By Dr Isabel Pires (@craftysci)
I am a cancer biologist and biomedical science lecturer at the University of Hull, and this year I coordinated the first Soapbox Science event in Hull and in Yorkshire. Science communication has always been extremely important to me, so much that my earliest forays into the wonders of science were done through reading books by Carl Sagan and other such wonderful science communicators, and watching science documentaries. I have been involved in science communication and public engagement since I was a PhD student, and have done a bit of everything, from science festivals, open days, science busking, to SciBar, Cafe Scientifique and Pint of Science. In 2013 a colleague sent me a link about Soapbox Science and encouraged me to apply. I was thrilled to be selected as one of the speakers for the London Soapbox Science in 2014. I utterly loved it and on the train back decided that I was going to organise a Soapbox Science event in Hull, and the rest is history… Two years later we had our first Soapbox Science event in Hull this September and it was a great success, and extremely well received.
My favourite thing about the 2016 Hull Soapbox Science event was bringing all our amazing scientist speakers together, seeing them deliver their talks whilst always being so enthusiastic, even in all the rain we had on the day! They are all truly inspiring. I also really enjoyed how it all came together on the day. It had been a lot of work and prep up to then, so it was a relief when we got started and it all worked really well, even in the rain…
In 2016 we made a conscious decision to have all our speakers from the University of Hull or the local hospitals to bring attention to the amazing work being done here, but next year we want to draw in scientists from other Yorkshire Universities to join Hull-based talent. We are also hoping to have at least one industry-based scientist as a speaker, to show listeners that female scientists have a variety of fulfilling career options.
From my own experience as a speaker and from all the talks during our event, I think the most important qualities for a great Soapbox Science presentation are having a clear message, keeping it simple, and having at least one take home message that will make an impression on your audience, and enthuse them to go and learn some more. Talking about a ‘catchy’ topic and having cool props also helps, especially to draw your audiences in. As a speaker you also need to be able to think on your feet, as some members of the public can ask really interesting but challenging questions!
Organising the event in Hull has been really rewarding, and has been recognised and valued by colleagues and senior management at the University. It also opened up opportunities to engage with the media and to participate in other scicomm events. Science communication and public engagement are rightfully being perceived as increasingly important aspects of a successful academic career at my institution and many others throughout the UK HE system. For example, we now have a Professor in Science Communication at the University of Hull.
For those interested in setting up a Soapbox Science event, my advice is to set the date and location really early, tap into any Marketing and Communications departments for support, contact specialist organisations and learned societies for funding, and be persistent! Chasing people up for information and confirmations might feel uncomfortable but is absolutely necessary. Most of all, don’t forget to enjoy the process, it is easy enough to get caught in all that planning… And final piece of advice: be prepared for sunshine and rain! I still regret not buying those emergency ponchos…