In February, those of us in the MSc Science and Health Communication program had the chance to actually do a bit of science communication by competing in FameLab.
FameLab is an international science communication competition in which scientists, from undergrads to professional researchers, have three minutes to explain some scientific concept to the public. Props are allowed but only what you can carry on stage. And no biohazards…or lasers. Local and regional heats were held around Ireland to determine who will compete at the national final in April.
There are “three C’s” that FameLab participants are judged on. Content, Clarity, and Charisma. Content is normally fairly easy for participants to get down. The content of the talk has to be scientifically accurate—it wouldn’t be any good for a science communication competition to promote pseudoscience. Clarity and charisma, however, are what make FameLab a challenge.
Scientists (I acknowledge as one) aren’t exactly known for their ability to communicate complex concepts to the public or be wildly entertaining, and yet that’s what FameLab asks participants to do. Scientists are used to communicating with each other using as much detail as possible while intentionally avoiding flourishes. FameLab wants the opposite; it asks participants to really sell the excitement and wonder of science.
Our FameLab journey started with the DCU mini heat. A small crowd of our fellow classmates was the perfect environment for me and the other participants to take a risk and dare to make science exciting. It was a great way for us to practice our science communication skills, and I also learned a few new things that evening as well. Did you know that elephants and ballerinas aren’t so different or that we may be able to clean the world’s priceless historical, cultural, and artistic treasures with the bacteria that live on their surfaces?
See, science CAN be interesting!
First and second place at the mini heat qualified to compete in the Dublin regional final. In preparation, everyone who qualified from the various mini heats was invited to attend a communication master class with the with Fergus McAuliffe, former FameLab Ireland and FameLab International winner. Fergus spent some time giving advice on how to structure our speeches, how to practice our timing, and even how to calm any nerves on the day, but most of our time wasn’t spent passively listening to Fergus, it was spent actively… acting.
Improv games are always a bit awkward in a group of strangers but being in a room full of other scientists stepping out of their comfort zones made it easier for me to do so as well. By the end of the evening, and after more than a few self-deprecating laughs, we were all more confident in our abilities to communicate with clarity and charisma no matter how much previous public speaking experience we had coming in.
Unfortunately, our mid-year Mitchell retreat conflicted with the Dublin final, and my FameLab experience came to an end sooner than I had hoped. However, FameLab was a chance for me to challenge myself, push through the nerves, and begin trying to make science accessible for more people.
FameLab has allowed all of us in my program to grow as science communicators, and it will be exciting to see where we all end up in life, but first we will be cheering on our classmate, Aisling Brennan, when she competes in the Ireland final in April!