Somehow, the crowd seemed familiar.
A group of nerds who practice science had assembled from all over south India at this lovely little building inside the state university of ‘God’s own country’, one fine morning in late November. Things started like it always does – a shy laugh here, a brief hello there, exchanging names and stories about how the flight was caught at the very last minute. It all fit the formula – the equations of the first meeting – with potential friendship looming in the air.
And all of this, because we, the gathered folks, love communicating science.
Pause for a moment if you need to. Go ahead if you want ask me, ‘I have heard of learning science, but communicating science? Is it even a thing?’
It is, yes, a much bigger thing than you think it to be. Something so big and ingrained in our mental image of a scientist that if I ask you to imagine one, more often than not you would immediately think of this wiry man in shabby clothes who solves intricate problems by scribbling in air as he walks, lost in his own thoughts – someone who would start spouting Euclidean algorithms if you ask him how much is 70 divided by 7. The first part isn’t mostly true. The last bit is bang on.
It is an inconvenient truth that most of us who do science at any level often find it hard to explain our work to someone outside our field. As the cycle of research lives and thrives mostly between jargon-heavy grants and heavily jargoned scientific papers, we often end up getting a degree in science with zero degrees of comfort in explaining what we do to, say, our grandmother. We stumble, fumble and mumble something that is either remotely scientific or remotely comprehensible.
Which is why when I first got to know about ‘FameLab’, the largest science communication competition in the world, I took a step back and looked at it hard and strong. On one hand, it was a platform for exploring one of the biggest challenges you have as a student of science. On the other hand, you know for sure that tackling it is not going to be an easy job. And it was an easy job by no means! Thirty of the best budding science communicators (selected from out of 150 applicants) had assembled for a three-day workshop on scientific communication organised by British Council, India. It was to be followed by the FameLab South India finals. Workshop sessions by the no-other-title-would-have-been-suitable-enough ‘Rock-star of Science Communication’ Prof. Iain Stewart were both the cake and the cherry on it. Iain, an incredibly nice person who’s been the face of science programs on BBC for more than a decade now, laid out the road-map to talking science simply as well as how to battle the roadblocks that you might face while doing so. A session on writing grants by Dr. Satish Khurana was an added bonus for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. To top it all off, Subhra Priyadarshini, the editor of Nature India, conducted an amazing hands-on session that gave us a brilliant insight into the lucrative career option of science journalism. Plus incredible hospitality by the British Council team made sure the event reached stupendous proportions.
Three days passed and the D-day arrived – the heats and finals of FameLab south zone. Amidst cheers and support from all of us, we took the stage one by one, and gave it our best shot.
And by then, the crowd was completely familiar.
We dispersed after a day, vowing to keep in touch, adding hugs to people and people to Whatsapp groups, sticking to newly found nicknames, cherishing memories, and we all took back with us polished, shiny pieces of the same dream that set us on this path.
A dream that promises a new breed of science communicators about to be born soon.
Dear Reader, watch out for us!
Submitted by Prabahan Chakraborty