I am a PhD student in physiology and in 2013 I reached the London finals of Famelab UK; a competition designed to find the new voices of science and engineering. Throughout my time as a postgraduate researcher I have developed my science communication skills by taking advantage of training and engagement opportunities at the University. My pathway to the Famelab final began with me enrolling as a STEMAmbassador through the University's science communication course and then getting involved with science busking activities run during National Science and Engineering week. From this, I responded to the Public Engagement Unit's call for Famelab 2013 candidates and through mentoring and support, reached the UK final in April 2013.

About me

I completed my first degree at the University of Aberdeen before working for a period in industry. I returned to the University in 2010 to start a PhD in the area of neurosignalling.  I've always been keen to engage with audiences beyond my research and have become involved in many events including talks and interactive lessons in primary schools. I also co-run Aberdeen Skeptics in the Pub - a monthly forum to explore rationale around topical subjects. 

How did I benefit?

My FameLab experience has helped me develop my presentation skills and confidence immeasurably. Previously, I had attended presentation skills training courses and presented at conferences but the one-to-one training and intensive practise for FameLab really helped me fine tune my presentation style. I would now be happy and confident to present my work succinctly to anyone from school children to leading scientists in my field. My supervisor Guy Bewick has been very supportive and has commented on how I have developed as a researcher throughout this process. The skills training offered by the University and FameLab has helped me develop other attributes linked to presenting but often overlooked such as voice projection, stage presence and how to effectively use a microphone. The competition in FameLab was intense and I quickly developed skills to remain calm and effective under pressure. Equally, balancing a number of projects alongside my research and FameLab has helped me demonstrate my consummate skills in time management. Finally, I have experienced that, through public engagement projects, I have interacted not only with publics but also with other scientists that I would otherwise not have met. This has led to fruitful discussions of my research and enabled me to view my work through differing perspectives. Above all, my pathway through FameLab has made me a better, more confident researcher.

Why did I engage?

I find science and research exciting and I wanted to share the passion that I have for the subject with others. More importantly I think a basic understanding and trust in science is very important in everyday life. Our lives regularly cross over with decisions that are impacted by scientific research, for example how to understand the basics of health policy. It should not be an alien concept reserved only for scientists in laboratories. I thought FameLab would be a great opportunity to share my passion, push me beyond my normal comfort zone and help develop my presentation and speaking skills which will benefit my career as I progress as a scientific researcher. I was further delighted when I was awarded runner-up in the early career researcher category in the University of Aberdeen's Principal's Prize for Public Engagement with Research in May 2013. Accolades such as this are invaluable for my CV and evidence the personal development that engagement activity has brought me.

Wider impact

As a result of my continued involvement in public engagement and increased visibility due to taking part in Famelab I was able to secure funding from the Scottish branch of the British Science Association to run a Skeptics in the Pub special. I was also invited to talk about my research on a short YouTube film produced by FACULTI media and available here.  I have also taken part in Aberdeen's first ever Bright Club - a comedy club forum where researchers develop and perform 8-minute stand-up routines based on their work. I plan to continue to embed public engagement in my ongoing research career.