BIG e-news: Spring 2016 edition - Issue 35

Knowing that Early Bird registration for the BIG Event this July will be closing shortly – Monday 4 April - many of you might be having a serious think about whether to come along.

I won’t list highlights of the programme as we all have a different idea of what’s best for us; you could take a peek at the programme yourself. It’s not the final draft, but you’ll get a good idea if it’s for you. You’ll find the programme here.

 Many of you are swayed by who is coming  along. At the moment our online bookings  system doesn’t list registrants without  announcing their inside leg measurement and  front door colour to the world, but I can tell you  that delegates include LOTS of freelancers  wanting to use their valuable few days to  gather intelligence on the science  communication industry, share their  experiences and learn from each other.  Organisations attending include:

 Wellcome Trust – Institute of Physics – The  Look Out – Science Oxford – Physikanten – Learn Differently – Glasgow Science Centre – Practical Action – Science Projects – Diamond Light Source – Meander – Science Shows for Schools – The Royal Institution – Storytelling Schools – Centre for Life – Camera Obscura – Science Magic Schools – Research Media – Sarah’s Adventures in Science – Copernicus Science Centre plus UWE, Southampton, Oxford, Bristol, Birmingham and Durham Universities. So far, but there’s room for you too. 

The BIG Event’s venue this year is W5 in Belfast; a really excellent science centre with lots of space and staff there are looking forward to welcoming us. W5 is already offering its expertise and equipment to help BIG members travelling with budget airline luggage allowances but wanting to do larger-scale activities. Belfast is a great city –  it hasn’t been at all hard to find good venues for our evening socials, and hotels and city centre are within easy reach of the conference. 

Register and find out more here

Rachel Mason, Event Organiser

The 2016 Josh Award for Science Communication - closing soon!

The Josh Award is the UK’s national award in science communication, established to recognise and support up-and-coming talent in science communication.

The award recognises a defining moment in the career of a science communicator; a person who is a practicing scientist or someone who has chosen science communication as their profession. This defining moment could be a game changing project, piece of work, way of working, or a key moment of change, creativity, innovation or passion.  A defining moment in a career that has transformed science communication practice, inspired others or changed the landscape of science communication.

The award provides the opportunity to become the science communicator in residence at the Manchester Science Festival 2016, in partnership with the University of Salford, Manchester developing and delivering a new project or event while showcasing best practise in the field of science communication. They'll also receive up to £1000 to develop their project or event with Manchester Science Festival and up to £500 personal expenses budget (this budget will be agreed and held by the Manchester Science Festival). 

The closing date for applications for the 2016 Josh Award is 14th April. Find out more or apply here.

The Little Event: A Review

Rebecca Donnelly, University of Liverpool

The Little Event is a one day workshop for early career science communicators which I was lucky enough to attend after winning the BIG Little bursary. This included registration for the event, travel expenses, and annual membership to BIG. This year’s event was held at Think Tank, a science centre in the heart of Birmingham. 

After a very early start, I arrived in Birmingham and made my way across the city to Think Tank. On arrival, I was shown into a room with about 40 other budding scientists and science communicators. We came from a wide range of backgrounds (from engine designers to neuroscientists) and were at a variety of different stages in our careers. Some people were still studying (like me) whilst others had been working in science communication for a couple of years. Throughout the day, we were treated to presentations and workshops by people who work in different areas in science communication. In the morning session, we had talks by James Soper, freelancer science presenter and Ashley Kent of Cheltenham Science Festival. James Soper taught us the three key questions for effective science presentations

  • What’s the story?
  • Who’s the audience?
  • Where’s the science?

Ashley Kent then described the key factors to consider when organising large events. The afternoon sessions included talks by Brian Mackenwells (University of Oxford), Toni Hamill (Centre of Life), and Bridget Holligan (Science Oxford). In these talks, we learnt the importance of higher order thinking if we want people to learn from our activities, and that engagement needs to be Hands-On, Minds-On, and Hearts-On.

Lunch time was spent exploring the centre and chatting with the other participants. As well as allowing us to exchange ideas and resources, our varied backgrounds meant we could exchange interesting facts about the exhibits. A private tour of the science garden showed us that science doesn’t have to be an indoor activity.  

A careers session allowed us chat with the organisers and speakers. I spent most of my time speaking to Lauren Deere, Think Tank Manager who was able to give me some great advice on how to get a job as a content developer in a science museum (my dream job!).

