“I know it sounds really cheesy, but it’s just fun. It’s a chance to be really creative and also it’s great to talk to people about science outside of the lab.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to…Liz Granger
Where are you based?
Who do you work for?
I am a PhD student working in Viki Allan’s Lab at the university and I’m funded by the BBSRC.
What type of science communication do you do?
It’s a bit of mix – whatever I can fit around my PhD, really! I think outreach with young people and schools probably make up most of my science communication activities, though. I like doing community and family targeted public engagement too and I’ve run stands at science fairs and community days. I’ve done a couple of performances at Manchester Bright club as well, which was pretty cool! I also like to blog about science occasionally as part of the group blog, Brain Bank.
Who is your main audience?
Anyone who’s willing to listen. But as I say, mostly school students.
How did you get into it?
I started out as demonstrator at the Manchester Museum Life Lab delivering workshops and talks. I really enjoyed it and this lead to working with the Widening Participation team at the university to design and deliver workshops specifically targeted at students from disadvantaged backgrounds. That gave me the confidence to apply for funding to set up my own workshop programme and I was lucky enough to get a grant from the Biochemical Society to run science-themed career/higher education workshops in local schools.
Why do you do it?
For the most part because I enjoy it. With the school outreach work in particular I am passionate about fair access to higher education and making science engaging for students who may have been put off it for the wrong reasons. I love it when you have a bunch of surly too-cool-for-school teenagers at the start of session and by the end they’re all really excited because their PCR reaction worked or they’ve just seen a nematode at x100 magnification. It’s like the science is cool enough to overcome any amount of apathy, the students just can’t resist. I also think if students haven’t had much exposure to higher education or science in general, outreach is a fantastic and powerful tool in breaking down barriers and challenging misconceptions.
Why do you think science communication is important?
There are a lot of reasons. I think one of the most important is the fact that science affects everybody’s life but it isn’t always accessible. In research papers, really awesome science is often presented in a stifling dull way. To be fair it has to be so that the authors can be very precise when describing their data, but unfortunately this doesn’t always make for an easy read. Good science communication strips back all the niche technicality and jargon so that anyone can appreciate how amazing the actual research is. So I think science communication is essential to bridge the gap between how research is presented to scientists in the same field and what the public would like (and deserve) to hear about.
What do you love about science communication?
I know it sounds really cheesy, but it’s just fun. It’s a chance to be really creative and also it’s great to talk to people about science outside of the lab.
What has been your favourite project?
I designed an activity for science fairs and open days called ‘Cell Cookies’. You basically take a digestive biscuit, put icing sugar on it to represent cytoplasm (naturally) and then add different sweets representing the various cell organelles. I love doing this activity because it’s all about cell biology which is my field of research and most people, unless they’ve done A-level biology, aren’t aware of how amazingly complex the inside of cells are. I’ve run it at a few fairs now and I think the university will continue to use it when I leave, so that’s great.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
I’m running a fair stand at Jodrell Bank Live, which I’m really looking forward to and I’ll be keeping up with the blogging. Apart from that I’ve had to scale back over the next few months as I have the small task of writing a PhD thesis, which I’ve heard can be pretty full on. Once I’ve submitted my thesis I’m sure there will be more projects on the horizon though.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
I guess for other researchers I would say take advantage of public engagement and science communication training as it can be really useful. There are so many opportunities to do science communication in a university setting, so if you’re interested just jump in and get involved!
You can follow Liz on Twitter at @bio_fluff