For the love of scicomm: some of the science communication events you could sign up for
I love talking about science and my research, from the occasional social media post to organising or attending events. Luckily, there are a lot of opportunities to engage with people outside the academic bubble and tell them about our research and encourage young people to consider careers related to science or research. Science communication and public outreach are being talked about more and more. CV building workshops encourage us to participate in outreach in some form, funding agencies are offering public engagement grants and sometimes even require early career researchers to spend a few hours per year communicating their research with the public. Traditionally when we hear about science communication we think of STEM fields, however if your research is focused on arts or social sciences there are plenty of opportunities for you to engage with the public as well! While I could not even begin to make an exhaustive list of all the opportunities out there in just one blog post (or ever really!), I will try to give you an idea of the festivals and projects going on around Glasgow and try to encourage you to join some of them.
The first thing I was involved in was the Glasgow Science Festival, which is going on right now and most of the events are free. Some of the events are designed for schools or for a mixed age audience, but there are many that are catered to adults as well. It’s a large festival going on all over Glasgow, and with summer finally being here it’s a great way to learn about fun science and maybe discover some new venues around Glasgow as well.
During my undergraduate studies (I’ve been at UofG for a long time…), I took part in the Hunterian MUSE programme. I would give a few half an hour tours of the museum every week, and I would get to talk about everything from werewolves and the sandals Roman soldiers used to wear, to some of Lord Kelvin’s experiments. One of my favourite things about the tours was how varied the audiences were. I had groups of business visitors from China, tour groups from Canada as well as adult learning groups from underprivileged communities in Scotland or parents taking their children to the museum for the first. Not only have I learned a lot from talking to them, but I also had to adapt the way I delivered the tours and the information I would include in them based on the audience. While my research is in physics, I think the Hunterian has something for everyone. If your PGR degree is related to arts, maybe you could help out giving tours of the Hunterian Art Gallery. History? Plenty in the main museum to talk about! Medicine? There’s some incredibly cool medical exhibits there as well. Or you could join the Hunterian Associates programme, which is specifically for postgraduates!
When I started my PhD, the first thing I got involved in was Pint of Science. It might sound like quite the time commitment, and sometimes it can be. However, you get to work in a team of people who are enthusiastic about science and you meet a lot of researchers who are happy to tell the public about their work in a fairly stress-free environment while having a drink. Networking-wise, it doesn’t get better than Pint of Science. This year I chose to just attend some of the events rather than get involved in organising (turns out writing a thesis does take a lot of time), and I’ve loved it just as much.
I’ve also volunteered for Explorathon, which happens across Scotland in celebration of the European Researcher’ Night. Again, there will be quite a few events going on, with some of them happening at the same time. However, you’re guaranteed to do something fun. I helped with a documentary screening at the Glasgow Science Centre IMAX and I’ve been telling everyone about it since. Speaking of the Glasgow Science Centre, they are sometimes looking for volunteers so it’s also worth having a look to see if there’s anything that would interest you.
Something I’ve not had a chance to participate in is Science Slam, where UofG PGRs from the College of Science and Engineering present their research in front of a non-specialist audience, with the audience getting to pick the speaker with the best presentation. Luckily, the previous presentations are available on Youtube so I got to watch them (and see what I’ve sadly missed). Still, I’m hoping I can be in the audience this year!
Another event I’ve sadly not been able to attend is the Three Minute Thesis Competition, but luckily the videos are available as well. The event is open to all Colleges, so no matter what your research is about you can participate in this. The prizes are amazing as well, with the winner and the runner-up getting £1000 and £500 respectively as a travel grant. 3MT is an amazing chance to hone your presentation skills whilst finding out about research undertaken by PGRs from other backgrounds.
If you fancy some stand-up comedy and talking about the funny things that happened during your PhD, you could try Bright Club. Don’t worry, they will help you develop your stand-up routine and won’t just throw you in the deep end of joke-telling in front of an audience. Alternatively, Soapbox Science follows the same ideas as Hyde Park’ speakers corner and aims to promote the visibility of women in science. They place speakers on a soapbox and encourage them to start conversations about their work and engage with the public.
Feeling overwhelmed by the options above? You can always try to find something smaller to begin with. Sometimes there are emails going around research groups or Schools asking for volunteers for small events that would usually only take you an afternoon. One of my favourite things was teaching a short workshop on electromagnetics at Flourish House, an excellent independent charity that aims to help people struggling with mental health regain their purposeful lives in the community. If this is something you would be interested in, you could either keep an eye out on your email for opportunities or you could approach schools and charities yourself and suggest something. Twitter and email are excellent ways of approaching charities and other organisations.
Another way you could find opportunities is by joining the STEM Ambassadors programme. Schools will post when they need help with a lecture, workshop or careers event, and you can volunteer your time. Many businesses encourage their employees to be STEM Ambassadors and actively attend events at schools, so it’s also a great opportunity for you to learn about different employers at the same time.
Finally, if you would like to get involved in science communication but would like to work a bit more on your skills, there are plenty of Graduate School courses you can attend. I attended one taught by Debbie and Tom, organisers of the Glasgow Science Festival, and it’s given me a lot of great ideas on what I can do and how I can better present my research to the public. I loved the course and I’d really encourage you to attend it.
Have you organised any science communication events, or attended any you’d like to recommend? Do you plan on attending some over the summer? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at @UofG_PGRBlog!