Recently I entered a science communication competition called “FameLab” which is the British Council’s international science communications competition. FameLab encourages young scientists to communicate their work. And if successful, the Council provides training in presenting, media and creating a personal brand throughout the different stages. The rules of the competition are quite strict – and it’s challenging to distill down your research – which has involved writing thousands and thousands of words and reading hundreds or possibly thousands of research papers into 3 minutes. However, if you can do this, then I guarantee you will understand your research better than you did before you started. As this process of distillation and thinking, followed by yet further distillation creates the kernel, or crystal of your research question or questions and what they set out to achieve.
‘Picture this, you have three minutes, no PowerPoint, no lab coats and no jargon… do you have what it takes to win FameLab?’
Stage 1 – YouTube
For the first stage I had to submit a YouTube video of my research adhering also to the guidelines above. To be honest, I didn’t think I would be selected, but as luck would have it two weeks later I got the call to compete in the State heats! I was quite surprised, but also excited and later I got really really nervous!
Stage 2. FameLab State Heats
The State heats of FameLab involved a full day of media training, but also prior to this I got to speak live on ABC Local Radio Brisbane which was basically my talk, have a listen if you’re keen.
The training was incredible, as scientists we don’t get that much training in communication, media, creating a personal brand and how to use twitter, facebook or a blog in our research. All of this was so fascinating and completely new to me. I already had a blog but it was good to hear some of my ideas reiterated and elaborated upon.
The presentation… (eeeek!) I have to say I was nervous, incredibly nervous before the State Heats of FameLab and it didn’t help that I was fighting off a cold. Admittedly, I ALWAYS get severe nerves before public speaking and this was no different. And I thought that I didn’t present it as well as I could…. however….
A surprise definitely to me was that I not only won “The People’s Choice Award” I was also selected as State “Runner Up”! WOWEEEE!!
Perth – The National Finals The National Finals ran over two amazing days where we were coached by Malcolm Love in the art of science communication. Here we went deeper into the art of communicating, we were analysed for body language and we asked ourselves what is the endgame here? What are the reasons for wanting to do science communication? Why is it good to get science out there in the community? Why is it good to be a good science communicator and keep working on this? Well, I think in part answer to these questions, it is because there are a lot of misconceptions out there about scientists and science. And this is in part the fault of scientists. For too long we have avoided the glare of media spotlights, preferring our labs or as a field biologist, perhaps beaches or forests to getting our science out there and exposing it and as such getting the community at large comfortable with it and potentially then, more accepting of the theories and research we so desperately need more funding for. One only has to read the recent article in National Geographic: Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science? to realise that we have a major problem on our hands:
“We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change—faces organized and often furious opposition.”
The more we can sell our ideas and research the more we are building a bridge between science and the public and governments. This will then hopefully translate into more real science backing up actual decisions in legislation for the benefit of the societies and communities we all live in. Science is not necessarily scary and too hard to understand: we just aren’t explaining it well enough NOR often enough. And thus if complex science can be distilled into 3 minutes – well I think that part of the divide has already been bridged. And while I didn’t win or get a place at the final, this was such an amazing journey and I think my presentation skills have improved out of sight. I also made friends with some wonderful fellow scientists who I hope to stay in touch with.