Attending the Little Event was a brilliant opportunity for me to learn the skills needed to become a successful science communicator. The chance to meet other early career science communicators has provided me with invaluable advice, contacts, and ideas to help me make the leap into Science Communication when I graduate. It was a wonderful day and I look forward to (hopefully) attending the BIG Event in July! The thing that I am most excited about however is my BIG membership, meaning I get free entry into Science Centres across the country!

Let's talk reproduction! 

Katrina Williams, University of Sheffield

Talking to people about reproduction can sometimes be quite difficult. People often think you are going to talk to them about ‘how’ babies are made and are fearful of engaging in such a conversation. The ‘taboo’ nature surrounding this area of science and the subsequent lack of dialogue is a real problem that needs to be tackled. There needs to be more of an open dialogue about reproduction and fertility related issues, if everyone, young and old alike are to be more responsible for their own reproductive health.

Here at the University of Sheffield (Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine), we have developed a board game, called ‘Grow a Baby’ which aims to teach young children about the amazing process of reproduction, from fertilisation to birth. It has been designed to be educational and informative whilst also being fun in order to engage children in science. By becoming so focussed on winning the game and ‘growing a baby’,  the embarrassment of talking about babies is completely lost, allowing for them to take in the scientific terms and concepts that the game explores without the ‘yuck factor’. 

The board game was designed and created by Dr Sarah Waite, Dr Elspeth Whitby and myself Katrina Williams, along with a local artist Andrew Billingham. In March 2015, it was showcased at an event run by the university for Sheffield Science Week. The event was attended by five primary schools from across Sheffield, which included 220 school children aged 6-11 throughout the day and a further 150+ children attending with their families in the evening, including a large group of excitable beavers! The game was well received throughout the day by the children and their teachers and we received some great written feedback. One of the schoolteachers described the game as a “Good classroom activity to support learning” and everyone who provided feedback stated they would recommend the game to others. The children themselves engaged with the game on all levels, they asked intelligent questions and were freely using terms such as ‘blastocyst’ and ‘placenta’. We were even able to introduce the idea of donor sperm and eggs through the luck of a chance card!

We firmly believe the game is a fantastic way to approach the subject of reproduction with children and adults alike. We are currently in the process of making a digital version of the game that can be used in a larger classroom context. We are keen to hear from anyone that has any ideas about how we can develop the game further and if anyone is interested in having a play! We are looking to get feedback/evaluation to help us in applying for a grant in order to make more copies and spread the fun further! 

If you are interested in contacting us about the game, please get in touch! 

National Forum for public engagement with STEM

James Piercy, science made simple

This March saw a meeting of the Forum which was established in 2014 to improve collaboration, co-operation and learning between some of the many different groups involved in STEM education. The Forum has many members drawn from government, business and funding bodies, The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement is acting as secretariat and led the session, which was a chance to present work done to date and talk to interested parties about other areas to explore.

The Forum has identified four priorities for inital work and is exploring questions about each.

  • Funding- How does money flow through the current funding schemes? Can a more joined up system improve capacity?
  • Evaluation- How do different groups use evaluation? How can best practice in evaluating impact be promoted and adopted across the sector?
  • Underserved audiences- What are the key groups who are not well represented in engagement activity? What kinds of approaches might be used to reach these?
  • Emerging science- What are the upcoming areas which public dialogue can usefully inform?

Six areas have been identified, I’m sure that BIG members are already working in these fields and we will see more programmes in these strands in the next few years.

Genomics, The internet of things, Environment, Machine learning, Big data, Synthetic biology

The forum has a webpage where you can find out more about current activity and see how things progress. I hope that they will take the opportunity provided by BIG to find out what practitioners think and how strategic changes can be implemented on the ground.

 The Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP  Robotics Challenge

 Angus Hutchison, EngineeringUK 

 The Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics  Challenge opens for applications on 4th April  2016! 

 Schools across the country are invited to  take  on a robotics challenge that will see  student  teams involved in ‘space missions’.

 Teamwork, robots, design, discovery, fun (plus loads of LEGO) – it’s all part of the mix, as are  real-world challenges, teacher support and some great prizes.

This isn’t a one-off challenge. It’s a curriculum-linked programme that gets your students (11-14s) working together in teams (minimum size of six students per team) to solve real-world engineering, technology and computing challenges.


Introducing Science Live

Ivvet Modinou, British Science Association

At the BSA we’re committed to growing the number of people interested and engaged in science. From our experience, one of the best ways of doing this is through live events - which bring people together to discuss, discover and debate new ideas. Our ambition is to see more events taking place across the UK, especially events that are organised by members of the local community who best understand their audiences.

