I have recently had two great experiences of public engagement and communication in science: The Cheltenham Science Festival and a Science Communication Workshop. I will elaborate below 🙂
University of Birmingham Biosciences organised a stand in the discover zone of the Cheltenham Science Festival this year and for two of the days I attended as a demonstrator. The aim of the stand was to tell people about animal anatomy and diversity. To assist we had a large range of anatomical models arranged over two tables accompanied by a small quiz to see if (mostly the children) could identify the animals from what they saw. We had a lot of interesting guesses including suggesting that a Gorilla skull was actually of a dinosaur and that a chimp skeleton was a dog! All guesses allowed us to talk about the animals and provide interesting little facts about them and the wider animal kingdom. It was a really fun and tiring two days and I met a lot of enthusiastic visitors ranging from hoards of school kids through small families to elderly couples, all of whom brought their own interests and questions to the day. Interestingly, a reporter for an Irish radio station was talking to the various demonstrators about their stalls and he spoke to me! He didn’t disclose the station but I’ll be out there in the digital world at some point! It was a great pair of days and I am very grateful to have been permitted to help 🙂
For the past two (now three) years the Society of Biology, Society for Experimental Biology, and the Biochemical Society have jointly hosted a Science Communication Workshop (see #scicom2013 for this years chat!). This is aimed at early-career researchers with an interest in science communication activities be it to the public, between scientists, with schools, or anything beyond the lab bench! Those interested apply with some preliminary ideas and a certain number are accepted to attend for the day. Attendees are then grouped roughly into similar interests and ideas before being assigned two facilitators whose roles are to guide discussion of their ideas as well as provide constructive feedback where appropriate. This year, following on from my organising of LESIS More being featured in The Biochemist, I was invited to be one of those facilitators! I was quite nervous when I found out about those who were attending as I’m pretty sure I was the least experienced researcher there! It was a great day though and I felt I contributed well to the sessions.
The day started with a meet&greet session with refreshments where people networked and various demonstrations, leaflets, and magazines were available. We then had an introduction from Sarah Blackford of the Society for Experimental Biology before a lecture from Jenny Rohn (jennyrohn.com. @JennyRohn) on scientists in the 21st Century. She discussed how the role of scientists must continue to progress from merely bench-top research being published to including two-way interactions with government, the media, and most importantly the public. We were then assigned our groups and started with the first ideas discussion session. At this point, each of my group had ideas in various stages of development but all were strong and with potential to greatly benefit those at which they were aimed. I don’t feel I can be specific as they are not my ideas but these included ideas for increasing collaborations between labs, promoting interaction of those with related research and lay-skills, and bridging the gap between researchers and schools to allow scientists to play a better role with schools. The day continued with lunch before returning for a lecture from Oxford Brookes’ research and public engagement fellow Anne Osterreider (plantcellbiology.com, @AnneOsterrieder). Anne presented on the ways of communicating science with an emphasis on being creative. She talked of collaborations with literary researchers in building exercises where participants wrote short plays to communicate ideas, chance meetings leading to science music videos (youtube.com/user/plantendomembrane), and plant-related poetry! The day continued with our second discussion session before visitors filled out a larger and more extensive idea form. These was then attached all around the room for a ‘Silent Debate’. This involved everyone putting their feedback and comments on post-it notes and attaching them to the posters. Afterwards, visitors retrieved their ideas to read the feedback before voting for the best idea on their tables. Each table’s winner received a prize and they all had their photo taken. The day was wrapped up again by Sarah before a refreshments (including Peroni!) and networking session. Overall, such a great experience and I am very grateful for the invitation to facilitate!
Both of these activities provided a great experience for me and I strongly suggest anyone with even a remote interest in communicating science to the public and other audiences to seek out these opportunities 🙂
Thanks for reading