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Tales from the watercooler

Fresh from the water cooler, Barrie Cadshaw reveals the movers and shakers in public engagement.

Fresh from the water cooler, Barrie Cadshaw reveals the movers and shakers in public engagement.



Imran Khan has left his role as Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering to become the British Science Association’s Chief Executive.  Following his appointment he tweeted, ‘Have spotted a few grey hairs sprouting in my beard. Not sure if it's a coincidence that I've just started at @britsciassociat.’  

Mark Walport is now installed in his role as Chief Scientific Adviser. His successor at the Wellcome Trust will be Jeremy Farrar, who will take up his post in October. Professor Farrar is an expert in the field of infectious disease. He is currently Professor of Tropical Medicine and Global Health at Oxford University, Global Scholar at Princeton University and Director of the Wellcome Trust's Major Overseas Programme in Vietnam.

Amy Lothian has left the Science Media Centre to become 21st Century Challenges Project coordinator at the Royal Geographical Society.

Jen Burden leaves her role as Director of the National STEM Centre to join Gatsby’s Education team.

Nancy Mendoza has left the Pirbright Institute to run communications at the Society for Applied Microbiology.

Famelab finals

London’s Bloomsbury Theatre hosted the Famelab UK Finals on Shakespeare’s birthday about which compere Quentin Cooper made much ado, with an evening packed with citations from the Bard. The audience, which was a veritable who’s who of science communication, were treated to a dose of STDs and a blue footed booby with matching feet. It was noted that four of the eleven finalists hailed from recent British Science Festival host universities (Aston, Aberdeen and Newcastle) and none from the University of Gloucestershire (ahem).

Festival of the Spoken Nerd provided additional entertainment at the event, but quite literally failed to set the night on fire when their experiment to set flash cotton ablaze (involving parabolas, focal points and a heat lamp) didn’t deliver  – however, two of the crew did manage to burn themselves with lighters in the process of trying. UCL’s Mark Lythcoe proved to be the harshest of the judging panel, making one finalist justify the funding of his entire research area. The winner was Imperial College’s Leon Vanstone (an engineer) who was seen to balk at the suggestion that he may go on to become the new Brian Cox.  However, as was pointed out on the night, it’s the runners-up that have tended to scale the dizzy heights of science communication, and not the winners.


Back in March I reported on the dire financial situation of the Royal Institution.  Since then, an anonymous foundation has stepped in and donated a whopping £4.4 million to the cash-strapped institution. Sadly, it doesn’t scratch the surface of the Ri’s financial problems but does offer a little breathing space for the organisation to redefine its role.

Of course!

From September 2013, the Centre for Life in Newcastle is teaming up with Northumbria University’s Department of Applied Sciences to offer a new MSc in public engagement with science. The course claims to offer ‘unrivalled professional development opportunitities’.

Reach out?

On the other side of the pond our fellow sci-commers at SpotOn NYC are debating whether or not scientists should be engaging directly in public outreach activities. They hosted a #reachingoutsci series which raised many related questions:  Do scientists have time to do outreach? Should they make time? Should lab and departmental heads be more supportive? Can we create grants for outreach or recognise it as part of a researcher’s day job? How do we train scientists to do outreach successfully? And how do we determine what constitutes success anyway?

Do get in touch if you hear any tales at the water cooler that you’d like us to include in People & Science.

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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