Modernising the iconic Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

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A team of Science Communication Unit researchers was selected by the Royal Institution (Ri) to explore ways to continue modernising the Christmas Lectures, an iconic series that has run since 1825. Margarida Sardo, Hannah Little and Laura Fogg Rogers conducted research to explore strengths and opportunities for improving the series, created for children and televised annually for the past 50 years fronted by presenters including David Attenborough and Carl Sagan.

A centrepiece of the national conversation about the place of science in our lives, the lectures were started by scientist Michael Faraday in 1825 and are now designed to be engaging and mind-expanding viewing for people of all ages but particularly children. A series of three on a single topic, the lectures are filmed in London in mid-December every year then broadcast on three consecutive days during the Christmas period. In 2018, biological anthropologist, author and TV presenter Alice Roberts and genetics expert Aoife McLysaght brought the evolutionary story to life in a series called ‘Who Am I?’

Aoife McLysaght and Alice Roberts. Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography

Following interviews with children attending the 2017 and 2018 events, a social media analysis of the 2018 broadcasts and survey of science enthusiasts, researchers found the lectures were cherished by audiences of all ages but format changes could help broaden their appeal among young people, as well as older audiences. They recommended exploring ways that the channel and time of the broadcasts (currently BBC4 at 8pm) could be made more suitable for a younger audience, including cutting the lectures down into short clips for social media to reflect changing viewing habits.

Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography

The research team noted that some adult viewers believed the lectures were so focused on a younger audience that they lacked appeal for older viewers. To continue to attract a significant adult audience, they recommended creating a companion lecture aimed at older science fans.

Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography

Researchers also found audience members enjoyed the live shows, particularly the engaging, interactive and high-quality demonstrations. TV viewers valued the televised shows and many remarked that watching with relatives had become a family tradition. But some science enthusiasts suggested the Ri needed to re-evaluate its target audience and questioned whether the needs of a live lecture and a TV programme were being confused. Viewers were roundly supportive of female scientists presenting the show, with particular praise reserved for the performance of Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght in 2018.

The Christmas Lectures branding includes the prestigious Christmas Lectures broadcast on BBC, as well as live shows, a Schools Conference, the Ri Advent Calendar and “I’m a Scientist… get me out of here” – most of which were covered by the evaluation.

The full evaluation report can be accessed here.

Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson Photography

Designing an inclusive event: Sci Comm South West 2019

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On 21st June UWE Bristol welcomed over 100 science-communication practitioners from the South West, the culmination of over five months of planning, organising and orchestrating, with a small team of five women at the helm. All throughout, attention was given to making the event inclusive. These are some of our learnings…

Definition of inclusion: the practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised, such as those who have physical or mental health conditions and members of minority groups.

Start early

We made time at the beginning to think through what might exclude people from our conference, and make adjustments to include them. We pooled our knowledge from events we’d attended, and looked at what others had been saying on blogs, online guides (here and here) and social media.

Location, accessibility, location

We chose the Business School for its facilities and location; it is fully equipped with gender neutral toilets, seating areas with high backs for privacy/quiet and, thanks to a recent student campaign, free sanitary products in toilets. Outdoors, there is ample disabled parking and inside there are wheelchair-accessible lifts. It’s the little things that really make a difference when aiming to be inclusive; for most people, it is relatively easy to get to by public transport.

Conference venue, UWE Bristol’s X Block_Credit Tom Sparey

Think about the room layout

Round tables, lots of natural light, and a relatively easy-to-use AV system, as standard in most of the rooms, made for a pleasant and relaxed setting for both the speakers and delegates. In more interactive sessions, ‘think-pair-share’ was used to allow everyone to participate in discussions. In future events we’d additionally invite questions during discussions from groups that may not have had the floor (e.g. young female, or BME).

We designated one room as a quiet zone, in case people needed time out from social interaction. It ended up being used as a rehearsal space, but such a room has been successful at other events.

