London SciComm Symposium 2018

On Friday 15th June 2018 we held the third London SciComm Symposium, hosted by Queen Mary University of London. The event saw over 140 guests join 17 speakers to share ideas and inspiration. This year’s event had a special focus on “Why?” – Why do we do what we do, and what motivates us, both personally and professionally. The day was a massive success, with through provoking discussions and challenges from our speakers, and lots and lots of networking.

The event was free to attend, but as always we requested a donation to charity to book a place. This year we held training sessions and networking events in addition to the main symposium programme, and raised an amazing £1824.91 from ticket sales for Sands: Stillbirth and neonatal death charity. Some dedicated post-event fundraising from our speakers then increased this to £2,000. Our largest donation to date!

Sands exists to support anyone affected by the death of a baby, to improve the bereavement care received by parents and families, and to influence policy makers and promote research to reduce the number of babies dying. Sands provided support to people close to the organisers of the London SciComm Socials, and we were keen to raise as much money as possible for them through this event.

We also learnt a valuable lesson about ticket sales and donations this year, removing the £10 ticket price and instead setting this as a “suggested donation”. This saw a few people donate as much as £100, but many donating as little as £1.50.

As always, we tried to create sessions that reflect the community that have come to the London SciComm Socials, while also listening to the feedback we received following the previous symposium. Last year you told us you liked the format, with short talks from a wide range of speakers followed by a chance for debate, and the session where people could request help on current projects or seek collaborators, so we kept those parts. You also told us the event last year felt cliquey, so this year we did what we could to change that, widening our network of collaborators and emphasising how these connections had been made, trying our best to make everyone feel welcome. The feedback from this year’s event was overwhelmingly positive, with the conversations about diversity (or lack thereof) in scicomm, and statistics being notable highlights.

The day was split in to three main sections:

Session 1: The informal scicomm sector; what we do, how it works and how to get involved – In this session we took a look at science culture, freelancing, and performance, with speakers from a range of different organisations and career levels.
Session 2: The formal scicomm sector; what we do, how it works and how to get involved – We explored the formal science communication sector; looking at the relationships researchers can have with science centres, learned societies, museums, and their host universities.
Session 3: “But why?” – In this session we explored people’s professional and personal motivations for being involved in science communication, and discussed what motivates the sector.

Panel members from the third session of the 2018 symposium.
London SciComm Symposium 2018. Session 3: “But why?”
Speakers from the second session of the 2018 symposium.
London SciComm Symposium 2018. Session 2: The formal scicomm sector; what we do, how it works and how to get involved.

The day ended with a scicomm social in a nearby venue, where people could continue the discussions of the day, and we could be joined by people who hadn’t been able to attend the symposium during the day.

