The Root Of The Science Podcast

EP 132: Johnmark Ochieng, A Storyteller's Guide to the Galaxy

January 29, 2024 Anne Chisa Season 5 Episode 132
The Root Of The Science Podcast
EP 132: Johnmark Ochieng, A Storyteller's Guide to the Galaxy
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Our guest today is Johnmark Ochieng, a journalist and science communicator from Kenya. As a corporate communications officer at the Kenya Space Agency, he channels storytelling into his work, creating bridges between complex space science and the enchanting stories of the night sky. 

Join us on this intriguing conversation on how he made his way here.

LinkedIn: Johnmark Ochieng

Support the show

Follow the show on:
Twitter: @Rootofscipod
Instagram: @Rootofscipod
YouTube: The Root Of The Science Podcast
Facebook: The Root of The Science Podcast
LinkedIn: The Root Of The Science Podcast
Website

Anne Chisa:

The Root of the Science podcast with your girl, Anne with an E. Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Root of the Science podcast with your girl, Anne with an E. If you are new here, welcome to the show, it is so good to have you on. And if you are regular, thank you so much for tuning in. It's January. We are almost reaching the end of the longest year in a month Now. It's been so great so far. I hope you are settling in into this new year of 2024. I remind you that if you want to be on the show or you know someone who should be on the show, make sure that you reach out to us on our social media platforms or you send an email at therootofthesciencepod@ gmailcom, and if you think there is room for us to collaborate, also send through a message in the following ways that I just explained. Now let's get into today's episode. My guest today is Johnm ark Ochieng. He is a journalist and a space science communicator. Johnm ark is also a corporate communications officer at Kenya Space Agency. In this episode, he will help us understand all about space science communication what are the challenges, what are some of the opportunities and, of course, why does he even do space science communication. So let's tune in to hear all about this and so much more. Let's go. Hello, johnm ark, welcome to the show.

Johnmark Ochieng:

Hi, Anne, thank you so much. I am very excited to be here today.

Anne Chisa:

It is such a pleasure to have you on the show today. I'm so excited to you know, talk to you and for the listeners to know more about you. So first things first, can you briefly introduce yourself for the listeners out there?

Johnmark Ochieng:

Thank you. My name is Johnm ark Ochieng. I am a science communicator from Kenya. I am based in Nairobi and currently I am a corporate communications officer with the Kenya Space Agency. So there's really so much that I could say about myself, but maybe as we get to interact in the podcast or in this episode, you will be able to get to know more about me. So that is just my brief introduction in a nutshell.

Anne Chisa:

Perfect. Yes, we'll definitely get to know more about you. So you mentioned already that you are a science communicator, more specifically within the astronomy and space field. Right, Astronomy and science communication. So like take me to the beginning. How did this come about? Why astronomy and why space? How did that happen?

Johnmark Ochieng:

Well, I'd say that now we are getting into our time machine and going back in time, but then we both know that that hasn't been invented yet.

Anne Chisa:

Yes.

Johnmark Ochieng:

Yeah, but this all started back when I was young, probably in primary school, and I used to wonder about the little stars. And then the most significant memory I have is when I was walking, whenever I was sent to the shop at night, I was walking and then they thought that was lingering on. My mind is why is the moon following me? So it's an illusion.

Anne Chisa:

I came to realize that it's an illusion.

Johnmark Ochieng:

They felt like it was following me everywhere I go and anytime I ran. At the time I could also see it moving faster. So I was like, how does this happen?

Anne Chisa:

Yeah.

Johnmark Ochieng:

My mom was a primary school teacher and in the school where she was teaching art they used to get these book donations from abroad. So they were these giant Discovery books that had a lot of information, basically, on different aspects of science and History and our range of topics. But I was more curious about the science part, so I used to go through the books. At the time, of course I I wasn't smart enough to comprehend what the what they were talking about in the books, but I Could decipher what the pictures were, and at this one time I came across a picture of the of NASA Space Shuttle, the space shuttle program that Contributed to the Hubble Space Telescope being deployed into space. So now this idea of a rocket now sort of broadened my horizon and I wanted to know how does this work? Oh, yeah what happens in the outside universe. I mean, you can stare at the night sky and Just see darkness, but then, when you really think about it, there's a whole other universe Out there waiting to be explored, and that's what I decided to now focus on. Doesn't really so intricate at the time. What the interest grew with time, the more I was learning.

Anne Chisa:

Wonderful, wonderful, that's, that's amazing. I love the story about the moon. I'm sure you've all had that. Okay, so that was where your interest Started and thank goodness that your mom being the teacher, you were able to have access to these types of books that further Enabled your curiosity. So In the also in your introduction, you mentioned that your corporate communications officer, and With a specific focus on space science. So how do you tailor when you communicate, how do you tailor your message To engage a very wide audience? I mean, initially, you telling me the beginning of your story. I can already see how you do it, but to make someone who's not interested in science or not interested in space go like, okay, I want to listen.

