well, do you think?

Isolde (00:17:11)
I hope so. I really hope so. I’m kind of focusing on trying to find a topic of research that integrates both my interest for climate science and communication science and all the science of science communication, if you want to put it that way.
So I’m trying to focus on, on climate change communication within my master thesis and a PhD, but I really want to try to keep communicating science. And I mean, there’s like this project that I have been working with you on Jen, the Espresso Science Project, which would be incredible for me to stay in touch with you around that.

Jen (00:17:51)
Ooh yes, please. You heard it here first.

Isolde (00:17:53)
Because this is an opportunity which is… an opportunity for me that opened up and I think it’s, it’s hard to establish a formative science communication yourself, especially if you’re a student, you know, struggling with your studies and everything besides your studies.
But I’ve learned so many things here in Australia about different opportunities to engage in, in science communication activities. And I’m still in touch with my former colleagues in Berlin, the Wissenschaft im Dialog, organization currently actively looking for a next job besides my studies. And it would be great if I could further deepen a bit in, in the world of science communication or journalism. That’d be really interesting for me.

Jen (00:18:42)
Well, I’m looking forward to the next time we interview you on the podcast Issie, to hear about what amazing work you’re doing. You can be our European correspondent, please.

Micheal (00:18:49)

Isolde (00:18:50)
Thanks, that’d be incredible.

Michael (00:18:52)
Yeah, definitely yeah. And kind of hats off to you as well for mastering science communication in two different languages. I think that’s very, that’s very impressive.
Maybe next time, you know, I’ll go and do some German lessons. Then maybe next time you can have Jen and myself on your podcast, and we can all speak German. Give me a little bit of time though.

Jen (00:19:16)
I have to, I have to drink a beer first. These days when I don’t ever practise, my German’s much better when I’ve had a beer. So my dear friend Christoph if you’re listening, who is one of my very, very dearest friends in the world and one of my German host brothers, he can attest to the fact that I think these days my German is better if I’ve drunk some beer first.

Michael (00:19:36)
Hmm, sounds great. And do you learn better as well with a, with a beer? Maybe you have to go to Germany and be immersed in the language and you know, the culture so…

Jen (00:19:48)
Well, you know our mantra, “write drunk, edit sober”.
So presumably beer would help all over, right?

Michael (00:19:54)
Yeah yeah, definitely. Yeah, could really put that to the test. And yet look, I mean the other thing about that is kind of the variety, isn’t it? The variety is, it’s really valuable I think in, in all areas of life and in everything that we do.
And including this podcast as well, we like variety here too. And to add a little bit of variety towards the end of the podcast, as you know, we’ve got our rapid fire question section. So just some short questions, very light hearted.

Michael (00:20:30)
And the first one is that if you had to pick an alternative career or an alternative I suppose path of study to what you’re currently doing, what would it be?

Isolde (00:20:47)
For me it would be either medicine or journalism I think.

Jen (00:20:52)
Well, maybe those things are still in your future Issie. Who knows?

Michael (00:20:57)
Yeah, or both.

Jen (00:20:58)
That’s right. OK Issie, next question.
When you think about everything you’ve done so far in the kind of world of science and study and communication, what’s been your proudest achievement?

Isolde (00:21:11)
Wow, that’s a big question. My proudest achievement, I would say definitely that I got the scholarship to come here and study at the University of Melbourne. This was like a very big dream of myself.
I knew from when I started studying that I definitely wanted to go abroad and this wish kind of dropped when the pandemic started and I thought I’m already you know, too old to go on exchange. But I’m so grateful that it turned out to be possible. And yeah I’m also proud that I made it to study here.

Michael (00:21:47)
Hmm, and and you really made the most out of it as well.

Isolde (00:21:52)

Jen (00:21:53)
We’re very very happy that you were awarded that scholarship.
Having you here has been wonderful.

Isolde (00:21:56)

Michael (00:21:58)
So next question Issie. What’s your favourite science related movie, book or joke? In English or in German. But you have to translate if it’s in German.

Isolde (00:22:09)
I think it’s the Netflix series My Planet, narrated by David Attenborough. If I spell it correctly. But that is definitely my favourite science series.
I love watching documentaries, and I mean it’s very science documentary. And also Explained, that’s also Netflix series about science. My two favourite.

Jen (00:22:37)
It immediately makes me think because Issie, David Attenborough’s voice is something that is just absolutely very distinctive in English and absolutely beloved. I’m just imagining the pressure that would be on the person who does the German voiceover or any other language voiceover for David Attenborough, what, what a pressure.

Michael (00:22:53)

Isolde (00:22:55)

Michael (00:22:56)
Yeah, I guess they would just have to try and channel you know, being as wholesome as possible, that’s kind of how I imagine David Attenborough’s voice, it’s just very very wholesome and it just makes you feel good.

Isolde (00:23:08)
Yeah, it does.

Jen (00:23:11)
OK Issie, your next question. And in fact, we were in class talking about social media just earlier today.
Which is your preferred platform out of Twitter and Instagram for sharing science?

Isolde (00:23:24)
100% Twitter. I’m 100% a Twitter person I would say.

Michael (00:23:30)
And why, why Twitter over Instagram?

Isolde (00:23:33)
I feel like it’s more of a community that I find enjoyable reading about and contributing to. It’s like the science communication community and and a lot of scientists that I follow on Twitter. Whereas on Instagram it’s pretty much private and not so much professional.
So what I don’t really like about Instagram is that it’s, it became very time consuming and I, I always felt like it’s, it’s a bit hard to, to manage your engagement with Instagram.
And I feel like it’s a lot of people putting… I’m not sure how to how to, how to put it, but it’s, I feel like Twitter is, is more something that I was that I am looking for.
So it’s, provides a lot of opportunities like as you said Jen, job alerts. And I mean, scientists communicate about their science on Twitter primarily. So that’s the reason I think.

Michael (00:24:35)
Yeah, and it’s, I guess all the platforms are slightly different. And yeah, it’s great that you’ve identified one that works for you.
Okay, last question Issie. You’ve given us some great advice already on science communication. I’m curious to ask what your top tip is out of all of the bits of advice. What’s the most important one? What’s your top tip for effective science communication?

Isolde (00:25:02)
Find a format that you enjoy communicating through, whether it’s written or spoken or visually, and find a format that suits you and that’s enjoyable and fun. And then try to engage with an audience that you are really interested in reaching and communicating with.

Michael (00:25:27)

Jen (00:25:28)
Excellent advice.

Michael (00:25:29)
Yeah, it’s so important you need to be interested and and kind of passionate in what you’re doing. And then that really kind of comes through in your communication.

Jen (00:25:39)
Well Issie, thank you so, so much for chatting with us today. We’re so delighted that you sought out the opportunity to come to Melbourne and that we’ve had the pleasure of meeting you and getting to know you and having you in class.
We will definitely stay in touch, no question about that. And I think we would love to interview you again down the track when you’re immersed in your world back at home and to hear about the science communication scene in Austria. So safe and happy travels and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Isolde (00:26:04)
Thanks, thank you so much both for having me here today. It was really a pleasure talking to you.

Michael (00:26:09)
Thanks Issie. Yeah, thanks for coming over and reaching out to us and making the most of your time here and joining us on the podcast today. So much appreciated.

Michael (00:26:36)
Thanks for listening and thanks also to our wonderful production team, Stephanie Wong and Steven Tang for making these episodes happen behind the scenes. And thanks also to you, our listeners for your support.
If you are enjoying these episodes, you can help spread the word by telling a friend about Let’s Talk SciComm or even sharing one of our episodes.
But that’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your feed next Tuesday. See you then.