Playing With Science

Recently I attended the BSA Science Communication Conference in Guildford and was delighted to meet up with friends and make new ones. The programme was very well constructed. Alongside Corrine Burns, Heather Williams, Laura Winkless and Suze Kundu, I talked on the panel about ‘Representing Women in Science Outreach’. Corrine wrote up our experience for the Guardian. There are also many good practice guides about addressing gender stereotypes produced as part of the HESTEM programme. You can access links to them here.

However, a couple of the sessions resonated with me strongly. Obviously, the session on freelancing was enjoyable, with Greg Foot teasing the best advice from Ed Yong, Ellen Dowell and Timandra Harkness. Ed Yong summarised the experience of being freelance by describing it as, “…like being in Braveheart. Shouting ‘FREEDOM!’ while being disembowelled.” Another tip came from Timandra who recommended leaving the house at least once in daylight. She further suggested that in reality you will only be ‘earning’ money for about 100 days a year, while the rest of the time you will be chasing bookings, necessary paperwork and time off.

Timandra didn’t stop there. She was later speaking in the session on ‘How to Give and Receive Feedback’, along with Jonathan Sanderson from StoryCog and Delyth Jones, theatre director. This is how it was described in the programme:

‘Without critical feedback, none of us can improve. But it’s not easy to take it, or to dish it out. Academic peer review works for written research, but for a communicative discipline, we need something more immediate. Should we be less precious about our creations? How do we handle the different needs of nervous newcomers and ambitious professionals? Can we set ego aside in the quest for better work? How do you handle conflicts of opinion? In this session a panel of representatives from disparate backgrounds explore how their fields handle feedback, and what techniques we can borrow.’

413OIZT5b-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_[1]These disparate backgrounds triggered new ideas such as the ‘scicomm scratch’ workshops similar to theatre development sessions; Peer feedback being delivered in an organised way. Jonathan further recommended the Hauser and Reich book, ‘Notes on Directing’ as a means to gain confidence in approaching feedback and criticism. I can now recommend it also.

But the session seems to have also chimed with a colleague of mine and prolific writer of fiction and scicomm, Rowena Fletcher-Wood. She has now drafted a play based on the life of a famous physicist who struggled through his life with mental illness. Yes, this is going to happen! Key people have already been approached to ensure we can achieve all the aims of it being entertaining and inspirational. When I am asked why I chose to do scicomm rather than anything else, then moments like this provide me with the evidence. The blurring of lines between arts and sciences opens wonderful opportunities to be creative. I will be regularly updating you on how this project develops. It may even require a blog of its own.