My last post spoke of my experience competing in the WA State Heat of FameLab. Although I was delighted to be voted the Peoples Choice by audience vote, unfortunately only the winner and runner-up of each state heat progress to the National Final.
Or so I thought…
But a couple of weeks after the State Heat, I received a phonecall from FameLab Australia organiser Chris Hodge, inviting me back to present again as the British Council Wildcard entrant. So I made it to the Final by a fluke!
Sussing out the Competition
The FameLab Australia Final involved entrants from New South Wales, Victoria, ACT, Queensland and Western Australia. A mix of PhD students, post-docs, and scientists-with-real-jobs we covered a range of subjects from coughing guinea pigs to spider behaviour, gut bacteria to brain function, biofuel to artificial intelligence. A mysterious group of people at the best of times, especially when most of us had never met before!
I had the chance to suss out one of the competitors, David Farmer, on a radio interview with ABC Melbourne presenter Lindy Burns. Ironically, when discussing the Australian competition, the station had managed to select two Scottish people to interview. So this combined with dolphins, lasers and squishy brains made for some great banter in a pretty unique interview!
With competitors like that, it was obviously going to be some stiff competition…
Love and Science
The lead-up to the National Final included two days of media training with science communication guru Malcolm Love. Chief Trainer of FameLab International, Malcolm was originally a freelance journalist in South America before working for the BBC as a producer on features and documentaries for over 20 years. He is now a specialist in the public engagement of science, giving lectures on the subject at the University of West England and providing training for a range of science-stakeholders, as well as hosting his own weekly radio show “Love and Science“. So this guy knows what he’s talking about.
In the training, we covered a variety of topics including body language, story-telling and interview tips. But one of the best things about it was interacting with people who love science communication. Many scientists still hold onto a fear of presenting to the public, and worry about “dumbing down” their research or coming across as boring. But all the participants were obviously people who were passionate about their research, and it is hard not to get swept up in that kind of enthusiasm! So it was an awesome two days of being a science geek with other science geeks and discussing how to turn other people into science geeks too!
A sell-out event with over 200 people in attendance, the final was a bit more nerve-wracking than the state heat. But I always tell presenters that you just have to try changing the nervous energy into excited energy, so when I stepped up to the spotlight I tried to remember my own advice. Unfortunately, I still felt my performance lacked the right mix of enthusiasm – even as I was speaking, I knew it sounded over-rehersed. So although the crowd laughed in the right spots and seemed keen, I knew it wouldn’t be a winning presentation. But that’s okay – there will be others!
The overall winner of FameLab Australia 2015 was Dr Sandip Kamath, with Dr David Farmer coming a close second. Sandip is studying shellfish allergies at James Cook University, and spoke of his ambition to help people overcome these reactions – with the help of Mr Pinchy the lobster, his side-kick slash prop. David moved away from squishy brains and lasers to give a fascinating description of his research at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience, investigating the cough reflex and brainstem function. To see photos from the night, check out the British Council Flickr Page.
And, of course, we all had fun celebrating at the FameLab after-party! The official function was in the WA Maritime Museum, with some speeches and lots of well-wishers… But the scientists and British Council crew headed out into Fremantle to celebrate afterwards! After all, we’re twelve of the top young science communicators in the country!
So now, as Sandip flies to the UK to compete in the FameLab International Final at the Cheltenham Science Festival, for the rest of us it is back down to Earth. I’m back in a world of fieldwork, marking student assignments, and desperately trying to finish the first scientific paper of my PhD. I can see all my new sci comm pals talking about the same reality bump on Twitter. But to be honest, getting back to research is quite exciting enough… for now!