A Science Slam is a competition which sees participants giving short, ten minute talks about their research in a fun, accessible way. They might use props, music or assistants, they might have audience participation or tell jokes. They might just use slides and speak really well and really engagingly. When all the participants have given their talks the audience votes for their favourite, and that speaker wins.
I entered my first Science Slam in 2013. It was the first to be held in the UK (Science Slams are big in Europe but are still fairly unusual competitions in the UK) and it was in Glasgow at Cottiers Theatre. I spoke about my work on materials for gravitational waves detectors and managed to snag the runner up prize. A few short months later I was invited to speak in the second UK Science Slam which was being held in London. I refined my talk, working through the feedback I’d been given, and I took home the prize. I’m sure I’ve shared it before, but if you want to see it, it’s here:
I think Science Slams are a brilliant format and a great opportunity for postgraduate researchers to practise their presentation skills. The audiences are always friendly, it’s always fun and while it’s nerve-wrecking, at least you know that no senior academics are sitting in the audience, ready to shoot you down if you go wrong. Trust me, that’s the kind of thing that makes junior academics lose sleep the night before a conference presentation. Even if it never really happens.
So now, every year when our Science and Engineering Graduate School (led by the brilliant Heather Lambie) puts on a Science Slam, I want to get involved. I haven’t spoken at one since because that probably wouldn’t be fair but there are other ways for me to help. I’ve helped with running of the events on the day but more often, I help by speaking with the candidates and helping them make sure their talks are the best they can be.
Some people need help figuring out how to pitch the talks, or working out what will capture their audience’s imagination. Some need someone to gently tell them that they say “ok” too often between sentences. Some just want to practise their talk in front of someone to see their reactions.
It’s always a lot of fun and I’m always impressed by how much amazing and varied research is going on at Glasgow University. This week I sat with Heather and we spoke to PhD students working on everything from Coping Mechanisms used by People with Dyslexia to Invisibility Cloaks to The Effects of Climate Change in the Canadian Prairies.
Yeah, some people in the physics department work on invisibility. Why wouldn’t they? You know what the most fascinating thing is about all of these people? They worry that their work might be boring. Really. Fortunately, I think we managed to convince them that it was amazing.
I might meet with a few of them again over the next few weeks if they email to ask more questions or they want to run through a nearly perfected talk. Otherwise, I can’t wait to see what our eight speakers come up with this year.
The Science Slam will be held in Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow on 14th July. If you’d like to come along, tickets will be available soon (I’ll try to remember to put up a link). In the meantime, you can find out more and read about the presenters through the Glasgow Science Slam Facebook Page.