Guest post by Maria Zygouropoulou (@maria_zyg).
At a recent meeting of our School’s post-grad management committee, Maria shared a document which she had put together describing the opportunities for students and academics to get involved in outreach activities. I thought this was too good to keep internal, and she has kindly agreed to let me repost it on the blog. Below she explains why you should get involved with outreach, how to do it, then a short bit about herself. Thanks Maria!
Shared Science = Powerful Science
The importance of engaging the public with science is becoming increasingly recognised; as an example, various MSc programmes in science communication are now on offer, public science festivals have sprung to life and outreach activities have become a compulsory requirement in many PhD programmes.
Why should we engage?
Although we sometimes forget, in most cases, our research money comes from public funding. Therefore, communicating our science back to the public is like saying ‘look, here is where your money was spent, thank you very much indeed’. If our research is not worth sharing then it is definitely not worth doing. Naturally, no-one is better placed to demonstrate the value and relevance of our research to the society than us. At the same time, simply by sharing we can also contribute towards building sustained support for our work. Furthermore, in the wider context of science, it is our responsibility to make science accessible and inclusive as well as to ensure that the public is well-informed about science. So next time you hear about the benefits of homoeopathy or that cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis think that at some point science was not communicated accurately or not communicated at all.
What is in it for us?
Engaging with the public can be fun and rewarding. You never know when and where you might plant a seed, but there is nothing more exhilarating than inspiring others with something that you are passionate about. And really it’s a two-way street: interacting with people other than your colleagues can sometimes help you realise the bigger picture of your research and see things in a new light. Of course, you will also have something extra to put in your CV and get to meet lots of like-minded, fun people and expand your network. Most importantly, communicating (your) science is easy and you can do it your own way: be it writing, painting, filming, speaking, social media… anything that suits you works. There is no wrong way of doing it, apart from not doing it at all!
Nevertheless, having recently joined the world of research as a PhD student, I appreciate that sometimes scientists find it hard to explain their science in a simple and universally communicable manner. Very often, scientific jargon, wordy slides and lack of enthusiasm spoil otherwise promising talks which in the end fail to communicate the most important points. I am even certain that some of us would prefer to write a peer-reviewed research article than to explain our work to a child, our grandma or even to a fellow scientist in a different field! Clearly, this is because we don’t do it enough… and since there are hardly any communication naturals, it takes practice!
If you don’t know where to start from, here is a list of a few good science communication opportunities/examples that might inspire you and help you on your way.
Some science communication opportunities (either for active participation or as a member of an audience):
A free online event where school students meet and interact with scientists. It’s an X Factor-style competition between scientists, where the students are the judges.
The 3MT concept was developed by the University of Queensland, Australia and has spread to universities around the world. The challenge is for researchers to explain the complexity and relevance of their research to a non-specialist audience in a concise and engaging way. Presenters have a maximum of three minutes to pitch their research and can only use one slide.
Based at Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education (ICE), the Naked Scientists are a team of scientists, doctors and communicators whose passion is to help the general public to understand and engage with the worlds of science, technology and medicine. If you are interested in writing a guest article for the Naked Scientists website then please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org with details about your background and interests.
PubhD is monthly event that started up in Nottingham. At each event, three PhD students, from any academic discipline, explain their work to an audience in a pub in exchange for a pint or two. The talks are at a ‘pub level’ – the idea is that you don’t have to be an academic to understand the talks.
Hosted by the British Science Association and CAMRA, Nottingham SciBar is a monthly event where a research scientist will present a short introduction to their work and how it affects all of us. This is followed by a friendly discussion interspersed with regular beer breaks. If you’re interested in science, and enjoy real ale pubs then we’d love for you to come along and enjoy an evening’s entertainment that stimulates those grey cells!
FameLab is a communications competition designed to engage and entertain by breaking down science, technology and engineering concepts into three minute presentations.
ScienceGrrl is a broad-based, grass-roots organisation celebrating and supporting women in science; a network of people who are passionate about passing on our love of science on to the next generation.
The VoYS Standing up for Science media workshops encourage early career researchers to get their voices heard in public debates about science.
Café Scientifique (including the Nottingham branch)
Cafe Scientifique is a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings take place in cafes, bars, restaurants and even theatres, but always outside a traditional academic context.
The Pint of Science Festival brings some of the most brilliant scientists to your local pub to discuss their latest research and findings with you.
Festival of the Spoken Nerd is the science comedy phenomenon that will feed your brain, tickle your ribs and light your Bunsen burner. Full Frontal Nerdity guaranteed!
It’s a regular comedy night started in 2009 down in London that has academics getting up behind the mic and entertaining audiences about their subject/research. Over the past two years it has also kicked off several other branches in cities across the UK.
It’s a chaotic open mic night for scientists, science communicators, science teachers, historians and philosophers of science, students, science popularisers and anyone else with something to show off about science.
An independent press office helping to ensure that the public have access to the best scientific evidence and expertise through the news media when science hits the headlines. The Centre offers free places at its hugely popular ‘Introduction to the News Media’ events which give a flavour of what media work involves.
Horizon is an ongoing and long-running British documentary television series on BBC that covers science and philosophy. BBC offers work experience opportunities. A previous volunteer is here.
Formerly known as the British Interactive Group, BIG is a not-for-profit organisation for all people involved in informal science communication activities and hands-on education projects in the UK.
STEMNET (STEM ambassadors UK)
STEM Ambassadors volunteer their time and support to promote STEM subjects to young learners in a vast range of original, creative, practical and engaging ways. You can become a STEM ambassador yourself and participate in activities in your local area.
Microbiology society: JAM talks
The J.A.M.s are a monthly junior seminar series aimed at integrating and connecting young researchers around the world. Each month a new junior researcher will be invited to present their work in a relaxed, friendly environment in an exciting and engaging way.
Biochemical Society: Science Communication Competition
Each year the Biochemical Society looks for talented science communicators to take part in our annual Science Communication Competition. The competition is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students. To enter, submit an original piece of writing or video on a biomolecular topic of your choice. Your article or video must be aimed at the general public and must be submitted with an entry form.
Medical Research Council: Max Perutz Science Writing Award
The Max Perutz Science Writing Award aims to encourage and recognise outstanding written communication among MRC PhD students. The annual competition challenges entrants to write an 800-word article for the general public answering the question: ‘Why does my research matter?’.
Check what your own society offers!
Some science communicators:
Prof Alice Roberts
Dr Adam Rutherford
The Juggling Scientist
Sally Le Page
Some advice, courtesy of TED(x), for any aspiring science communicator:
Maria Zygouropoulou (@maria_zyg) is a BBSRC-funded PhD student in the Synthetic Biology Research Centre of the University of Nottingham. She is currently trying to turn anaerobic bacteria into tiny superheroes that can help in the treatment of solid tumours. Previously, she obtained a Master in Pharmacy and worked in industry and hospital settings. She is Events Manager for the STEM Outreach society and Publicity Coordinator for the Nottingham Pint of Science festival. In her free time, she enjoys dancing salsa, baking, DIY decorating, puzzles and (occasionally) running!