Our speakers included…

  • Dr Steve Cross – Wellcome Engagement Fellow and formerly Head of Public Engagement at UCL. Steve works with organisations across Europe to advise on public engagement strategy, and the importance of embedding public engagement support at all levels of an organisation. He works with academic staff and students at all levels, across a wide range of subject areas. He is the creator of Bright Club and Science Showoff, and co-creator of the London SciComm Socials, Steve is also a freelance public engagement consultant, trainer, presenter and a comedian.
  • Kimberley Freeman – Executive Officer for Public Engagement, and Manager of the Centre for Public Engagement at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Kimberley has worked in public engagement and science communication for the past eight years, having previously been Partnership Communications Manager at the Medical Research Council (MRC), Public Engagement Manager at UCL, and Public Engagement and Publications Co-ordinator at The Royal College of Pathologists. Kimberley is the co-creator of the London SciComm Socials, and mentors public engagement and science communication professionals across London.
  • Dr Anna Ploszajski – Award-winning materials scientist, engineer and science communicator. By day she is a research fellow at the Institute of Making, but by night she performs stand-up comedy about materials everywhere from the Edinburgh Fringe to the Cheltenham Science Festival. Anna was a member of the first cohort of the Science Showoff Talent Factory, was a FameLab national finalist in 2017, and is currently the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Young Engineer of the Year. She is also a published author, podcaster at ‘rial talk, and has appeared on numerous national radio and TV programs talking all things materials. In her spare time she plays the trumpet in a funk band and is training to swim the English Channel this year.
  • Peter Barker runs Orinoco Communications, a digital media company specialising in the communication of research in science, the social sciences, humanities and the arts. Having spent the previous ten years making documentaries for television. Peter started Orinoco in 2016 and he now creates videos, animations, podcasts, websites and other digital content for organisations such as The Francis Crick Institute, various Wellcome Trust Centres and groups from UCL, Imperial College and Cambridge University. He also recently started the ‘Research Comms’ podcast, a series exploring the theme of research communications in a digital age.
  • Anna Starkey – Chief Creative Officer of We The Curious – a space and an idea dedicated to nurturing a culture of curiosity. Anna has worked across science and the arts, as a BAFTA nominated children’s animation writer, UK Particle Physics outreach officer and Director of Impossible Projects at a multidisciplinary public neuroscience lab. She was freelance in TV for over a decade, as a script editor, voice director and writer, as well as producing the BBC Proms for TV, BBC Young Dancer, and global live cinema broadcasts from the Royal Opera House London. Over the last 3 years she has been driving a new direction for an interactive science centre on Bristol’s harbourside – evolving to become a more open, participatory, cultural space that removes boundaries between the arts and sciences, people and ideas. She is a TEDx speaker and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Anna is also a trustee of the British Paraorchestra and Friends.
  • David Chapman works in the public engagement team at the Royal Society, where he leads on supporting scientists to engage the public in their work. He coordinates training programmes, grant schemes and strategic projects that aim to build capacity for, and increase the visibility of, high quality public engagement. He’s interested in how research can deliver better outcomes for society and in making engagement a valued and integral part of higher education.
  • Scott McKenzie-Cook has been at the Science Museum since 2004 and became Cultural Events Manager in 2012. Scott oversees a large section of public programming at the Science Museum which includes Lates, sleepovers, family & accessible events and high profile programming for our exhibitions which includes talks, dance and music performances.
  • Hannah Thompson works for Cambridge Cancer Genomics, a thriving biotech start-up, where she generates and maintains collaborations with industry and academia. Hannah did her PhD at Queen Mary University of London where she also won the Blizard Institute prize for outstanding public engagement in 2017.
  • Hana Ayoob is a freelance creative producer of science events, a performer and an artist. She’s passionate about bringing people together to explore the world around us, getting more diverse voices heard in science and science communication, and talking about or drawing the weirder animals we share our planet with. Hana cofounded Minorities in STEM, a network which supports and showcases BAME individuals working and studying in STEM fields, co-hosts the podcast Why Aren’t You A Doctor Yet? and is a trustee of the Vagina Museum.
  • Alok Jha – Science journalist, author and broadcaster. He is a Wellcome Engagement Fellow, developing new storytelling formats for science journalism. He has worked as science correspondent at ITV News and the Guardian and made programmes for the BBC.
  • Dom McDonald – Head of Education at the Royal Institution. Since the mid-90s he’s been working to engage different audiences with the sciences, working in schools, Learned Societies, museums, the civil service, and festivals. In addition, He has run citizen science events, freelanced at science festivals, developed adult learning programmes, and performed science comedy. In fact, if it’s to do with engaging diverse audiences, then he’s almost definitely done it at some time in the last 20 years. Probably badly.
  • Matt J Young is a Neuroscientist, freelance science communicator, performer and producer. Based in Nottingham, Matt’s work outside of the lab focuses on establishing STEM-based content in local culture and events. He established and produced the Pint of Science festival in Nottingham in 2016 and 2017 and has recently finished producing Nottingham’s Festival of Science & Curiosity. He founded the now BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership supported STEM-ON group at the University of Nottingham, through which he regularly delivers training and support to university staff and students on engaging non-specialist audiences with their research through local projects and initiatives.
  • Holly Rogers – Communications and Engagement Manager at the Academy of Medical Sciences, where she has been for nearly six years. She splits her time between public/patient engagement and digital communications, plus some diversity work along the way. She interned at the Science Media Centre, worked briefly as a Schools Outreach Officer, volunteered for the British Science Association, CBBC, Stempra, SMASHfestUK and lots of other people, and has a SciComm MSc from the University of Sheffield.
  • Sara Kenney is a Writer/ Producer/ Director. She started her career working in science, but left a good job with great career prospects to work in TV. For the last 18 years she’s worked as a filmmaker on documentaries, drama, current affairs and animation. In 2016, she wrote her first comic Surgeon X, published by Image Comics. She is currently a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow exploring how comic creators, biomedical scientists, medical humanities experts and comic audiences can interact, with the hope of inspiring and empowering people from traditionally different worlds.
  • Jayesh Shah is a social researcher at Ipsos MORI. Ipsos MORI carry out public surveys and public dialogues to learn lessons about how scientists can better communicate with the public. In this role, Jayesh has worked on the BEIS Public Attitudes to Science surveys and the Wellcome Trust Monitor surveys. His work also includes various public dialogues on topics such as people’s understanding and use of medical evidence for the Academy of Medical Sciences, the integration of technologies in UK cities in the future for Innovate UK, radioactive waste disposal for the former energy department, and the clinical trials process for the Health Research Agency.
  • Sarah Cosgriff – Gender Balance Officer for the Institute of Physics. In this role, she works with schools to help them implement approaches to tackling gender bias. Before this, she managed the STEMNET programmes in Birmingham and developed training at The Prince’s Trust with the aim to embed STEM into youth work. She is also a freelance science communicator, trainer, TEDx speaker and one of the founders of #BrumScicomm, a network of science communicators in the midlands.
  • Dr Melanie Smallman is an academic, communications specialist, campaigner and policy adviser, interested in the relationship between science, technology and society. She is currently a lecturer in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at UCL, where she Co-Directs UCL’s hub for Responsible Research and Innovation. Melanie’s research looks at public attitudes to science and technology, how these views influence policy, and how evidence is understood and used in policymaking.

