There have been a few changes around here lately. Having more or less come to the end of my PhD, I decided to change tack, moving away from research and towards science communication. I am now the ‘Quantum Materials Outreach Officer’ for Oxford Physics, which has so far mainly entailed playing with liquid nitrogen and superconductors in front of audiences – dream job!
To kick-start my new career, I am spending this week at the ‘BIG Event 2017’ in Newcastle. I haven’t yet worked out what ‘BIG’ stands for, but it is a STEM communicators network – a group of people who work on outreach, demonstrations, shows, events etc. around Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – the ‘STEM’ subjects. The BIG Event is the group’s annual meeting to share ideas, thoughts and best practice, and to ‘network’. It’s going to be an amazing chance to get to know people in my newly-adopted field, to find inspiring ideas and to really immerse myself in my new role.
Yesterday was a travelling day, with four-plus hours on the train from Oxford. I arrived in beautiful sunshine and had a very short walk to the hotel, which is also right next to the venue for the meeting. We’re going to be at the ‘Centre for Life’, which seems to be a science museum-cum-conference venue-cum-planetarium-cum-restaurant area-cum-research centre. The outside says ‘University of Newcastle’ and ‘NHS’, but there is also a massive picture of a dinosaur… There should at least be plenty of chances to explore it over the coming days.
I’ve started to make a few connections already. Sian, who is in charge of all of the Oxford Physics outreach, put me in touch with a couple of people from ‘SEPnet‘, another communicators network, though one focussed on physics. Armed with a Twitter-stolen selfie, I headed out to find Jen, an astrophysicist and science communicator from Portsmouth. I say ‘headed out’ – we’re in the same hotel, so I went down to the lobby where she was waiting. We did then head into downtown Newcastle, which I am told has some of the best nightlife in Europe… Perhaps more to my taste, we struck out for The Stand Comedy Club, which was hosting a Newcastle Bright Club evening. Bright Club is a comedy event where academics are invited to create a stand-up set around their work and research. I took part in Bright Club Oxford a few months back, so I could well and truly sympathise when the first performer started to show his nerves on stage. It was a great evening, lots of fun, and I learned a little more science along the way!
We were joined at the hotel for a final drink by Dom, who is the director of outreach at SEPnet. I had in fact met Dom before, but under rather different circumstances: he had interviewed me for the Quantum Materials outreach officer job! With the stakes somewhat lower in this encounter, it was great to relax and get to know the two of them – and to start to understand a bit more about what I’m letting myself in for.
The conference begins officially in a couple of hours with a ‘speed networking’ event. We’re planning to visit the Centre for Life for a bit first, to see whether the enormous dinosaur picture can live up to its promises. I’ll keep you posted…