On Friday 15th June 2018 the 3rd London SciComm Symposium took place. As somebody still fairly new to science communication, and eager to learn from our ever-growing community, I was excited to attend. Just like the previous two events, the London Scicomm Symposium offers both the chance to meet the wise, well-established communicators as well as those like myself who are still learning and starting small projects.
Whatever your background, the symposium had a positive energy unlike so many of the other conferences I have been to. Gone was the strange ego-vomiting behaviour of academics, gone was the quivering nervous desperation to prove yourself. The London Scicomm Symposium gave an inclusive environment that ensured that everyone in the room felt that they had something to offer as well as something to learn. And of course since the event was hosted by Dr Steve Cross we occasionally pissed ourselves with laughter amongst the intellectual discussion.
In order to reflect the way scicomm now functions, our fabulous organiser Kimberley Freeman split the event into three main sections; informal scicomm (including freelance and early career work), the formal section (those of us lucky to work for museums, big Telly people and the like) and, personally my favourite and potentially the most important section ‘But why?’ in which we addressed what our scicomm was for and what change it was affecting.
Dr Anna Ploszajski kicked off the evening with a talk on her transition from PhD student to part-time post-doc, part time freelancer. To many, including myself, Dr Ploszajski is a bafflingly impressive human who achieved no corrections following her viva, delivers hilarious science comedy across the country, carries out research at the institute of making and somehow finds the time to swim the channel. Dr Ploszajski’s simple honest approach, genuine interest for their subject and – let’s be honest – bloody hard work, left me impressed but also with the definite idea that my goals in science communication alongside a second career (in my case, medicine) was not only possible, but that intertwining your formal job/ studying with a freelance career opens up a huge number of possibilities. For many of us, our academic work or job can be a source of inspiration, ideas, and perhaps most crucially, funding.
Moving into the second section of the symposium, we were introduced to (amongst others) Scott McKenzie-Cook of the Science Museum, David Chapman of the Royal Society and the wonderful Dom McDonald of the Royal Institution. An impressive spread! But for me, the highlight of this section was Anna Starkey, chief officer at We the Curious. Her incredible energy, creativity and dedication to actively engaging with audiences was fairly mind-blowing.
My main lesson learnt from our final two sections was the importance of going out to your audience and asking what they want to hear before developing your science engagement material. Whether its schools, community centres or even shopping centres, we all need to get out there and get inspired by the humans we intend to ourselves inspire. Another important lesson for me was the power of co-building content, finding those with complementary skills and making something entirely new. There’s huge power in using art forms such as comedy, sci-fi or crafts to communicate science, and together as a cohesive Scicomm community I’m excited to see what we can create.
Another powerful message from the symposium came from Kimberley Freeman, when she spokes of the charity Sands (which the event was supporting). Science communication doesn’t just happen in fun, loud and open spaces, but sometimes in the quiet private space of something potentially devastatingly sad. Her talk spoke to me in particular, as I am begin training to become a medical doctor I will be taking my science communication into the clinic in the most human way I can.