However, there are more than a few barriers to making this a reality. When we consulted local event organisers they told us that their biggest challenges were finding speakers, presenters and volunteers to participate and help run the events. We know that running events can be an uphill struggle, especially without an extensive black book of contacts and when you feel you’re working completely alone. Event organisers are not always given sufficient support, may lack confidence in tackling science subjects and are juggling the practicalities of event development alongside other work or study.

Science Live ( It is new kind of event platform - a sharing economy model that facilitates links between each part of the science event equation: the public, the speakers, the volunteers and the organisers.

Some of you may remember the former version of Science Live, which was launched back in 2003 - long before Twitter, Instagram and emoticons were around. In the early days, the website was a simple directory of presenters, used primarily by established event organisers and teachers to find speakers. After evaluating the old site with some of our users, we realised it was not being used by people new to putting on events.

We identified the need for a platform that connects scientists, presenters and content providers, with those who want to organise and volunteer at events. With the support of the Wellcome Trust, who funded the project through their People Awards scheme, we were able to begin building a website that would serve all these audience needs.

Science Live will support event organisers by giving them access to speakers, connecting them with local volunteers and putting their events in front of the right audiences. We hope to create an online community of science event organisers, with the ambition that it will become a virtuous circle of engagement: volunteers can find an event, learn how to put it on through practice and become future event organisers; scientists throughout the UK will attend, be inspired, and perhaps return to speak or help organise a new event of their own.

In line with the BSA's vision of a world where science is at the heart of our society and culture, Science Live will enable more live science events to happen around the country. Whether you’re a scientist, presenter, content provider, teacher, volunteer or general event organiser, we hope you join us to help achieve our mission.

Do have a look around the site – and sign up for free!

An Evening with Sir Alec Jeffreys

Dr Penny Fletcher, Science Museum

Science Museum IMAX | London |16th May 2016 | Arrival 19:00 | Event Start 19:30

Join the Royal Society of Biology for An Evening with Sir Alec Jeffreys on Monday 16th May 2016 at the Science Museum’s IMAX Theatre, London. The inventor of forensic DNA fingerprinting tells his story at this special fundraising event. Guests will be treated to an on-stage interview with Sir Alec, clips from the critically acclaimed dramatisation of Sir Alec’s story ‘Code of a Killer’, and the chance to ask him their questions. Raffle tickets will also be on sale. The member ticket rate is £25 and tickets for non-members can be purchased for £40. This event will raise money for us to support our work with schools, public engagement and early-career bioscientists. Book your tickets online via the link on the event page.

 Bringing research to the surface

 Laura Stanley, Research Media

 Getting research to stand out can prove  challenging.  Non-specialist audiences may  struggle to understand formal research  communications and are therefore unable to  keep abreast of scholarly and scientific  developments. Creating engaging, accessible  and easy-to-understand content is essential in  increasing the impact of research. Here, we share a few examples of the methods you can use to achieve this.

Lay summaries

A lay summary is a short account of a research area or project targeted at a wide audience. An engaging lay summary, whether verbal or visual, has been proven to drive both readership and engagement with primary research articles. 


There are many publications, such as journals and magazines, which will be keen to publish your research. However, to reach your target audience and boost visibility and impact, it’s crucial that you choose the right one. If you wish to reach a specific audience only interested in a certain subject, it may be more appropriate to publish in a niche publication. To reach a wide-ranging audience, a publication which concentrates on a variety of research topics will be more suitable. Digital publications are also highly effective. Providing a direct link to your article is a useful way to disseminate to a broad or niche audience. 


An infographic is a visual illustration of information or data. It aids in explaining a complicated subject in an innovative, easy-to-understand and fascinating way. 


Animated videos are an efficient way of simplifying complex information and converting it into an interesting and practical summary. Live-action videos help bring research to life. All video content can be placed on your website and social media channels such as YouTube, encouraging further publicity and impact. 


A microsite is an individual web page or small collection of pages which act as a separate section within a website. It can be a valuable way to raise the profile of a research project – and it can also be used to boost any offline activity. 

There are so many ways that you can bring your research to the surface. Here at creative communications agency Research Media, we employ a wide variety of communication methods and techniques in order to transform research into engaging, accessible content and drive impact.  

