Well the conference kicked off on Wednesday 25th May at Kings Place, London. It was an early start but luckily the conference organisers and were smart enough to realise that good coffee does a good conference make and we were greeted not only by a good brew but croissants and other pastries…I was certainly happy from the get go! After a “rookie session” introducing public engagement for those new to the conference the keynote address was given by Tim Radford, former science editor of the Guardian, with some sage advice from a journalistic point of view that science stories will only make the news if they’re a good story. He told it as it is and this set the tone for much of the conference, something I was very relived about as there was always a slight worry it could have been a two day homage to buzz words and superlatives. With everyone catching up with old friends over coffee I was very glad to bump into someone I’d met earlier in the year at a conference in Cardiff, then it was back into the swing of things with a networking session, kind of like speed dating for science communicators!
The majority of delegates already worked in science communication; with teachers, publication managers, journalists, web editors, media gurus, museum staff, press officers and many other professions represented. There were some scientific academics, but mainly early-career scientists looking to move into public engagement and outreach. Now I really enjoy outreach, and I love the idea of combining my science with other, possibly more creative, pursuits, but (as with many things in my life) I don’t just want to take the obvious route! To me, saying “I want to work in outreach” would be like saying “I want to be a vet/train driver/singer” when you’re a little kid. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and yes I probably did want to be a vet at one point, but I like to take the path less obvious and think outside the box (is there anyway of saying that without sounding like a marketing executive??) Kind of like my insistence on buying 20p cameras and hoping one will work instead of buying something new and shiny. So the highlight of my day was the afternoon session I attended on diversifying your audience. The session involved two mini-presentations. One by an outreach worker from the science museum who had been working with adults in prisons, which was especially interesting as I think adults are often sidelined in engagement projects which are commonly aimed at children. The other half of the session was given in British Sign Language and discussed a Scottish team who had devised new signs to cover scientific word previously left out of BSL. It’s something I’d never thought about before, and aside from being an inspirational example of communication really sowed a seed of thought that has since progressed to a full-blown desire to learn sign language…watch this space!
Day 2 focused on the future, with sessions such as “the future of online” and “the future of public engagement”, I even managed some tweeting in honour of the occasion. But the highlight of day 2 had to be Bright Club. Bright Club is a variety night with an academic twist; it combines professional comedians and performers with university staff from all over the country to create brilliant entertainment. Now I don’t think I could ever make my science funny; but a fellow PhD student (and Bright Club alumni, she’d already performed in front of a crowd at the London Bright Club event) who I’d spent a lot of the conference chatting to had the audience in stitches with her PhD antics. OK, she works with race horses, which I’m sure provides much more joke-fodder than seaweed, but it did get me thinking about cracking some algae-related jokes….
The conference was a great experience and so I’d like to finish with a big thank you to the British Science Association for the bursary which allowed me to attend this event.