Reach out

Are there other perspectives we’re not including? Keep reflecting on this. It was identified early on that our suggested panel didn’t have a community representative, so we made contact with someone known locally for their grassroots activism. We did a similar exercise for the presenters once our call for proposals was announced – it’s okay to invite in people from marginalised groups; they’re often interested in getting involved and are a valuable source of information .

Seek help

We had someone to coordinate the whole event, someone to manage the registrations and social media, someone to recruit and manage volunteers and managers to invite panellists and compere the day. Divide up tasks and seek volunteer help (e.g. from students) to lighten the load and allow you to support more people on the day. Several volunteers wore identifiable shirts so people knew they could approach them if they were lost or had any questions.

Consider cost

One barrier to participation is financial constraint, so we offered bursary places.. Offering to pay for transport or to cover the cost of childcare was another option.

We made sure our ticket price was kept low, at £25 for concessions and £50 full-price, with early-bird options also. Many commented on how fair our costing was and that it enabled them to attend.

Check your language

You’d be surprised how easily jargon or images can put off your target audience. If the public’s only picture of the event is of white men in a room, then that is what they’ll expect and might feel “I don’t belong here”. Similarly, if the event includes or is for “experts” then the rest of us feel like “non-experts”, which can be interpreted as “lacking in sufficient knowledge”. We were careful to avoid these traps… and it is such a common problem that one of our sessions at the conference was all about the use of such language in public engagement.

To indicate that we would not tolerate harassment at the conference, we included a Code of Conduct in our programme. Several people commented that they really appreciated this extra effort!

Let people identify themselves

We’ve been to several events before where people get to design their own name badges, so we followed suit. It breaks the ice, is low cost and is fun! But on a deeper level, people’s identity is important to them. Let them define it!

Stay refreshed and come up for air

Breaks facilitate networking and problem-solving, and allow people time to digest what they have heard – so have lots of them! We had three refreshment breaks, if you include lunch, with additional coffee and teas at registration and an optional alcoholic and soft drinks reception at the end. Food was vegan as standard, with gluten free options available – this was a health and environmental choice. We worked with our caterers to offer oat milk, as it is more sustainable and popular than their usual soy/almond alternative, and to reduce single-use plastics. We knew our audience would appreciate this and we asked them in the registration survey what they required..  

Credit_Tom Sparey

During lunch, the site’s Grounds Manager led a nature walk so people could stretch their legs and unwind from what can often be an overwhelming morning of knowledge harvesting. We tied in what we were discussing inside with the outdoor stroll by highlighting what UWE is doing to improve biodiversity in the city and engage students to become ecosystem stewards. Many people commented that the walk was their highlight!

Remember this is an ongoing journey

Capture photos, videos, blogs, demographic data and people’s thoughts and feelings about how the conference went to make things better next time. But do remember to ask people’s permission first!

The adage ‘you can’t please everyone’ is worth remembering when designing events and conferences because, let’s face it, we all have different needs and preferences. However, we can strive to make events as inclusive as possible within our given constraints, so there is no excuse for not trying!

Practitioner checklist

Here are just a few questions you could ask yourself in the planning of your next event. Add to and refine the list after each event you hold.

Who

  • Does your team reflect the diversity you want to see at the conference?
  • Does the panel represent the diversity you want to see?
  • Have you reached out to under-served communities and asked them why they may not attend? (e.g. could hiring a translator or interpreter take away language barriers?)
  • Is your language in plain English, without jargon or exclusionary terms? Not sure? Ask your intended audience.
  • Have you offered bursary places?
  • Is your cost affordable to as many people as possible?
  • Have you asked about access and dietary requirements and permissions (e.g. for photos, recordings, etc.) upon registration?

Where

  • Is the venue easily accessible by public transport?
  • Does it have the technology you require? (e.g. hearing loop, wifi)
  • Is there space to move around, walk around the building safely and places to rest?
  • Is the venue breastfeeding friendly?
  • Are there disabled and non-binary toilets available? Do the toilets have freely available sanitary products?
  • Have you advertised to multiple groups through mediums that suit them (e.g. flyers in local community centres; speaking at a local event; sharing event through mailing lists and newsletters)?

