Opportunity knocks for Woman scientists: maximise your voice

By Karen Halsall (PhD Researcher in Geography and Planning)

Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE

Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the new presenter of the Sky at Night

For me, giving presentations is a nerve-racking experience. Although it could be worse, according to Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the new presenter of the Sky at Night, En Hudu Anan, the first woman Astronomer and Babylonian High Priestess had to wear a beard when presenting her studies on the stars so that she looked more like a man. Personally, I am always keen to improve my presentation skills and have often resorted to hiding behind rustling papers and a plethora of PowerPoint slides but perhaps a beard would be one step too far! So I was very pleased to receive a grant from Athena Swan (Charter for women in science: Recognising commitment to advancing woman’s careers in STEMM academia http://www.athenaswan.org.uk) to attend a one day course led by Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Screenhouse Film Company.

The day was in two sections; the morning was spent listening to Maggie and the producer presenting very useful and insightful information into some of the pitfalls and highlights of ‘being on the telly’ with clips of various science experts on news programmes. We also heard that women are currently being sought after by journalists to comment on topical science stories. One of the delegates at the course said she was already promoting herself in this way to the chagrin of her colleagues as she was away from her desk so much! During the afternoon, we were filmed 3 times presenting a 90 second story of our own choosing – no script mostly off the cuff talking. We got feedback after each review on how to improve speech pace, energy and non-verbal skills. This was very useful. I practiced controlling the talk by leaving a few seconds silence between sections (also a useful opportunity to breathe). We talked about the merits of gesticulating and I found that it’s OK to let your arms/hands join in.

So why, you may be asking, is this women only course necessary? Recent research has highlighted that many young female students are not choosing science subjects at A Level. Maggie said “This is because there can be a lack of female role models in schools and that some female students have misconceptions about science being for people who are socially inept”. (Maggie works freelance as a Science Communicator promoting science in schools). So this course was set up to encourage/train more female scientists to stick their head above the parapet and discuss their newsworthy scientific research in a way that is understandable to non-experts.

The day encouraged us to look for opportunities to become more media savvy. For example; by presenting at science fairs, writing press releases and writing blogs (e.g. www.thewomensroom.org.uk/ and www.hersay.co.uk). We gained an insight into the work of a currently sought after scientific expert, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and I picked up some useful tips that will (hopefully) improve my presentations. So it was all together a useful day that I would recommend to other women. It has certainly encouraged me to look out for opportunities to share my research with a wider audience and the value of being skilled in interpreting and communicating complex scientific concepts to non-experts; so thank you Athena Swan! .

Athena Swan (Charter for woman in science: Recognising commitment to advancing woman’s careers in STEMM academia) supported me by paying for registration and travel through a competitive application. Are you already media savvy? If you are not like Professor Alan King and more like Maggie in this News Night clip then now is the time to be an opportunist!

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