Waaaaaaaaay back in summer 2015 Jamie Gallagher, who is the public engagement officer at the University of Glasgow got in touch to suggest that I might want to apply for a prize that was being run by the IOP (Institute of Physics). The prize was for early career physics communicators. Since science communication and public outreach is something I’ve spent a lot of time on in the past few years, he thought I was in with a chance.
Already flattered, I filled in the application form, wrote an essay on my science communication work and uploaded a CV and photo and then… I forgot all about it. When I saw and email from the IOP in my inbox near the end of October, the last thing I expected was for it to be about the prize, nevermind that it would tell me I had been shortlisted. Incidentally, I’m only posting about this so late because I’ve been waiting for photos.
I was very excited. There were only four shortlisted candidates, including me and a quick Google search showed me just how stiff the competition was. If I’d been flattered when Jamie suggested I applied, now I felt like a downright imposter compared to the amazing women I was up against.
So, I had to get the train to London where I would hear a talk from Prof Mark Miodownik, before each of the candidates would give a ten minute talk and answer a Q&A session. Then we’d be bundled off into a side room to nervously drink coffee and worry while the judges made a final decision.
I worked hard on that talk. I like talks that are about ten minutes in length but you have to get them right. There’s no room for mistakes or waffle and ideally you need to make sure they’re accurate, that they pack an emotional punch of some kind and that hopefully they’re at least a little bit funny. Needless to say, a talk that takes ten minutes to give takes much, much longer to write and practise.
This talk wasn’t filmed, which may be a blessing, so instead here’s an example of a talk I gave a few years ago:
Anyway, when it was ready I was proud of it. I knew that I’d done my best and I hoped it would help to tip the balance in my favour. I spoke third and I thought it went well.
The nice thing about knowing you’ve done your best is that even if you’re not successful you don’t need to feel guilty. When you’re doing this kind of competition you’re aware that there isn’t only the potential for you to benefit from the success, but the others around you as well. I was representing my research group, my school, my university, the amazing women I’ve worked with through Science Grrl, and the people who I’ve worked with through The GIST and Illicit Ink and Soapbox Science and STEM Net and on and on and on. It can be a lot of pressure, but at least if you’ve worked as hard as you can you don’t worry that you could have done more.
In the end the prize went to the very deserving Jess Wade. Jess is amazing – I can’t stress that enough. I don’t know when the woman sleeps and I’m starting suspect that there might be two of her. I had an amazing time and I came away feeling newly inspired about sharing science with everyone I possibly can.
If you want to see more from the other candidates look up Jess Wade, Francesca Day and Rebecca Smethurst. They’re all doing wonderful things.