We’ve invited in Simon Watt to join us for a whole afternoon in order to prepare our ‘greenReactions’ bunch for excelling at discussing their research with the public at our upcoming public dialogues events!
Simon Watt is a biologist, writer, science communicator and TV presenter.
- He runs “Ready Steady Science”, a science communication company committed to making information interesting and takes science based performances into schools, museums, theatres and festivals.
- He is MC/president for life of the “Ugly Animal Preservation Society” which is a comedy night with a conservation twist!
- He is well known as a presenter on the BAFTA winning documentary series “Inside Nature’s Giants” and the Channel 4 special The Elephant: Life After Death, check it out!
Review by Tom Dugmore – Green Chemistry Technical Liaison Officer
Tom has a PhD from the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York where he now works, assisting local businesses in deriving value from food waste.
In this day and age science is a very polarising subject. On one hand, TV shows such as ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and pages like ‘I F*****g Love Science’ have helped to make science popular and scientists cool, if stereotypically geeky. On the other hand subjects such as evolution, climate change and vaccination have divided opinion with those opposed to the subjects often accusing scientists of bias, alternative agendas and generally distrusting the ‘unnatural’ world we are perceived to inhabit. Whether pro- or anti- science, the stereotypes are present on both sides. Scientists themselves often tend to make the public feel patronised on, and don’t bother listening and valuing the opinions and concerns of non-technical peers. This mutual mistrust has a very negative impact on our society and its scientific development.
The reality is that scientists, as much as the public, are an incredibly diverse bunch encompassing a range of backgrounds, cultures, interests and disciplines with the only stereotype being that we are really enthusiastic about what we do and of course really want to talk to other people about it! However, speaking about our work to a non-scientist without it sounding like a foreign language can sometimes be challenging for us, due to the highly technical environment that we’re used to work on a daily-basis. So the problem, how do we make sure we get it right and communicate our science and our aims to a non-scientific audience in an appropriate way? Step forward GreenSTEMS and Simon Watt!
The greenSTEMS group recently received a £2,000 grant to spend in addressing this issue with a group of 20 participants, and determined to do it correctly, brought in Simon Watt – both a biologist and stand-up comedian (amongst others!) – for an afternoon of training as part of their “greenReactions Project”. I was very excited to take part in this session! The afternoon consisted of talking about our research, brainstorming on what it was important to communicate and why, and several games designed to take us out of our comfort zones, put us on the spot, talk under pressure, think on the spot and improvise. These included a game of BBC’s ‘Just a Minute’ and PechaKucha with a catch – we didn’t know in advance what our images would be! Whilst the willingness to stand up and talk varied from person to person by the end everyone had relaxed enough to speak, interact, laugh and not care about being laughed at!
For me, it’s been a great opportunity to find out more about the kind of research that goes on in other departments, see the bigger picture and, yes, meeting people to enjoy the odd cheeky pint with down the Deramore Pub. Overall it was a very enjoyable afternoon from which I think everyone came away with at least one ‘trick’ or hook to use when speaking to the public and present the ‘real’ scientist over the mythical one. We’ve spoken to each other and enjoyed hearing about each other’s work, but now we face a far tougher audience: the General Public! And I think I speak for all of us when I say ‘Bring on the spring!’
– contributed by Giulia Paggiola