Deb Baker was working in a New Hampshire library when she noticed that most senior positions in the field were held by men. This inspired her to get back to learning and she combined working with an online degree in Science Communication and Public Engagement. Graduating in 2020, the masters has already opened up new and varied opportunities for her.
|Degree||Science Communication and Public Engagement|
|Year of graduation||2020|
At the moment
I’m library director at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire and have two unpaid scicomm gigs. I lead engagement of Episcopalian congregations in New Hampshire with a household carbon footprint tracker, and I am “chief” (and only) librarian for COVID-19 Alliance Senior Support Team (SST), which supports New Hampshire senior living facilities.
Your time at the University
Online learning takes a bit of getting used to but it’s rewarding and affordable. Even if you have a very busy life, you can manage it if you’re able to keep organised.
I was an assistant library director at a small university and noticed academic library directors in my area were mostly men and had an additional degree besides the Master of Library Science. I love science and, as a child (like many girls), didn’t receive much encouragement to pursue it. I also love writing and fear maths, so I was looking for an online graduate programme in science with little maths, and when I found science communication and public engagement it felt like what I’d been looking for.
Online learning was interesting. Sometimes it felt a little lonely, and I missed the give and take that happens in a classroom. It really fitted my life, though - working full time, volunteering, caring for family at times. Having access to the University's library online was heavenly. At times it was hard being the only non-scientist, but my classmates were always supportive of each other and that really helped me. We got to know each other and we’ve stayed in touch. I discovered that I love dialogue and have had opportunities to facilitate a few times since that part of the course. I loved the intellectual challenge of the coursework, but also the opportunities to be creative. Having to stick to word counts in every discussion and paper has made me a better writer, I’m sure. I also found opportunities to apply much of what I was learning at work, and I enjoyed hearing how my classmates were doing that, too. It certainly gave me great empathy for my college’s online students!
Your experiences since leaving the University
I graduated in December 2020. My dissertation was focused on my work with Sustaining Earth: Our Island Home, a household carbon footprint tracker and I’m still engaged with that; COVID has actually meant I could do some virtual visits with congregations. I’m presenting online at the Network for the National Library of Medicine symposium on the Infodemic about knowledge brokering versus reference librarianship because of my work with the COVID Alliance SST, which is very exciting. I really like knowledge brokering, and it is very rewarding supporting long term care facilities (LTCF), which were hit hard by the pandemic. As part of that team, I manage an online FAQ and created a two-page guide on best practices addressing vaccine hesitancy among LTCF staff. New Hampshire has the highest vaccination rate among LTCF staff in the United States – knowing I was part of the effort to support that feels like I’m really applying what I learned.
I also have become more involved with the Science and Technology section of the Association of College and Research Libraries during the pandemic, and through that group was able to attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science virtual annual meeting. To hear some of the people I’d cited in my graduate work speak, and to “mix” with scicomm folks online, was amazing, and being a recent graduate of the University of Edinburgh helped me have a bit of confidence introducing myself.
Life during Covid-19
My unpaid work has been so rewarding that I definitely hope to pursue more knowledge brokering. I’ve actually enjoyed working at home (maybe postgraduate studying at home helped prepare me). We’ve been very fortunate - my family have all been well and are nearly all vaccinated or have vaccines scheduled. I feel advocacy work, which I’ve participated in since I was young, became more urgent in the past year, given all of the inequities the pandemic revealed and the unprecedented political events in the United States.
I participated in an Instagram live with some other University of Edinburgh online postgraduate students after my course ended, and several had set up WhatsApp chats with their classmates during their courses. I wish we’d done that! We’re on a Slack now, but I think supporting each other during the course would have been easier if we’d had an unofficial communications channel. Otherwise, I’d just say go for it. Online learning takes a bit of getting used to but it’s rewarding and affordable. Even if you have a very busy life, you can manage it if you’re able to keep organised.
Online open days
More information on the upcoming open days for distance learning on 26 and 27 May 2021 can be found here:
Postgraduate open days: online learning