My FameLab India journey

Written by Rini Sharon, FameLab India Runner Up

“This is the pre-boarding call for passengers booked on flight AI901 to Chennai. Please proceed to gate number 3”, went the airport announcement as I sat there taking a stroll down the amnesia lane.

It all started as I set out on a beautiful trip to God’s own country, curious as I’ve always been, with a million dollar question in mind – “What does it mean to be a science communicator?” Surrounded by friends from various scientific backgrounds flooded with the passion to tell the world about their world of science, loaded with back to back sessions on the hows and whys of science communication, engaged in never-ending technical debates and made to feel at home by our fellow hosts, my over-enthusiastic mind nearly forgot that I was there to attend a competition. A competition that changed the way I viewed science, a competition that gave birth to the Science communicator in me- FAMELAB.

The South India Regional FameLab experienced a hard and healthy competition between researchers from diverse domains. None of the participants failed to charm us with their expertise and their exhibition of scientific skills. After many 3-minute bursts of breathtaking awesomeness, 3 of us were lucky enough to be chosen to represent South India in the Nationals. We stood there, one hand holding our trophies and the other holding our famelab buddies whose faces lit with a proud smile. Anxious and excited, nervous yet delighted we eagerly awaited our next course of expedition- Pune…

Fresh faces, new trainers, unfamiliar hosts and increased competition met us at Pune. What seemed like a sober sabbatical in the scenic campus of IISER Pune, turned out to contain two days of rigorous schooling, guidance and practice to equip us all for the FAMELAB India Nationals. The training which was conducted by the too-handsome-to-be-true Mr. Carl Byrne, included various fun yet wisdom imparting sessions like interview techniques, storytelling, taboo games and physical exercises ;-) . The merry-making came to a halt as the national finals neared. Anyone who decided to walk across the 2nd floor corridor of IISER Guesthouse would be stuck with the infectious competitive spirit of the participants and would witness cacophonous practices, heavy nail-biting and people with notepads pacing up and down the corridor. With the media coverage, live streaming, stage practices and online voting, the Famelab national finals much resembled a reality show. A little dance , some poetry, a lot of drama, some magic, everything from bursting balloons to going bald was witnessed on stage- all for one thing – communicating science! The fierce competition was finally lulled as they announced the 3 blessed scientists from India who would get the opportunity to experience the Cheltenham Science Festival in person.

Being a person who has never stepped out of India, I was extremely excited, elated and thrilled at the thought of being a part of an international science festival. Although the preparation for the trip was a painful process, with the leave request being rejected and the VISA being refused, there was enormous amount of support and help from the British Council South India that made this trip possible for me. Looking back now, it might just seem like another laughable experience, but no words could express my gratitude to British Council South India. As I got my VISA the penultimate day of departure, I sighed a breath of relief and set out on my journey to Cheltenham.

Cheltenham – amazing weather, amazing town, amazing people, not-so-amazing food! :-P The first few days sped past as we engaged with science communicators from 31 different countries, got acquainted with their language and culture, exchanged souvenirs and rendezvoused with many field experts who presented their insights about multifarious issues in the scientific terrain. It blows my mind away as to how people from across the nations worldwide could get along so easily just because they share a common passion – science. A lot of science was doing the rounds but everyone lay keenly in wait for the International finals!

The day arrives, and Mayur Bonkile, the Indian representative for FameLab had gone through umpteen practice sessions with myself and Sumeet. We sat ourselves down in the dim lit auditorium taking selfies with our newly made friends, chit chatting and betting about which country would win until we were silenced by the legendary FameLab tune which marked the grand commencement of FameLab International Finale 2017. Without exception, the finalists held the audience spellbound by their enchanting and magnetic performances and gave the judges a hard time deciding who would own the FameLab champion title. The South African contestant won a special place in everyone’s heart as she wiggled and hummed spreading her contagious humor among the audience and won both the audience vote and the FameLab International Champion 2017 title.

Farewells bid, bags packed, skills learnt, memories made. Above all, a life made richer by new found friends…

Lost in thought, I was awakened by the familiar voice, “This is the final boarding call for passengers booked on flight AI901 to Chennai. Please proceed to gate number 3 immediately”!

I make my way back home pondering about my million dollar question – “What does it mean to be a science communicator?”

I know the answer because I am one now.

Thanks to FameLab – the name that spells science in a never-more-fun fashion.

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