Johnmark Ochieng:

Okay, so the first thing that I usually do I usually do, or basically anyone who Knows how to communicate with people is to understand my audience, and that goes by knowing when they are from, the kind of or the level of education that they have. So this one helps me doing this, helps me tailor the message towards that specific audience. So if I'm talking to different experts in the field, I wouldn't be shy about using the Technical jargon. But if I'm talking to Any citizen we call them local one and she, or one and she here in Kenya Then I'd have to tailor that in a layman's language that they can understand. And and it also Changes when I'm talking to kids and young ones, and these are the wide majority that I have interacted with in different outreach programs. So In all these I try to incorporate analogies, so Analogies like I can. I can use a donut To describe a black hole, or I can use the process of, so it said, when a black hole swallows something, it's basically a high point of gravity in space when, if anything, if anything passes the boundary which is the boundary of the space, if anything passes the boundary which is called the event horizon, it can't come out, not even light can escape it. So that whole process is Called spaghettification. So it's the process of being stretched as you're pulled into the intense gravity of the black hole. Now to an analogy that I love to use in any setting whatsoever is you imagine your mouth is a black hole and when you're eating pasta or spaghetti, now that whole process of you Eating or taking in the spaghetti is now spaghettification, and that is what happens when you're swallowed by a black hole. So analogies like this make sense more relatable and someone wouldn't really feel left out if you're talking about it in a conversation or In a certain setting.

Anne Chisa:

Oh man, I love that. Yeah, it makes it exciting and it makes it more relatable, because I know what spaghetti is, I know what a donut is, you know, I know what my mouth is, and I love that. That. You really have to know your audience and even as you're explaining and I'm sure as everybody else who's listening we can tell your communication skills are innate to you. It comes out naturally. So, yeah, that's pretty exciting. Do you mind sharing some of like one or so, if you can choose one, but off the top of your head, what has been one moment, one special moment that had you go like aha, like it was so kind that you learned something while you were trying to teach something, or just any special moment that sort of stands out while you're doing some of your science engagement, you know initiatives at schools or even with corporate and more the technical people. Do you have one?

Johnmark Ochieng:

Yes, I do have one and it's a very interesting. I should call it a story because on top of being a science communicator, I'm also an avid sky watcher. So I love to any opportunity I get where there are dark and clear skies. I love to go out and just wonder and think about my whole existence in the entire universe. So there was this one time and I have this calendar where I can go and see when there are significant astronomical events that are happening. So there was this one time, during our meteor shower, I was out and for you to catch a glimpse of these meteors, you can, you need to stay out and sort of camp, and usually they peak from around 12 midnight to 6am they're about. So this one time I was out there trying to see if I can catch the German aids meteor shower. It originates from the Gemini constellation, so all these atoms that I usually love breaking down when I'm talking to someone about them. So on this particular night, as I was trying to trace where I would probably see a meteor coming from, I saw this bright light. It was very bright, very fast, and it roared through the sky and that moment I have never forgotten about it, in fact, anytime I go back home and I look at that side of the sky, I still remember how that felt or how that made me feel at the time. So I find that anytime we go on different engagements, different outreach programs, or even when I'm talking to just a random person, like maybe a cab driver, they also tell me about this thing they saw that they thought was an UFO and an identified flying object. So now, whenever that happens or whenever I get that response, it's usually an aha moment because now I'm like this is a teachable moment. This is the right time to break this conception that people have about certain objects that we see in the night sky. So during these experiences now I get a chance to educate them and tell them that that was not an UFO and I explain what they were and how many times they happen in a year or what time they peak and what's the best time to see them is. And you find that after I've done that, so many people relate to that and they actually say how they felt at that time. So it even gives it more meaning when now they know what it was and it makes them feel more connected to the universe. So those are usually one of my favorite moments whenever I'm communicating or whenever I'm talking to someone about space and astronomy.

Anne Chisa:

Yeah, amazing, amazing. I love how, like you say that, you're able to have teachable moments even in the most normal day activities, whether you are doing going on about your day, so that's pretty amazing. So you, I just wanted to find out you from Kenya, when you think of science communication. How is science communication like? Is it popular in Kenya?

Johnmark Ochieng:

I wouldn't say that it's popular. There are a few people who do science communication, or some who do it, but they don't really identify as science communicators. So we are in that stage where we are trying to now eye together with other science communicators that are in the country right now. We are trying to make it popular. We are breaking the bias that science is a difficult concept to comprehend or understand, and that really goes a long way. So I wouldn't say that there are challenges that are involved in science communication in Kenya. What I see are opportunities and these are opportunities to break that bias that people have against science and just let them know that it can be exciting, it can be fun and it can be consumed, just like any other news or information that exists out there.