When

  • Are you sure the event does not clash with a religious festival, national holiday or other important event?
  • If the event is held in the evening will people need support with childcare?

What

  • Do you have a code of conduct?
  • Will there be food and beverages that can cater to most needs? (Suggest ‘bring a dish’ or ‘bring your own’ if needed).
  • Is there a mixture of styles of sessions and content to attract a wide audience?

How

If you have worked your way through this extensive but not exhaustive list, the how should fall into place. Keep things fun and light and be open to feedback.

Read more about our event here.

From the lab to science communication, exploring creativity, evaluation and Wonder

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During my undergraduate degree in biochemistry I spent a year studying abroad in Grenoble in the French Alps. I studied in the university for some of the time, and also did a 5 month placement in a research lab.  Although interesting, it was enough to show me that a career in research was perhaps not for me, so I spent much of time gazing dreamily at the mountains wondering what else I could do.

Grenoble_credit_Flickr_ Mariusz Kucharczyk

I liked working in the laboratory, but I realised I really wanted to be on the outside, telling people about all of the exciting things that were going on inside. So when I came back for my final year I persuaded my supervisors to let me do a science communication project for my final project, rather than a bench research project, and I was hooked!

The UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication programme gave me an opportunity to work part time at Science Oxford – a small but influential charity that works to encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise. I was delivering workshops and shows to schools and the public, and also ran the regional STEM Ambassador programme, finding and training scientists and engineers across the region to work with schools too.

I always wanted to work in a museum or a science centre, so when I took the MSc I was keen to focus on the modules relating to delivering science communication face to face. I remember being inspired by people from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Royal Society, at-Bristol (as it was then known) who we met during the course, and they all motivated me to use my wide range of interests – art, music, family learning as well as science – to tell stories and create conversations.

Jo Lewis at CERN

I also loved the Science on Air and Screen module, some of which took place at the BBC. At the time I would listen to a lot of radio (before the days of podcasts which now feature heavily in my down time!) and I loved working in a small team to produce both a short radio show about ‘progress’, including a poet as a live guest, and a short TV piece about Healthy Living Day. Although I haven’t gone on to work in broadcast media the lessons on how to sum up coherently yet colloquially have come in handy when I’ve been interviewed for radio or TV, including for BBC Stargazing Live and local radio.

My Masters project was an evaluation of a set of touchable exhibits at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Finally a chance to do some work in a museum setting! I devised and piloted a series of protocols to help the museum evaluate how families were using their new exhibition. I now use these skills every day in my job as Public Engagement Development Manager for the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), one of the UK research councils.  A key component of my job has involved producing an evaluation framework for a complex programme of work. As STFC is a funder as well as a delivery body, we aim to measure and evaluate events and activities run by around 40 partners a year reaching in excess of 500,000 people face to face, and a further 2.5 million via online and broadcast media to better report, improve and celebrate what we do.

Jo Lewis at Boulby Mine

My favourite part of the job has got to be working with scientists and engineers who love what they do and who are really keen to share their enthusiasm with others. I work with them to help them to do so in a way that is engaging, will genuinely appeal to the audience they are wishing to engage – ensuring they have thought about who that is! – and then hear all their brilliant creative ideas for how to communicate their area of research to others!

I’ll also be using all of these skills in a new large project coming up called Wonder. The launch of Wonder marks a long-term commitment by STFC public engagement to move our focus towards audience-driven public engagement with under-served communities in the most socioeconomically-deprived areas of the UK. We want more working with people, and less delivering to people. The project is still in early days, but it means that I’ve been able to feed in ideas right from the start and use many of the skills I learned on the MSc – from reading lots of publications and reports that others have written to be sure we are using current good practice, to writing a brief for an external evaluation consultant.

Jo Lewis, MSc Science Communication student at UWE Bristol.

