Soapbox Science 2015 Bringing Science to the People

Last week I volunteered at Soapbox Science London 2015. I really enjoyed the experience and would totally recommend it to other scientists.

This outreach event was held along the Southbank London, we were so lucky with the weather (sunshine really does help enthusiasm). The aim of the event is to attract members of the public to stand and listen to talented female scientists talk about their research.

Though the event is advertised there are a lot of people passing along the Southbank on a sunny Saturday so the idea is to attract in people who were not going out of their way to go to a science event. I like this idea as at the outreach events I have previously done (Mayfest Nottingham University) members of the public make a conscious effort to come onto campus and engage with us, which though good selects for the already engaged members of the public.

From volunteering on the day I can say that not everyone along the Southbank is going to be persuaded to stop and listen. However there is really no way of identifying who will and who wont. Having an interest or curiosity in science definitely isn’t splashed across peoples faces and some people are easier to convince than others. I have to say families were an easy target to get involved, and was encouraged when asking children ‘do you like science?’ I got lots of ‘Yes!’ and one very sweet girl who shouted ‘No I love Maths’ so lots of hope for the future of scientific research I hope.

Later in the day I helped out Dr Jessica Blair who was stood on her soapbox presenting about Superbugs and Antibiotic Resistance. It was great to see such a charismatic speaker. The simple props were very effective, a few cuddly giant microbes, some pictures of the creators of antibiotics and don’t forget some soil! She pulled in a real crowd, with a mixture of ages. Participation was good, bribery with prizes got the audience guessing at the number of bacteria cells in our bodies, numbers that are too big to properly comprehend. I was also interested to see that the public already had some knowledge about the challenge of antibiotic resistance. With complex questions about how to fund new antibiotic drugs and asking about Bacteriophage therapy.

As I said before Soapbox Science is a great outreach experience for scientists and personally I always feel more focused in the lab after these events so would encourage people to sign up and volunteer.

And if that was’t enough to convince you, in two weeks time I will be off to Soapbox Science Newcastle 2015! Looking forward to see what Newcastle’s Scientists have to offer!


Voice of Young Science: Standing up for Science Media workshop

On the 13th June 2014 I attended a Standing up for Science media workshop, run by Sense about Science/Voice of Young Science I had been to a Science Media Centre event previously and expected something similar, a collection of lectures from leading scientists and journalists heavy with helpful tips. However this was not what I encountered, Sense about Science generated a unique event through the use of a panel and a lot of audience led questions and group work. This setup worked well and allowed a more organic debate to develop.

The group of senior scientists (Dr Tom Crick, Prof Stephen Keevil and Dr Maria van Kerkhove) were engaging and got across their points about how to interact with the media through personal anecdotes.  The overall message being have 3 key points that you want to get across and don’t get distracted from them. During the audience participation session the scientists were reassuring and encouraging about peoples worries about interacting with the media.

As despite all being young scientists it is still our responsibility to communicate our publicly funded research to the public and in some cases we are the better choice than our supervisors as we are pretty expert in our own areas and are less likely to use phrases heavy in jargon.

During the breaks in sessions group work was set which allowed the chance to network in a relaxed manner and talk about current issues in science reporting and the perceived barriers that prevent us from engaging with the media currently.

The next session was run by Science Journalists (Deborah Cohen, Claire Coleman and Richard Van Noorden). This showed the other side of the story and how journalists want to report correct but condensed science, however deadlines and headlines can be problematic.

The final session consisted of people involved in Sense about Science, Voice of Young Science and also had input from a press officer (Victoria Murphy, Rhys Phillips and Gail Wilson). This session hammered home the messages that had been given previously and demonstrated that it was possible to get involved! For example the Ask for Evidence Campaign is the perfect way to get started and stand up for science. Also the importance of letting your Press Office know when you are releasing a paper so that this research can find its way along to the media was emphasized. Additionally more modern ways of communicating research such as twitter and blogging were discussed.

It was a great day and nice to be around people that are passionate about communicating science, I would recommend PhD students attend any future workshops as even if you don’t plan to use the tips about communicating with the media now it may help in your future career.