Anne Chisa:

Oh, yes, definitely. I am, you know, of course, biased to that as well, as I'm a science communicator myself. So I love that you and the other science communicators are also pushing that agenda. So, John Mark, away from what you do in your work life you mentioned already that you're an avid sky watcher, but you also have like really interesting hobbies like hiking, sports bikes etc. So do you find like when you are out there hiking or you are doing your other hobbies, that these activities might sort of intersect on how you convey some of your work, like your communications works? Do you have moments where you're able to link the two some way somehow?

Johnmark Ochieng:

I actually do have some of ways that I link the two, so almost all the hobbies that I enjoy are linked to adrenaline. I constantly love living on the dangerous side of life, and this is not an encouragement to our listeners to also start living on the dangerous side. But I do find that these moments provide me a sense of clarity. I get to improve my productivity, especially after I go on a hike or a morning run or basically anything that involves my adrenaline picking. So it goes well in developing now my productivity, especially when I'm at work. I know I say that already, but when I'm at work now it improves the productivity and how. The two link with space science and communication is that I sort of get to have those alone moments where you get to comprehend about life a lot. So I start by thinking about what it is that I have on my plate, how I want to package it and how I would also make someone else understand. So basically what I'm trying to say is in those long some moments when I'm out there in the wild or in the woods, I get to find the time and the space to put myself into another person's shoes and see if I read this written or if I listen to this said by John Mark, would I really understand it? So that also gives me that the clarity on what I aim to achieve whenever I'm communicating.

Anne Chisa:

Amazing. You know, sometimes inspiration does come from the most unliked places, and I love the fact that you combine the two and, you know, maybe some way, when you're busy explaining about your adrenaline, adrenaline, janky activities, maybe somebody's like, oh, I also love doing that, and just incorporating the two, they might now start paying an ear to listen to the type of work that you are doing. So, john Mark, you are, you are in the beginning of your career as a science communicator. I'd like to know where do you see yourself, or like, what is the, the big dream and the big goal for yourself in this space, or even if it extends past the space?

Johnmark Ochieng:

First of all, I'd just like to start by repeating what I said earlier. Here in Kenya and Africa at large, science communication is not really appreciated that much, especially in astronomy and space science. So you find that anytime you talk about space exploration, what comes to your mind is organizations like NASA, the European Space Agency, just to mention a few. But now that goal for me is how can I make it be like, whenever I say space exploration, someone from South Africa or someone from Kenya or someone from Egypt says you know what? Here in Africa we have done this to contribute towards achieving some milestones in space exploration and we are proud of that. So I like a slogan of a company that I used to work for, and it's Africans in space, for Africans, by Africans. So that is the stepping stone for all that I aim to achieve. We want to. I want to be able to inspire many people all over Africa and the world to take pride in us exploring the universe, us understanding the universe, and I really love what Carl Seagan said we are made of star stuff. So that really that is a quote I really love using most of the time, because it really shows how much we are connected. So the ultimate goal is to see this becoming becoming a norm and breaking that misconception that space and astronomy is an idea of the Western world or it is an idea of the West. Why can't we say Kenya recently launched a satellite to space. Now how can I make that be a source of pride for people here in Kenya and of course that extends to other countries in Africa and different milestones that are achieved by different organizations in Africa and out of Africa?

Anne Chisa:

I love this dream and I'm in support of this dream and you're absolutely right, africa is doing some really amazing work and I think it's up to us, as Africans, to amplify that work so that, like you said, when you think of astronomy, you don't only think of the global north, you think of Africa, you think of Kenya, you think of South Africa as well. They've also really also big in that space as well. So I think it's so, so important and I look forward to you achieving this, because you know, it starts like a little dream right now as having this conversation, but when you get there, I'm going to have you back on the show and I'm going to be like listen, remember what you said. Here you are.

Johnmark Ochieng:

Very true, and that is actually the whole idea. And I want to be the kind of science communicator who inspires hoping people. I want to inspire that little boy in a local community in Kenya to say that one day I also want to be a science communicator and talk about this. I talk about biology, talk about chemistry or just talk about something that I love in a way that people will relate to.

Anne Chisa:

Oh man, I'm inspired and I hope somebody else is inspired, and it's been so lovely, lovely, lovely chatting to you, john Mark, today. Thank you so much for coming on to the show.

Johnmark Ochieng:

Thank you so much and for the opportunity to be a guest in your show. I've been going through it and I absolutely love what you're doing having different experts and guests talk about things that they love. It's both informative, educative and it can also transform someone's perception of things that they had different ideas about. So that is really the whole point of what you and I, as science communicators, are trying to do.

Anne Chisa:

Exactly. You've taken the words right of my mouth. Thank you so much, Johnm ark. I wish you all of the best and everything that you do, and to everybody else who's tuned in. Thank you so much for listening to another episode of the Root of the Science podcast with your girl Anne with an E. Until next time, goodbye.

Space Science Communication
Hobbies as Work in Science Communication