Letting go of what is not serving us to make science communication more inclusive

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Author: Karen Collins (MSc Science Communication student at UWE Bristol)

What language can we use to create inclusive environments in science communication? How might letting go of expert knowledge benefit underserved audiences? Delegates attending the Sci Comm South West 2019 conference at UWE Bristol were asked to crowdsource solutions to these issues at the ‘Letting go of what is not serving us’ session. Both questions generated animated group discussions resulting in several potential solutions.

What is in a word? Kate Baker and Silvia Bortoli, University of Exeter

Science communicators have learned the hard way that labelling groups of people is difficult and, more often than not, inaccurate. Language can be very powerful in setting the scene and defining the foundations of relationships, particularly when carrying out research.

During this first part of the session, participants were asked to consider the word ‘non-academic’. A seemingly innocuous word which is actually quite value-laden. It hides the expertise that exists outside universities and research centres and highlights what people ‘are not’ rather than the skills and knowledge that they may have. It has the potential to alienate.

Credit Tom Sparey

So what advice did our science communicators have?

There was an overall recognition that the term ‘academic’ is problematic, with a suggestion that should be replaced with ‘researcher’ as this is more active and more accurately describes what they do. Some suggested alternatives for ‘non-academic’ were:

  • Community – this could represent a large or small group of people, including those online
  • Contributor – this is a more active term, showing that they are not passive recipients
  • Collaborator – although this is seen as being neutral and actively involved it may suggest a level of participation which is unrepresentative
  • Stakeholder – this is seen as active, but may be more suitable for a community group or charity
  • Partner – this may be more suitable for an organisation rather than an individual.

It was generally agreed that it is important not to call a group by what they cannot do or what they are not, but rather identify what they can do or what they are. The overall advice suggested asking the group what they would like to be called as early on in the process as possible and sticking with it.

Credit Tom Sparey

Expertise. Erik Stengler, SUNY Oneonta, New York

As science communicators we are acutely aware of the importance of knowing your audience. When developing public engagement or outreach programmes, science communicators may be asked to liaise between scientists and organisations who work closely with the audience. These organisations can include charities, schools and community groups. In these cases it is important to recognise that specialist organisations know their audiences extremely well and are often best placed to tailor a public engagement activity. Scientists and researchers are often reluctant to allow individuals and organisations, with little or no prior knowledge of the science, to plan or deliver the public engagement activity.

Credit Tom Sparey

In light of this issue the second part of the session asked: How can we help scientists let go of their science and allow experts in the audience to run an outreach or public engagement activity?

So what are the top tips from Sci Comm South West delegates?

  • Identify any concerns the scientists may have early on in the project
  • Clearly define the role of the scientists in the project
  • Make sure priorities are understood between the scientist and audience expert groups
  • Co-develop the project, with the experts in science planning with the experts in audience
  • Make sure everyone understands why they are collaborating and where the various expertise lies
  • Provide training to enable transition to take place smoothly between the experts in science and the experts in audience
  • Develop longer term relationships between the scientist and audience experts.

Alongside these recommendations, all delegate groups recognised the importance of trust between scientists and audience experts, and that the best way to achieve this was though collaboration and building relationships.

Shaping a Science Communication network for the South-West

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Author: Ola Michalec @Ola_Michalec

The Sci Comm South West Conference 2019 attracted over 100 practitioners and researchers based across the south-west (very loosely defined!). The success of the conference and the energy in the room proved that there is a huge appetite for a ‘devolution’ of the London-centric science communication network. After all, so much happens outside of the M25!

Delegates were given the opportunity to explore what a network of science communicators in the south west of the UK might look like in a session led by Angela Cassidy, chair of the UK-wide Science in Public Research Network.

Many questions were posed: what is the benefit of a regional south-west network? How do you bound ‘the region’ (someone suggested North Wales as a part of the south-west) and ‘science communication’? What is the preferred format? Who will take the lead?

We started with discussing the value of creating a professional network. Everyone in the room understood the importance of shifting the attention (and bidding capability) from London, but how do you define a region? How far can people travel? What places do they identify with? How to deal with unequal dynamics between cities and countryside?

