The 2017 PhD summer school

Team TeaSe. Copyright Andrew Martin.
The Attenborough Studio. Copyright Andrew Martin.

I can't believe how quickly our second SoS MinErals summer school has come around! After the great success of our first summer school at Leicester, spirits were high for our second summer school hosted at the Natural History Museum (NHM), London. The theme of this summer school was communicating science. We had an action packed week covering everything from writing a press release to app development.

The week kicked off on Monday morning with a visit from citizen science. This is something I knew existed but knew very little about. Basically citizen science, or crowd science, gives the general public of all ages the chance to participate and contribute to science. It was great to be shown and talked through the different types of tasks available for the public to engage in such as identifying galaxy shapes from photos or identifying wildlife from camera traps. It was also excellent to see how citizen science is really helping the NHM keep up to date with technology; in one program your task was to digitise hand written labels.

After lunch we headed to the Attenborough Studio, an in-house amphitheatre for scientist to present their work. The focus of this session was to learn how to effectively communicate our science to the public and really drum in how to engage with a varied audience. It was an excellent, fun afternoon. The afternoon culminated in a role play presentation. In pairs (one presenting, one interviewing) we had 2 minutes to present our research using a few images on the screen. Collectively the majority of us felt that this would be something we would love to do in real life to a live audience, it was a very insightful afternoon.

In the evening we had a presentation from renowned science author Richard Fortey. It was great to hear about the process of publishing and book writing from someone with such great experience. Richards's top tip was regardless of your motivation force yourself to write at least 500 words a day!

On Tuesday we visited Diamond Light Source which you can read about on Katie McFall's blog

The meteorite collection. Copyright Andrew Martin.

We kicked off Wednesday morning with a session on outreach. It was really good to be reminded of the resources we have available in the UK at various levels to engage with all members of society from the public all the way up to members of parliament. We had talks from GeoBus; an organisation which promotes science, specifically geology within schools. It was encouraging to hear that GeoBus plan to expand into London but at the same time disappointing that there aren't more organisations like this! Outreach is something I feel is very important and I enjoy doing, it's nice to see programs like GeoBus actively promoting earth science.

The afternoon was focused on app development. I will be honest, app development is something I'd given very little thought to. However everyone has a smart phone these days so what better way to communicate with the public than through an app? We were given an example app developed by the NHM- the Fossil Explorer app. After being talked through the app we were given the task of designing our own. The key points raised were target audience, purpose of the app and how you judge its success using various metrics. Most groups focused on sustainability and material intensity use. Our group came up with the name "Earthly" for our app. Our app was a calorie counter but for your metals and CO2 footprint!

To finish off the evening we had a presentation from the Nicola Cook, Head of Science and Development for the BBC. It was a rare glimpse into the world behind some of our favourite TV shows. We were explained the process behind how some of the science programs are made. In general programs start on BBC4 and need to be 'diluted' to become main stream and aired on BBC1.

Thursday was the last official day of the SoS summer school before the investigators meeting. The day started with a course on how to develop a museum exhibition. Again this is something I'd never thought about but it was very insightful to learn how to draw people in. We started with a talk on current exhibitions at the NHM and what they did to engage with the public. The key message from this session was to tell a story with a clear message with the exhibition; you must clearly lead people through to hold their interest. We then split into groups and developed our own exhibition. The results were varied from sea floor mining to the different scales used in science. We then voted on our favourite exhibition plan, the winner (no surprise) was the exhibit that contained a giant squid tank!

Pico presentation. Copyright Xinjin Liang.
The gang at dinner. Copyright Xinjin Liang.

In the afternoon we re-joined the investigators for our PICO type presentations. These were two minute presentations that summarised our most recent research highlights with the aim to entice people to come and look at our posters. It was great to see the progress and great diversity in research of my fellow PhD students. I especially enjoyed learning about the microbial work within the consortium. After the presentation we headed to the poster session.

The investigators meeting took place Friday morning. It was interesting to hear all the great work going on within the different research themes: TeaSe, SoS Rare, COG3 and MarineE-tech. A highlight for me was the talk given by Bramley Murton, Project Leader of the MarineE-tech project, on mining the seafloor. It was very captivating and good to see so much research going into a very sensitive subject to ensure the viability and environmental sustainability of seafloor mining if it is to proceed in the future.

I would like to sincerely thank on behalf of all the PhD students and early career scientists Rachel Norman, Paul Schofield, Richard Herrington, Agnieska Dybowska, Ellie Evans and all the other staff and guest speakers for organising, hosting and presenting at the SoS summer school. It was an excellent week on a subject so key to making a good scientist! You might be the best, smartest researcher in the world but if you can't communicate your science what's the point!?

Andrew Martin, July 2017