Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Inner Army Crept Up On Me

Tonight saw my maiden voyage into the world of giving public engagement talks about science. It came as a particular surprise because I thought I was just the delivery boy.

The event was The Inner Army, an hour of immunological discussion at the CheltenhamScience Festival, with Professors Susan Lea and Clare Bryant presenting.

I'd been approached by the British Society of Immunology (BSI) about perhaps 3D printing some immune molecules for the talk, after seeing some of my previous models. I'm a big public engagement proponent, and a big fan of the festival, having blogged about it for my university in the first year of my PhD, so I leapt at the chance to help out*. Plus it gave me a nice chance to show off the demonstrative use of my models (and help justify the time I've spent making them!).

Little did I know that on arrival the chair for the event, the illustrious Vivienne Parry (who was originally an immunologist herself) decided to get hold of an extra chair and mic and throw me up on stage as well!

It was – I think – a fun and informative event. However, I can take no credit for any of it (except for most of the models): I choked! Give me small numbers of people and I'll happily ramble on about adaptive immunity to the cows come home. Sit me down next to two prominent professors in front of ninety people and ask me to talk about structural innate immunity and it turns out I get a bit tongue-tied. Live and learn!

I was very happy to see how involved the audience seemed to be with the models (particularly the first row, which seemed to be largely composed of BSI and British Crystallographic Association (BCA) members), which was very gratifying. It was also lovely to see the general public engaging with immunology in person, which isn't something I get to see on a daily basis.

For the moment I'd be lying if I said I wasn't more comfortable on the other side of the spotlights blogging about the event (which I suppose is what I'm doing now). This isn't something that comes naturally to me, or (I suspect) a lot of science post-graduates; it just isn't a skill we get to practise much in our day-to-day workings.

However, engaging with the public remains an important task for scientists, both to justify the tax-payer money we spend and to share the love of uncovering the secrets of the universe with fellow curious minds, so I shall definitely try again. Next time though, I plan to stick to TCRs.

* NB I plan to share photos of the models I made for the speakers in a future post, but as the models dispersed to the relevant speakers after the talk I have to dig them