The BIG Event is an annual conference held by the “BIG STEM Communicators Network” which focuses on public engagement and science communication. We sent two members of the WTCHG along, and they filed these reports. This one is by Lucy Trelfa, research assistant with the Channon group.
As a research assistant, I spend most of my working days in the lab running experiments and actively ‘doing science’. When I started getting involved in science fairs in my spare time, I was exposed to another type of doing science that exposed new challenges – public engagement. When I was given the chance to attend the BIG Event 2017, I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. The BIG Event brings 180 science communicators from across the UK and Europe and this year was held at the Centre for Life, Newcastle. The aim of the 3 day event is to share skills and experiences, develop professional links and keep in touch with the STEM engagement field, together with the promise of wonderful hosts and contributors, and thought-provoking sessions mixed in with fun, interactive demos.
Day one started with a welcome introduction led by Bridget Holligan, the Chair of BIG, and Rachel Mason, the event organiser. I was stunned at the real variety of people there – over 70 organisations were represented, but on top of this, a large proportion of the attendees were new to the event, which felt comforting to know as a first timer. Bridget aptly described the room as her ‘BIG family’, and welcomed the newbies in immediately by buddying them up with a BIG regular. This led us on to the BIG Mingle which certainly lived up to the ‘chaotic’ forewarning given by Rachel. It was probably the busiest networking experience of my life. I found myself running between designated stations in the room, having 5 minutes to introduce myself to the other people waiting there, whilst making a mental note of all the interesting people I wanted to talk to again later. All in all, first impressions of BIG were of high energy, enthusiasm and buckets of passion for STEM subjects.
Then the sessions began. Each one was led by experienced Sci-Commers and ranged from fun displays of electricity, science poetry and magic, to learning opportunities such as how to put together successful exhibits, podcasting tips and unconscious bias awareness. There was plenty of idea sharing, discussion and debate throughout the sessions, which made for some really stimulating conversation. One session that particularly struck a chord with me was ‘Impact – that’s all about hitting stuff, right?’. This outlined what impact in science communications is, how researchers’ work has impact and how we can improve our communications to be more impactful, through collaborations and evaluation. To me, that is the fundamental purpose of science communications – how can we convey science ideas to the general public in a way that will bring about a positive change to them? I left the session feeling inspired to continue working in science and to strive to make those impacts in my own communications career.
A popular highlight of the event is the Best Demo Competition. This is where BIG members compete against one another to show a STEM concept in the form of an entertaining demo, but only have 3 minutes on stage to do so. It’s light-hearted, friendly fun, yet fiercely competitive. Past winners have been decided by the difference of a single vote, so the competition was on! Demos encompassed the weight bearing mechanics of pole fitness, turning fire into ice and making lasers dance, to name a few. Watching the Best Demo competition is where I learned that science communicators are adults, yes, but grown-ups…maybe not! On top of the laughs provided by the contest, the evenings were filled with social activities, with an informal pie and pint in a nearby pub for the first evening, and a sit down dinner at the Centre for Life on the second.
To sum it up, my first experience of the BIG Event and its members was a truly memorable one. What amazing people there are in STEM! I met inspiring, passionate, like-minded people working across fascinating STEM disciplines and I now have a renewed appreciation for the humble post-it note. Many thanks to the BIG committee and the Centre for Life for being bonkers enough to put the BIG Event 2017 together. I was sincerely sad to leave my newfound professional family when the 3 days were over. Would I go again? Definitely.