By Dr Jon Urch, Public Engagement and Outreach Co-ordinator, University of Dundee
It’s not often we take the time to reflect on past events before moving on to your next project, and this is the first opportunity to review the 2016 Women in Science Festival – a fascinating nine days of activities dedicated to celebrating women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
From March 2009, and every year since, the University of Dundee has co-ordinated the World’s only Women in Science Festival. In 2016 the Festival ran an engaging programme of 25 events from 5 – 13 March. The Festival promotes science careers to people of all ages, especially school children and to support women in the STEM fields. We achieve this by showcasing female role models in science and give them the opportunity to communicate not only their work but their experiences of being a woman in science.
To create an inclusive Festival that reached a diverse audience of ages and genders we extended our cultural programme with walks, tours, plays, book readings and events featuring the best science communicators. On the back of this it was very encouraging to see average attendance at events was up two thirds on 2015 with the majority selling out.
Our philosophy is to keep as many of the Festival events free to encourage anyone, whatever the economic circumstances, to listen, learn and engage with STEM. This year, for the first time, we ran an entirely free Festival and we see this in the appreciation of our audiences. As the Festival continues to develop we are reaching a diverse audience of all ages including our research community and people who had never previously interacted with the UK’s research.
Highlights this year included the science and arts crossover the GIANT Cell Build project led by art student Rhoda Ellis with fellow students and, life sciences researchers and staff. This project in particular reached out to school-aged children and community groups across Dundee that can be traditionally hard to reach.
The Festival hosted distinguished female guest speakers including Fatou Bensouda – the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; Prof Wendy Bickmore from the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh; and author Kathryn Harkup, who delighted an audience at Dundee Rep on the science of Agatha Christie’s poisons. We were particularly proud of the full house for the ‘A is for Arsenic’ event, being hosted on the wonderfully dramatic set of the theatre’s production of a Christie play. Film also featured at the festival with an audience of young adults joining Dr Karen Petrie for an extended discussion after a screening of the 2015 blockbuster Ex Machina.
Local researchers were keen to participate, with prominent female speakers from the University of Dundee and James Hutton Institute delivered excellent talks on their research. The departments in Microbiology, Plant Sciences and Anatomy & Forensics shared their work with enthralled family audiences at Dundee Science Centre and the University of Dundee.
The Festival finale invited young children and their families to ‘Explore the Universe’ with award-winning author and science communicator Lucy Hawking. From space travel to climate change the event delighted and inspired young people from across Tayside and beyond, and was a triumphant conclusion.
Looking back now at the Festival, it’s hard to believe we packed in so much and reached out to so many. We couldn’t do all of this without our event partners, and funding from the University of Dundee and of course the Biochemical Society.
The Women in Science Festival will return in March 2017 with an exciting new programme designed to inspire, inform and entertain school children and the public.
Our webpage with details of ongoing exhibitions – www.womeninscience.org.uk
Our Facebook page with photos from the events www.facebook.com/WomenInScienceFestival/