Second year CSCT student, Jon Chouler, attended a conference on a topic very close to him: Science Communication. He shares his highlights from the event:
On Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 July, I had the pleasure of attending the BIG event 2015: a conglomeration of the nation’s best STEM engagement people, where attendees have the opportunity to share skills and experiences, develop professional links and keep up to date with the STEM engagement field.
The event this year was held in Norwich at the John Innes Centre, a centre that hosts cutting edge research on plant genetics. The proceedings begun on Wednesday in the Merton Auditorium with an introduction to the event from the very excitable Rachel Mason. This was closely followed by the “BIG Event Mingle”- a speed dating style chance to try out, and teach a whole range of 3 minute long public engagement ideas- which included Non-Newtonian fluids in ballerina shoes, and building a mega-structure to knock a duck off a platform (not a real duck of course!).
In the afternoon I attended two very good sessions. One was a workshop on performer evaluation, which gave me some really good insights into evaluation methods, what is needed from an evaluation, and also the fact that when giving feedback you need to consider that the performer is a person with feelings! I also went to a performance called “Save the World in 45 mins” by Ken Farquhar, where he presented some key messages about climate change and waste in an incredibly entertaining way- lots of audience interaction, and you could tell he used to be a street performer!
Day 2 of the conference, and we start fresh and early at 9am with a fascinating talk from the Science Team at the BBC’s One Show. They gave us a behind the scenes look at how they select, develop and present new science pieces for the show: namely that it is all about delivering a good story for the audience to engage with. What was interesting is how they said most scientific ideas can be clearly explained in 4.5 minutes… even the top level “clever” stuff!
The day progressed with two great workshops. One was on using arts and crafts for interacting with adult audiences. This was particularly good for we got the chance to make STI cupcakes. I made Chlamydia. Jokes aside, I found that these kind of activities were really good for an adult to engage with a scientific concept and discuss it as heavily or as lightly as they choose.
The final workshop of the day was a cracker. Lewis Hou introduced us all the word of the Science Ceilidh… using traditional folk music and dance to communicate science. It was incredibly fun and we even got to make our own dances up and try them out on each other. I can see a very good idea for a University of Bath public engagement activity coming!
The day ended with the Best Demo competition, with 12 performers going head to head to deliver their best demo in 3 minutes. There was colour changing wine, galvanising coins in base, super long tape measures, and tricksy little matchboxes. All really good demos and they gave me a lot of ideas on how to improve my performing style for public events.
So all in all, the BIG event 2015 was an absolute blast. I learnt a lot on how to develop myself as a science communicator, picked up some very useful links for developing projects here in Bath, and picked up some great ideas for new events.
To attend this conference, Jon was kindly funded by the Public Engagement team at the University of Bath. Jon has also recently won this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Postgraduate Prize for Public Engagement with Research for his outstanding activities and his talk on using microbial fuel cells to detect toxic compounds in water for developing countries.