Secondly, we deliberated the purpose of the network. In the most pragmatic sense, there is a great benefit to being ‘bid ready’ – having a space to discuss ideas and form teams before the calls are being announced. However, would running a purely funding-oriented network compromise its potential to create truly innovative ideas?

We spent about an hour mapping the relevant events, organisations and places. With the wide geographical spread, broad understanding of ‘science’ and multiple thematic networks-within-a network, what is the real value of a south-west network? While we haven’t reached a conclusion, two ideas we flagged up were:

In the meantime, keep an eye on the Science in Public website and get in touch if you want to get involved or have some ideas for network building activities.

How one student project is making an impact

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Studying part-time and working full-time is challenging to say the least. But now that I’ve finished, I can honestly say it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The blood (tonsillectomy a few months before project deadline), sweat (hobbling around UWE on crutches is exhausting) and tears (both happy and stress induced) were all worth it now that I can see the findings of my MSc project being used in the real world. 

Over the past (nearly) five years, I have worked at the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) – a data centre and supercomputer facility geared towards supporting the UK’s atmospheric and earth observation science communities. We are a small team that provides services for over 50,000 users (including scientists/students/private companies/general science enthusiasts/etc.). In the past year alone, users have downloaded over 775 Terabytes of data – that’s equivalent to more than 175 million photos! We increasingly need to justify our role in funding applications in order to continue providing these services. However, providing evidence of what users are using our services for is not easy information to collate – which is where my MSc project comes in. 

Image: JASMIN – our half supercomputer, half data centre which currently has a capacity of 44 Petabytes. (Credit: Stephen Kill, STFC) 

My project entitled ‘Community-led ideas for collecting impact stories from CEDA service users’ sprung from this funder requirement of evidencing our services impact and was supervised by Dr Clare Wilkinson. The term ‘impact’ has many different meanings depending on who you ask about it. For my project, we defined impact as: ‘‘Beneficial changes that occur in the real world (beyond the world of researchers) as a result of research that relied upon CEDA services for its success’. This is the information we need to provide as evidence to our funders; but if it’s tricky to define impact, it’s even more difficult trying to measure and collect it – especially when the impact is ‘once removed’ as with our situation.

The project was undertaken in Summer 2018 with an online survey (520 responses) and a series of focus groups (26 attendees) at conferences and meetings that our key user communities were attending. The findings were generally positive and constructive – our users were keen to help us! However, there were disagreements as to how the impact information should be collected. Key recommendations from the research included;

  • Be transparent about why collecting impact information is necessary
  • Emphasise why it is beneficial to the user personally and for the service provider
  • One process will not fit all users. Think about the purpose of collecting the impact stories, and tailor the process accordingly
  • Provide a simple process that avoids wasting users’ time by;
    • Not asking for information too frequently
    • Collecting information via existing processes where possible
    • Asking for basic information first, later followed up (for more details) if the information is relevant and the user is willing
    • Providing support when writing impact stories

As these findings were ‘the answers’ to how we could collect impact information, it has meant we have been able to implement and act upon them. In January 2019, we targeted a section of our user community with a short survey asking them for basic information about the impactful science our services have enabled them to carry out. Over 50 responses were submitted, of which approximately 80% were suitable for use as a more detailed impact story – meaning we now have access to ~40 stories that CEDA can use as evidence when applying for funding. 

We are hoping to share some of the stories with our user communities soon, however as we received more stories than we expected it’s taking some time… it’s just me working on this! 

The MSc Science Communication at UWE Bristol has allowed me to steer my career path where I want it to be, and I am now CEDA’s (first) Communications Manager. I don’t believe this would have been possible without studying at UWE.

Poppy Townsend, MSc Science Communication student, UWE Bristol

Funding, funding everywhere? Sci Comm South West insights into the F-word

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Author: Ola Michalec @Ola_Michalec

The ‘F’ word we should learn to say loudly and clearly, without embarrassment: funding. As an early career researcher and communicator, I often come across requests for funding ‘help’. What can I do to manage my colleagues’ expectations and negotiate the best rates for my work?

