STEMM PROFILE: Heather Catchpole, BSc, MSc | Head of Content | Refraction Media | Sydney | NSW
“It’s important to treat your team with respect, facilitate communication and to recognise their achievements…”
Heather is the co-founder of specialist publishers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), Refraction Media. This dynamic start-up was the brainchild of Heather and co-founder Karen Taylor-Brown, who met at Cosmos Magazine, a popular science magazine, where Heather was Managing Editor of a suite of magazines, apps and other content that took a deep look at amazing and surprising side of science. Refraction Media partner with Google to publish Careers with Code, a magazine and website to promote computer science careers to young people, and produce a range of custom magazines, websites, animations and teacher resources. Heather began her journalistic career at The Canberra Times after completing a degree at the Australian National University majoring in Geology, and a Master of Science Communication. She was the editor of CSIRO’s kids magazine Scientriffic, before moving with her husband and young daughter to Sydney, where she worked as a staff journalist for ABC Science, writing and posting stories about a wide range of science and health areas, and appearing regularly on local and national radio.
She took a year to do a degree in Fine Arts before moving fulltime to freelance writing once her second child arrived. As a freelancer specialising in astronomy, physics and Earth sciences, she contributed to The Age, Cosmos, ABC, Discovery Channel, Australian Geographic and many more. She was also the Editor of The Australian Geologist magazine. Heather then moved into academic publishing, as Assistant Editor for the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, before starting as Deputy Editor at Cosmos magazine. Heather has always combined an interest in arts with science, exhibiting as an artist (painting) throughout Sydney, and travelling widely for her writing, visiting palaeontological digs, active volcanoes and large science facilities in search of great science stories. She also has a strong interest in innovative education resources, and has developed and participated in several world-firsts including a twitter-style call out to alien planets that attracted 50,000 tweets, a virtual tour of a nuclear reactor, e-learning resources on road safety, a national survey on memory and many more.
Heather is the author of five science books for children including It’s true – space turns you into spaghetti, which was shortlisted for the UK Royal Society Prize for junior fiction, and The Yummy Book of Rocks. Refraction Media was awarded Best Small Publisher (Publish Awards) in 2015.
What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?
I have always been an ideas woman. I am extremely self-motivated and able to carry through projects and lead a team towards an exciting result.
What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader?
I believe that successful leaders have the ability to think fast, to be decisive and yet inclusive in their decisions. It’s important to treat your team with respect, facilitate communication and to recognise their achievements, and to make clear calls in terms of the final direction of your projects.
How can we change the scientific work culture to improve work/life balance?
There is a strong and clear need to alter the way that scientific achievements are acknowledged when looking at scientists’ track record, grant eligibility and promotional opportunities. We need to reward collaboration, to allow other career achievements along with citations and impact factor to be part of the recognition process. We need to alter many things about the way scientists are recognised, from looking for bias in the language we use, to valuing the mentorship provided by scientists in a more inclusive and meaningful way. There needs to be flexibility, appropriate leave and allowances for travel factored into work in science. Education around bias is so important and much could be learned from the corporate sector.
If you have had a career disruption, how did you manage to stay productive during this time– what helped you the most?
I was able to finance my time bringing up my children through working on a freelance basis. I was able to do this by activity maintaining a network of contacts both in science and journalism, and by being proactive in seeking work opportunities. Practically, a network of women friends also helped with juggling the needs of my kids.
What is your ideal holiday – and do you work on your holiday?
I love working on holiday when it takes me to exciting places – like digging for trilobites on Kangaroo Island. It allows me to delve deeper into the cultural, scientific and social value of places. But give me a beach and some snorkelling and I’d happily chill out for a week swimming and sipping sangria.
Follow Heather on Twitter: @hcatchpole