The latest in the UK Polar Network’s acclaimed career skills workshop series was held at the University of Aberdeen, on the 12th – 14th January. The theme of this workshop was “Science Communication”. Around twenty early career researchers came from across the UK to take part in active and lively discussions, as well as dynamic and entertaining practical sessions.
Focussed discussions were held on many topics over the course of the workshop. These took an informal style, with an external speaker giving an introduction to their work, then fielding questions and contributing to an open discussion. Antony Jinman, polar explorer and founder of Education Through Expeditions, gave a talk on the outreach work of his organisation, which includes videocasting and other interactive elements giving school groups the opportunity to experience expeditions from the classroom. Andy Kerr, director of the Edinburgh Centre on Climate Change, gave a session on the relationship between scientists and policymakers, drawing on his experience in working with the Scottish Government on its climate change related publications. The way in which scientists interact with the TV industry was de-mystified by Mark Brandon, an Open University senior lecturer and consultant on BBC programmes such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet, using examples of his work at all stages of programme production. The many ways to get involved in public outreach work through opportunities such as the STEM ambassador scheme were described by Ken Skeldon, from the University of Aberdeen’s Public Engagement with Science Unit. All of these sessions provoked insightful and absorbing conversation, both during the sessions and afterwards, over coffee and, later, a pint.
Practical activities were an integral part of the workshop, and a great deal of training was offered in this area too. Athena Dinar, PR and Communications Manager at the British Antarctic Survey, led an exercise on press release writing which saw groups attempt to effectively summarise a study about satellite images of penguin poo, and conducted mock radio interviews, allowing volunteers the chance to practice these skills and receive feedback from the room. Sian Henley from the UK Polar Network committee took everyone through two demonstrations previously carried out with school groups: one showing the working of the polar vortex around Antarctica and its effect on atmospheric ozone, that involved people linking arms and dancing in a circle, and the other illustrating the problem that penguin mothers have trying to find their hungry chicks after a hunt, which saw everyone walking slowly around the room, honking and clapping at each other until (almost) all of the mother / chick pairs were re-united. Richard Morris, also from the Polar Network committee, led an exercise in which groups analysed newspaper articles, podcasts and short films on scientific issues for differences in tone, style and effectiveness. Rounding off the workshop, Stuart Monro and Christine Angus from Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh introduced their work with schools using puppets and props, gave some interactive demonstrations of different methods of communication, and led a discussion on the different styles employed by TV presenters.
All of our speakers and attendees are warmly thanked for their efforts and enthusiasm. Events such as this enhance the skills and abilities of Network members to communicate their science to the wider public, assisting them in becoming ambassadors for their fields, for the Network and for science more generally.
This event was made possible through generous grants from the Natural Environment Research Council, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the International Glaciological Society.