We are delighted that a few of our brilliant attendees decided to write blog posts about their experience, which you can read here:


Evaluating public engagement and Impact training

On Tuesday 12th June 2018 London SciComm Socials creator Kimberley Freeman ran an introductory session for 20 people (the most we could comfortably fit into the classroom) all about evaluating public engagement. Hosted by Queen Mary University of London, the session looked at some of the commonly used techniques and approaches to evaluating public engagement projects, including planning and embedding evaluation into public engagement activities, capturing feedback in innovative ways, and producing meaningful evaluation reports that can be used as evidence of Impact.

The session covered:

  • Why should you evaluate?
  • How to include evaluation in your project plans
  • Questions to ask yourself
  • Questions to ask others
  • Terminology and language
  • Evaluation methods
  • Tools and top tips

Feedback from the session was really positive:

“The training was really comprehensive and I learned so much. I think the group work did really help to enforce the concepts.”

“Just the right level of detail to cover a lot of ground without it feeling too dense, lots of useful documents and references to follow up on the most relevant parts.”

“Lots of useful information covered.”

“Thought provoking and well structured.”

“Perfectly formed and digestible content in session length. A much needed refresher and reminder of evaluation basics – rarely little time to just sit and think about this. Gave a space to do that.”

“Interactive with lots of examples and chances to meet people.”

“The best part was learning about all the resources available and how to re-think any activity’s value to a university and how to plan projects around the impact you want them to have. The whole training has re-framed how I think about all of my efforts and projects.”

“…I would have attended a longer event but I know that that should definitely be a paid event! This was so valuable!”


Develop Your SciComm Career

On Thursday 14th June, Hana Ayoob hosted an afternoon of career development advice, with advice from people who work in and around science communication. This was an opportunity to find out more about roles in the science communication and public engagement sectors, hear about the different routes people have taken to get to their current roles, pick their brains, and learn how to network efficiently. The afternoon session included short talks and debate, and a mini-networking training session, hosted by SciComm Socials creator Dr Steve Cross.

Speakers included…

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