Train with the Royal Society of Biology in 2016

Naomi Smith, Training Officer

Select from a range of courses to create a bespoke programme to meet your needs: Whether you would like to learn how to create an engaging science exhibit; improve your presentation skills; or write about your science in a persuasive way. Delegates can book onto each course individually, so you can attend as few or as many courses as appropriate to your needs. There are courses to suit all competencies: From those working in science communication who are looking to refresh or expand their skills, to those for whom science communication is a new interest.

We are continuing to honour our commitment to offer lower rates for our members, with discounts of up to 50% on all of these courses. To find out more and register to participate in any of our training courses, please go to our website.

Science Communication Awards 2016

Are you a bioscience researcher involved in science communication? If you work in any sector of UK biosciences, from universities, institutes or industry, apply for the Royal Society of Biology Science Communication Awards 2016. There are two categories: New Researcher Prize (£750) and Established Researcher Prize (£1500). Supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Awards are intended to reward outreach work carried out by both young scientists and established researchers to inform, enthuse and engage the public. Submit your applications by Thursday 30th June 2016.


Photography Competition 2016  

Biology: from Big to Small is the theme of this years' Royal Society of Biology amateur photography competition. The competition invites photographers to explore interactions between the macro and the micro in biology – from tiny fish creating huge shoals, to algal blooms suffocating a river ecosystem, or microorganisms eating plastic waste in our oceans. Supported by Eppendorf, the competition has two categories each with a cash prize: 18+ (£1000) and under 18s (£500). Get snapping and submit up to three images by 31st August 2016. Find out more online

Biology Week 2016

Natasha Little, Royal Society of Biology 

Every October we celebrate Biology Week, with over 100 events and activities all over the UK and beyond. Everyone from children to research scientists get involved in debates, bug hunts, competitions, dinosaur digs, and Big Biology Days, in celebration of the life sciences. Biology Week is a great opportunity to showcase your particular area of bioscience and to increase your following by taking part (and enhancing!) the biggest week in the biology calendar! We are always thrilled that so many organisations, schools, universities, clubs and individuals get involved in some great events and activities during the week and we are keen to involve even more of you in Biology Week 2016 – the fifth annual Biology Week – which will take place from Saturday 8th – Sunday 16th October.

 Ways to get involved include:

  • organising your own event
  • running a hands-on activity at a Big Biology Day
  • launching an online resource
  • creating an educational outreach project
  • running a competition

BIG People: Lucy Moorcraft

Job: Marketing and Recruitment Manager, Newcastle University

A typical day at work consists of: Organising and running Outreach events on campus, managing student teams we use for recruitment activites, liaising with acadmemic departments about marketing and recruitment. A great mixutre of event planning, communication, creativity, meetings and hopefully eating cake!

What got you into this career? Running and delivering lots of Outreach during my PhD, managing a year's Outreach project followed by two years of secondary school teaching.

What is the best thing about your job? The people I work with - we make a great team!

... and the worst? Having to work closely with some people who like to do everything last minute and the commute from Durham to Newcastle - but it's not that bad!

What is your favourite meal? Yellow Thai curry with sticky rice and pad thai with mango smoothie to drink.

What is your favourite smell? Marzipan

What talents do you possess? I can dance and play the drums (but not at the same time!)

What talents would you like to possess? The ability to remember where all the cards probably are in a game of bridge.

Which actor do you think should play you in the film of your life? Kirsten Dunst...don't know why, just like her!

Which living person do you most admire and why? My husband. He just understands people and knows how to get the best out of them. He also knows me better than myself sometimes!

Most beautiful place on earth? There are so many - right now it's a tie between the Antiplano in Bolivia, Detien waterfall in China and Jokulsarlon in Iceland but that'll probably change in an hour!

What is your Motto for life? How much can I achieve in the smallest amount of time?

Jobs in Sci Comm

Here is a selection of the latest jobs advertised on the BIG Jobs page. Find out about these, and more here.

  • Centre Manager – The Look Out Discovery Centre, Bracknell £32,419-£37,144 pa
  • Education Officer - At-Bristol - £21,000–£24,000 per annum
  • Live Science Officer – Shows and Special Event - At Bristol - £21,000-£24,000 pa
  • Interpretation Officer (Content)  - Chester Zoo £19,133 per annum
  • Mathematics and/or Science Coordinator for Children’s Education Social Enterprise

With best wishes from the BIG Executive Committee 2015/16…

  • James Piercy, Chair
  • Bridget Holligan, Vice Chair
  • Lucy Moorcraft, Treasurer
  • Ben Craven, Secretary
  • James Soper, General Member
  • Doo Spalding, General Member
  • Rachel Mason, Event Organiser
  • and Sarah Vining, Administrator

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