In the Sci Comm South West workshop ‘Funding, funding everywhere’, Rae Hoole shared some insights on securing finance. Science communicators, especially if freelance, often wait to hear from schools, universities and councils who are in a position to offer available work. However, is there anything we could do to become more proactive and turn our ‘gigs’ into a conscious career choice?

Rae commenced the workshop by telling the story of her career. With a background in theatre, Rae managed to carve herself a niche as a director of a creative learning company, Links to a Life, which combines physics education with play and storytelling.

Credit Tom Sparey

Here comes the first tip: it is challenging to bid for funding as an individual! A much better way is to approach potential partners or funders as a charity or a company (it’s not that hard to set one up!). This will provide weight to your application and help you come across as the amazing and experienced practitioner you are!

Second, discuss your potential project early on so your application looks less like an accidental brainstorm and more like a streamlined and deliverable idea. Clarity of your aims and impacts is essential. You need to be able to evidence who will benefit and how: have you got an evaluation strategy and measures in place? Once you have developed a partnership, perhaps it’s worth to keep an idea bank of potential projects ready to be turned into bids once funding calls are open. This goes to show the importance of ongoing nurturing of networks you establish at conferences like this one.

Finally, coming back to the F-word. The skill of discussing rates is essential. First of all, I wish we didn’t have to put up with this power dynamic and expectations that science communication or freelance work is free – but hey ho – we live in a society. However, I genuinely believe that collectively we have the power to shape this community of practice. Every interaction we have – whether with a junior colleague, a high school pupil or a potential funder – influences societal norms about the value of science communication labour.

Meanwhile, one of the workshop participants shared with me how she measures her daily rate.

“You need to take the annual salary you aspire to and divide it by 100. That’s your daily rate. The overheads cover your admin, sick leave and pension. We don’t automatically get it as freelancers, yet we still have to take care of all the above!”.

What are your experiences of bidding and negotiating salary? Do you ever work ‘for exposure’? Share your views in comments!

Can YOU solve the city’s sustainability dilemma? Sci Comm South West delegates given a taste of urban planning

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Author: Mollie Atherton (MSc Science Communication student at UWE Bristol)

I’ve never decided the fate of a large slice of land before, fictional or otherwise. Stepping into the shoes of town planners and developers at Sci Comm South West 2019, participants in the workshop ‘Can you solve the city’s sustainability dilemma?’ were given the opportunity to explore the decisions that need to be made when considering urbanisation, city growth and the all-important sustainable development goals (SDGs). 

Ruth Larbey, a Science Communication Unit (SCU) expert in communicating science to environmental decision-makers, gave us a simple brief. We had two minutes to make an elevator pitch (as in, the time it takes for a long elevator ride) to convince a representative of the fictional city, Swester, that our vision for a newly available two acres of inner-city land was most suitable for the needs of the city and its residents.

Credit Tom Sparey

We were split into groups and given an idea to pitch. I found myself in the camp proposing the building of a new leisure center. However, we were up against fierce competition in the forms of: a business incubator, a renewable energy company, a community farm, and housing developers.  

Credit Tom Sparey

The UN’s SDGs had to be considered and we had to pitch how our idea would best integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values, contribute to sustainable urbanisation and best provide for the local community. We were to use our powers of persuasion to convince the city authorities that ours was the best use of the land for the sustainable growth of the city and would best improve the health and welfare of its residents. Before we started our pitches, we were also given the following information about the city of Swester: 

  • 350,000 residents 
  • Developing IT and technology sector 
  • Increased jobs 
  • Fast growing population 
  • Need for more affordable housing 
  • Lack of green space 
  • Lack of facilities for exercise 
  • High air pollution due to increased number of cars 
  • High rates of medical conditions, such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes 

Considering the above problems, here are the pitches proposed by each stakeholder group:

Orchard Housing 

As housing developers, Orchard Housing unsurprisingly suggested a new local development. They promised 30% affordable housing to fill the gap in the market and suggested a shared community allotment to maximise green space. The houses would incorporate renewable designs and architecture in line with the SDG of integrating ecosystem and biodiversity values into local planning. 

