There are many benefits to being part of a CDT in terms of training we receive, but I think one of the most valuable things we have approached this year is how to go about communicating our research to a wider audience. After all, it’s all well and good discovering phenomenal stuff left right and centre, but if we’re unable to convey a) what it is that we’ve done, and b) why that is important, then what’s the point? I doubt any of us would be happy with our achievements hidden away in a lab book. Not to mention that our science exploits are at least partly funded by the government and tax contributions, so it seems only fair to let people know what they are contributing towards, especially given the stigma attached to our particular area of research.
The training we have undertaken is with a specific event in mind – an outreach day at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. In short, we will have family friendly activities on stalls in the museum that hope to provide a fun explanations of various bits of the nuclear fuel cycle. Now, whilst I understand that this is worthwhile and will let me develop great skills, the prospect of it terrifies me. I am therefore very glad that we have had a few sessions where people who have some excellent outreach and communication skills have been teaching us the tools of their trade.
Firstly, we had some great tips from Dr Ceri Harrop (an outreach maestro) on how to try and engage children in our activities – if we are boring them, they will leave. Social etiquette means nothing when you are 6 years old. We realised we needed some distraction techniques in case we have queues, together with a way to link our activities so that people want to try them all – and are rewarded if they do. Next was the tricky business of jargon, when and how to use it – if at all. I think this section was potentially the trickiest for me, partially because the definition of jargon is so subjective. The line between explaining something that might be jargon and being incredibly patronising to your audience is a fine one. Trying to work out what language is too ‘sciencey’ in a room full of scientists was also interesting, but a game of science based articulate helped us decide. We had some helpful advice from Rachel Law (Outreach and Communication Officer at UoM) after this on how to write a great press release for the activities we would be creating.
Equipped with all our newfound information, it was time to come up with some excellent activity ideas. We have spent a few months refining these, and whilst I’m pretty proud of how they are all coming along I had probably not considered one of the most important aspects of the whole thing – performance. Enter David Price from Science Made Simple, who gave us an action packed morning looking at how to draw in the crowds using props, voice and body language, and interacting with the audience. This was the most interactive session we had completed; we made musical instruments out of a cardboard tube, a latex glove and a straw, learnt how to sit on a balloon without popping it, and how to tell tales that interest an audience. A select few even made a living sculpture!
Despite feeling a bit awkward at times, I found this session really helpful – in hindsight being pushed out of my comfort zone was definitely beneficial.
I’m sure I’ll use several of the techniques we have been taught when our outreach takes place, and am feeling more confident about the day in general – after all, it is meant to be fun for everyone!