On the way into the networking event, I spotted Jon Wood (@jonwoodscience) with his "I'm a Science Grrl - talk to me!" badge from Saturday's event, and immediately pinned one to my dress! I managed to meet a lot of new people at the event both from UoB and from other universities and companies. The event was also linked to it's own Padlet site, which enabled attendees to scroll through an online pinboard to see who else was there.
After the networking, there was a mass re-location to the panel discussion. The panel of Elizabeth McIntyre, Alice Roberts, Lucy Pilkington and Gia Milinovich were initially asked questions by the chair Caroline van de Bruf before the discussion was opened to the audience.
It was really interesting to hear from both the production/direction side and also the presenter side.
The presenter needs to be a knowledgeable specialist who can bring the passion for their subject across to a mainstream audience. New technological advances such as green screening and remote filming have enabled a wider range of experts to get involved, as there is no longer the need to to abandon your home and family for long filming hours for months at a time.
The number of women vs men on scientific TV programmes was also discussed in detail. Alice Roberts argued that there are a number of prominent female scientific presenters, but for some reason they don't get remembered! Figures have shown that the percentage of presenter led programmes with a "lead woman" are comparable to the percentage of female professors, so TV is not mis-representing society. However, all the panel agreed that TV has an important role, almost a responsibility, to provide role models that can encourage more women into science.
It was interesting to hear how scientific presenters don't arrive ready made! Some programme budgets now include a pre-production period for training in presentation skills for those who need it. However, we learnt that it takes a lot of time to develop the skills to become a good presenter, and those with experience found that teaching was a great help. The consensus was that, if you can teach a subject to a first year undergraduate whilst keeping them awake at 9am, you can present it to anyone!
The discussion then moved on to whether universities and employers could do more to help. The fact that the UK is the worst country in Europe for mat(/pat)ernity leave was shocking, as this means that there is less choice of who stays at home to look after children.
Once the discussion was opened to the audience, we heard more experiences of interaction with TV - both good and bad. As a student on a Doctoral Training Centre (with 4 years of funding and time for public engagement), I have had the opportunity for more training and experience compared to colleagues on more standard PhD programs.
The evening finished on an optimistic note, with the encouraging words that more science on TV is the future, and that women can (and will!) be a large part of that future.
I found both events really interesting, and the latter made me think about the wide range of opportunities available in scientific TV: not just being in front of the camera. It also gave me the chance to share tips and encouragement with other early career researchers who are in a similar position to me trying to balance a PhD with science communication.