Shipshape Renewables 

Shipshape Renewables suggested the land would be best used as a solar farm. They wanted to turn industrial land into business space and work alongside Swester’s growing tech sector to develop the city into a green business hub. Their aim was to move the city towards being carbon neutral and providing local fuel discounts to help alleviate fuel poverty. 

Swestershire Sports 

Swestershire Sports were pitching the idea of a new sport and leisure centre. Their argument was that a sports center would improve the physical and mental health of the population of Swester, thereby relieving some of the pressures of an unhealthy and increasing population on the local hospital. They suggested school schemes and discounts for residents who would not otherwise be able to afford membership. 

Temple Seeds 

Temple Seeds are a community group interested in food growing. They proposed that the land would be best developed into a community farm to address the lack of green space and improve air quality, local food production and community isolation. The farm would be a hub of growing knowledge and organise food swaps as well as allotments and an education center to teach children about food. 

West Country Innovation Hub 

The business hub wanted to bring jobs to the local economy. They suggested a business park of remodelled shipping containers, highlighting that it would bring more jobs within walking distance, thus reducing residents’ reliance on cars for transport and alleviating air pollution in the process. The park’s design would be in keeping with the SDGs and would provide some, if not all, its power from green sources.  

Each potential stakeholder group was also given the opportunity to choose one other group to partner up with and share the development space. Given the city’s lack of green space, most groups chose to pair with Temple Seeds, as they felt a community garden could be the most easily incorporated into their design.  

What I found most interesting about this exercise was considering not just the immediate benefits of each idea for the land, but also the benefits from every angle, and then trying to cram all those benefits into just two minutes of talking.

We realised that the communication of science and policy is what would make or break our pitches for the land, and so had to really think hard about how to maximise all the ways in which our ideas fitted the needs of the community and the requirements of the SDGs. It made us appreciate how precious development land is, particularly with increasing populations and scarcer resources.  

Deciding a winner was difficult. All pitches were made convincingly, and all had their own merits for the community and for the environment. They also all had their own challenges in implementation, but in the end the best pitch won – I’ll let you decide which that one was. 

Celebrating science communication talent in the South West

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On 21st June, UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit welcomed over 100 delegates to X Block on UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus to celebrate regional ‘sci comm’ talent and debate how researchers and practitioners can harness this resource to begin addressing today’s most pressing societal, economic and planetary challenges.

Keynote with Carla Almeida_Credit Tom Sparey

After a warm welcome from Professor Olena Doran, the key note speaker, Dr Carla Almeida offered insights into the challenges of communicating science and health related issues in the Favela surrounding the Museum of Life in Rio De Janeiro, her home city in Brazil. She spoke passionately of how the Museum is reaching out to the local community, training students from the local area as science communicators and raising their aspirations. These students help to break down barriers between favelas and Foundation Oswaldo Cruz in which the Museum is located. The Museum also takes part in the annual Carnival which draws in the community. At the heart of what they do is a mission to foster a two-way dialogue with local people so they can begin to address some of the socio-environmental and health related issues facing the community of which they are a part.

Coffee breaks offered networking_Credit Tom Sparey
Coffee breaks offered networking_Credit Tom Sparey

Several parallel sessions throughout the day built on this theme, including With Whom Do You Communicate? A sessionthat introduced two novel projects (Black2Nature and STFC’s The Wonder Initiative) that aim to widen participation in science, technology and nature conservation; and Letting Go of What’s Not Serving Us, which crowdsourced solutions to the difficulties of using academic language when trying to engage with local communities.

Binning the jargon with Malcom Gladwell from Mufti Games_credit Tom Sparey
Binning the jargon with Malcom Gladwell from Mufti Games_credit Tom Sparey

Talking of academic language, in a joint interactive session between James Nobles (NIHR CLAHRC West), Zoe Banks Gross (Knowle West Media Centre) and Malcolm Hamilton (Mufti Games) gave delegates a chance let go (and bin) the jargon that wasn’t serving them, an exercise they play with low socio-economic status residents across Bristol to get them moving and to discuss how effectively physical activity guidelines are communicated.  

