Guest blog post by Harriet Gliddon (student member based at Imperial College London)
The Biochemical Society, the Society for Experimental Biology, the Society for General Microbiology and the Society of Biology recently got together to host a science communication training day at Charles Darwin House in London. Aimed at doctoral students and early career researchers, it was designed to help those with an interest in science communication develop their ideas. I was particularly keen to attend because of the emphasis on practical public engagement.
On the day, we were divided into tables of around six people with at least one facilitator per group. The organisers had wisely separated us into tables where outreach and engagement were the main themes, and other tables for those more interested in science blogging and writing.
We kicked off the day with a really motivating lecture given by Dr Elizabeth Granger, who managed to fit in an extraordinary amount of science communication during her PhD and is now establishing a new Ri Young Scientist Centre in Lancashire. She made some really interesting points on why we should do public engagement, but also warned against taking on too much and forgetting to have fun while you’re communicating science.
We then proceeded with a breakout session in order to practice our ideas for public engagement. In no time, the room was buzzing with discussion. There were demonstrations and experiments, while others were engrossed in bacteria-based card games or showing some exciting videos of research in action.
I had planned a workshop for ages 7-12 on micro-organisms and infectious diseases, involving an interactive game using glitter gel to represent the spread of microbes between individuals. It was really helpful to have so much feedback from the rest of the group – things that I hadn’t considered before soon became a central part of the workshop. And I really enjoyed trying to help the others on my table improve and refine their ideas.
After lunch (and plenty of swapping stories of the morning’s activities), we were treated to a plenary lecture given by Dr Alun Anderson, formerly Editor-in-Chief of the New Scientist. With a very varied career thus far, Alun was able to put across his unique perspective on engaging with the wider public. After describing some pretty hair-raising adventures in the Arctic, he talked about some of his heroes/heroines of science communication – a very versatile group of individuals and organisations including some familiar names and others less well-known. A key take-home message from this lecture was the huge importance of recognising your weaknesses and collaborating with others.
Duly inspired, we then started to formally set out plans for our ideas. Having to put down on paper exactly what audience we were aiming it at, how long we expected it to take, what our audiences and organisations will get out of it, and how we planned to evaluate impact really made us think much more practically about our plans. Then came the silent debate – an opportunity for us all to find out what those on other tables had planned and give some feedback (in the tried and tested form of post-it notes!). Having read some really original and ambitious action plans, I was strangely nervous to find out what others thought of my plans, but all the comments were really positive and massively boosted my confidence!
I came away feeling that I’d spent a great day in a really positive and encouraging atmosphere, with various lists of ideas and resources to look up and a whole host of people to get in contact with. I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the organisers, facilitators and speakers for making the training day so enjoyable and no doubt really useful in the future.