I was honoured to be awarded the 2018 Charles Darwin Lecture at the British Science Festival in Hull. I recently attended the festival and gave my lecture, in this post, I wanted to reflect on the experience and share my top tips for anyone thinking of applying next year.
I have to admit, upon receiving the email to say that I had been awarded the lecture, I was shocked that a talk on Huntington’s disease had been selected. The Charles Darwin Award Lecture (not to be confused with the Darwin Awards) focuses specifically on research into Agricultural, Biological and Medical Sciences and although Huntington’s disease clearly falls under this category, it is a rare disease that unfortunately is still associated with stigma. Therefore, as part of my lecture I wanted to raise awareness and understanding of Huntington’s disease among the public audience attending the festival.
Although I have previously given a fair few talks about my research to the general public, this one seemed a little bit different. Being awarded a prize lecture filled me with excitement, although there was definitely pressure and apprehension, after all a prize lecture should be worthy of the title!
In preparation, I was invited to attend a training day in London at British Science Association HQ. Although we had been in e-mail contact, it was great to be able to finally meet my fellow award lecturers. Each year seven are selected in a range of different award categories ranging from social sciences to mathematics and natural sciences to engineering. After some brief introductions what struck me most was that everyone was lovely, their research was all individually brilliant and yet incredibly varied.
We were all welcomed into the Award Lecture Family and perhaps I didn’t realise it at the time, but this group of people really would become like a big bubbly and friendly family. We were fortunate to receive two days of excellent presentation training from Alan Barker, refining our skills and planning the format of our lectures. I thought I knew a lot about public speaking, but this session really got me thinking of ways to improve ahead of the big day.
After leaving London, I felt prepared to work on my presentation. Of course then work got in the way and working on my talk fell to the bottom of my to do list! But before I knew it the Science Festival was upon me and I was on the train to Hull. I hadn’t realised how long the train journey from Cardiff to Hull would be, but cancellations, delays and livestock on the train lines certainly gave me adequate time to run through my talk.
Arriving in Hull gave me an opportunity to catch up with everyone and share our nerves and apprehensions about our looming lectures. Offers of help, practice runs and support were plentiful and it was wonderful to see friendly faces in the audience of each of our lectures.
Before I knew it, it was my turn, the big day of my lecture had come. I had a dress specially commissioned to mark the occasion! It was made from microscope pictures of brain cells containing the protein that causes Huntington’s disease. The dress was all possible thanks to Debbie Syrop who made the dress herself, it was absolutely incredible and I will cherish it forever. Turns out brain cells can be pretty beautiful! Despite my lovely dress I was nervous, but excited to deliver my lecture and ably assisted and set up my the great festival assistants who went above and to help all of the speakers.
Before I knew it I was off and delivering my talk in front of the packed out audience which was a mix of the general public, school children and patients. The timeless expression ‘time flies when you are having fun’ sums up the experience of my lecture. I was reassured and delighted to receive such informed questions from the audience at the end of my lecture as well as several e-mails from people afterwards. If you weren’t able to make it you can find a review of my lecture here.
Once I had delivered my lecture I could relax and enjoy the fantastic festival programme. From listening to the sounds trees make, to relevant and important discussions on male suicide, the diversity of the programme reflected the abundance of brilliant science that we have in Britain and beyond.
But the main thing that I will take away from my experience is joining the Award Lecture Family. While we are dotted around the UK, our WhatsApp group means that we can regularly keep in touch. There is a real sense of community in this group of early career researchers who are working hard to make the world a better place, I could not have met better people and I am now delighted to call them my friends.
So, if you are thinking of submitting a nomination for an award lecture at the British Science Festival in 2019, DO IT, and if you hadn’t thought of submitting a nomination yet, then get involved! It is something that I would highly recommend, after all, you have to be in it to win it.