Huddling in for a story with Dawn Ellis_credit Tom Sparey

The voices and perspectives on the day were truly diverse, as were the types of sessions and activities on offer. You could have chosen to play Periodic Table Top Trumps or taken part in a decision-making simulation run by Ruth Larbey of the Science Communication Unit, while during lunch there was opportunity to explore UWE grounds with a guided nature walk by Richie Fleuster and discover what’s being done to improve biodiversity across our campuses. The day ended with a keynote from speakers representing Eden Project, I’m A Scientist, We The Curious and The Natural History Consortium, among others. During the drinks reception storyteller Dawn Ellis seamlessly wove in highlights from the day into a tale about ninja’s from the West Country on a mission to save the world.

The conference was so well received that we are already being asked when we will host the next one, and believe this event has successfully reminded people of the role of the Science Communication Unit regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing articles on our blog about the event, including one on how to design inclusive events.

We’re looking forward to the next one already!

Sophie Laggan, Project Coordinator: Sci Comm South West Conference 2019

Best of both worlds: the degree that means you don’t have to choose

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At the height of the recession in 2008, deciding what to study at university took me a lot longer than expected. I was torn between English or pursuing a career in conservation. Science inevitably won, so I packed my bags and moved 250 miles down the road to study for my undergraduate degree in Cornwall. Due to personal factors I struggled with the curriculum at times, but soon realised that the work I enjoyed most involved communication.

When I finished my degree, applying for an MSc in Science Communication was a no brainer. Bristol is a lovely city and the course at UWE had great reviews. Being able to put learning into practice is key for me, so I took hands-on modules in writing and broadcasting science – which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Before I had finished my dissertation in 2012, I found myself interviewing for my first job in science communication. I joined a tiny team at a sustainability organisation, where I worked on communications and events. Being part of such a small team proved a rapid learning experience and equipped me with the skills needed to move to the next level. 

I liked living in Bristol so much when studying for the MSc that I decided to go back a few years later. I managed to secure a role at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), about an hour away from Bristol. The daily commute wasn’t fun, but I had job satisfaction. As a media officer, I was tasked with processing complex journal articles into digestible press releases, pitching science stories to the media and working in tandem with other teams. 

A highlight was organising a hands-on science communication event for blind and partially-sighted people in Tower Hamlets. With the help of inspirational scientists at Oxford Brooks University, we brought the world of microscopy to life with 3D-printed bacteria and viruses.

Working at BBSRC I met many interesting people, forging connections with academics and media colleagues. After nearly 3 years, I decided to go it alone as a freelancer.

Initially I was petrified as I didn’t know whether being my own boss would be sustainable in the long run. Nearly 5 years after completing my MSc, I found myself opening a business and began contracting for charities and science organisations. I worked for Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, developing communications to secure donations for autistic people and their families during World Autism Awareness Week. The Science Council were another client, as well as the Gatsby Foundation based in London. For nearly two years I worked on their Technicians Make it Happen campaign, challenging stereotypes  and raising the profile of our technical workforce.

Going it alone brought some life-changing opportunities. I was lucky enough to tour Scandinavia and moved to Iceland in 2017. I decided to take a mini career break but ended up doing something entirely different. In the summer I started an internship at the Reykjavik Grapevine, Iceland’s no.1 English-speaking newspaper. Working as a reporter, I did some really weird but amazing things. I met a ‘real-life Viking’, chased birds across the country and got trippy in a Native American sweat lodge (a tradition brought to Iceland by Björk’s mother no less). My favourite moment was spending a night alone in a yurt on an island in Iceland.  

Fast forward to 2019 and I’m, you guessed it, back in Bristol. I now work as a Senior Communications Officer for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), highlighting threats to the nation’s trees. I get to design communications campaigns and lead on delivery. It’s an ideal job. Who would have thought 10 years after ‘choosing’ between science and communications, I’d have the best of both worlds.

Anisha Chandar, UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication student