by Hazel Gibson, British Science Festival Award Lecture winner 2015

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And the Charles Lyell Award Lecture goes to.... perhaps you this year? 

Last year I was nominated for the British Science Association’s Charles Lyell award lecture by my PhD supervisor, Professor Iain Stewart, to present my work in the public perception of the geological subsurface.

I have been working in science communication in one way or another for most of my professional life and it is something I think is really important, so when Iain said that he wanted to nominate me I was excited at the prospect of becoming part of such a prestigious group of science communicators!

I worked with Iain to present an idea that would demonstrate the research that I was doing now and why I thought it was relevant to a wider, public audience. I chose to focus on a controversial side of my work; how the way that people think about the subsurface impacts on how we communicate about fracking and Iain submitted the nomination.

I was very surprised a few weeks after the submission date to hear from the Head of Engagement at the British Science Association (BSA), Ivvet Modinou, that I had won the Award and was being invited to present my research at the British Science Festival 2015 in Bradford - I was thrilled! Not only was I going to be able to present my research to a totally new audience, but also I was going to have access to some of the best science communicators in the country to improve the way I share my work and love of science.

Image: Working with girls from my old school on a STEM day (photo from the Herald Express)

Before the Festival

The first thing that happened was that I had to keep the news quiet until the launch date for the Festival programme, which was SO HARD as I was really excited!

It was also arranged for me to be able to attend some advanced speaker training with the other Award Lecture winners. There were seven of us, spanning all aspects of science, from environment to technology, experimental physics to social science, and for the first time there was an art-science crossover category. All the Award Lecture winners were brought together in London for a training session, run by Alan Barker from Kairos Training Ltd, in early July 2015 to work on our presentations.

This session was brilliant. Alan’s really helped me clarify the interesting parts of my work for an audience and develop my ideas about how and what I would present. Alan wrote a blog post with his top seven tips to develop your presentation skill- well worth a read!  

But it wasn’t just great because of the training – getting to meet five of the other six Award winners was so inspiring! I found out about amazing groundbreaking work that is happening in the UK that I had never even thought about, and by getting to speak with other passionate science communicators we all found a sense of community in the training session, that has continued all the way through the process.

After the session I returned back to Plymouth with my head buzzing! Now the lecture, which had been a pretty daunting prospect, was a source of anticipation for me – and I was even more excited to visit the Festival and hear more about all the great science we do here in the UK.

The Festival had been officially launched the day before the training session and in the run up my University’s Press Office had been speaking with the BSA’s Press Office and a co-ordinated roll out was done – which resulted in a lot of interest from the media. I even got to go down to BBC Radio Devon and do a live interview about my work and the British Science Festival!

At the Festival

In the final run up I was constantly updated and supported by the staff at the BSA… and then the big day arrived!

I was so nervous, but all the staff and volunteers at the Festival were wonderful and supportive during the morning, that by the time my talk came round I was ready. And it was fantastic! The room wasn’t a conventional lecture theatre, which gave me a lot of opportunity to interact with the audience and for them to ask questions, it was a spirited discussion at times, but always respectful and inclusive – all in all it was a great experience. Afterwards I got to speak to one of the successful Media Fellows Susan Spesyvtseva about my work as a part of a series of interviews that she was doing about the Award Lecture winners.

Through the whole week I got to see many of my fellow Award Lecture winners speak and went to presentations that I would never normally have had the guts to attend, fearing my own lack of knowledge in the area. I came out of every event feeling invigorated! It was a week of learning, making contacts and talking about my work, that reminded me why I love science so much – you don’t have to be an expert in a subject to be curious, but that curiosity and discussion inspires all the science that we do.

The experience doesn't end at the end of the Festival! 

Since becoming part of the ‘BSA family’ I have written a blog post for their website on why ‘Women can understand fracking’ in response to a controversial news article and will be presenting my lecture at some more festivals in the coming year.

The BSA is keen to get all the Award Lecture winners speaking at festivals that you might not think have a science element, but we’re hoping to bring the science wherever we can!

In short, the whole year of being the Charles Lyell Award Lecture winner has been exhilarating. I have learned so much, met so many amazing people and gained invaluable insight about my own work.

Throughout I have been supported by the amazing staff at the BSA, who have made the whole process an absolute joy.

By winning the Award, I have been recognised in my University for the work that I do and felt very validated as an interdisciplinary researcher; it has certainly helped my career prospects. I also made some great new friends and had so much fun at the Festival that I can’t wait to go back.

If you think that you know someone working in an interesting field, who is committed to science communication and willing to try something new, I would say definitely nominate them – they won’t regret it!

Follow Hazel's blog 'My Patchwork Planet'

Call for Award Lecture nominations is open until 4 March 2016 

Find  out more about the British Science Festival