Participants of the first Science Slam in Leeds, 18 March 2015
The University of Leeds held an inaugural Science Slam as part of the Leeds Festival of Science 2015, culminating in a competitive show at The Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds on Wednesday 18 March 2015. Science undergraduates teamed up with performing arts school students to be trained by science communication experts. They developed short pieces about the human body, which they then performed to an 80-strong public crowd. The project was funded by the Wellcome Trust ISSF fund and an Outreach grant from The Physiological Society. It received overwhelmingly positive feedback by our audience, who were all interested in attending a similar event in the future.
Members of the co-ordinating team had been involved with traditional slams in the past. A science slam is a method of science communication where researchers can present short talks on their work in an engaging and out-of-the-box way. These are normally done through the medium of spoken word poetry, where researchers/performers present their own work on a given topic. Speakers aren’t allowed to use PowerPoint presentations in order to avoid lecture style shows and a time limit is usually given. They showcase their pieces, perform them on stage and an audience votes on a winner. The STEM team at the University of Leeds worked together with Charlotte Haigh, an academic in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, to co-ordinate the project and recruit science undergraduates. Selected students from Cathedral Academy Performing Arts (CAPA), Wakefield, were selected to form teams with these undergraduates. Students at CAPA have extensive experience of working with older students and take part in many theatrical productions whilst following their enriched performance curriculum at the school. The team also worked with Helen Bamber and Sarah Farrar, staff from CAPA who supported the students. Helen provides drama provision at the school and was on hand at rehearsals and training sessions to ensure all the performances were of a very high standard.
Teams also received professional training from science communication and performance experts as most of the undergraduates had no previous experience of working on theatrical productions.
Sam Illingworth, a lecturer on Science Communication from Manchester Metropolitan University, ran the first two facilitation sessions. In these sessions, the teams learnt about the three most important aspects of communication and performance: the narrative, the audience and the self.
Lewis Hou delivered the next training session and encouraged the teams to derive three main learning points from their performances. The teams picked the most important take-home messages they wanted to convey to the audience and developed these to be more prominent in their pieces.
The final training session was delivered by Victoria Pritchard, a professional actress, communication trainer and voice coach at production company Screenhouse, who recorded the whole show, which can be found on the ‘STEM at Leeds’ YouTube channel. All the trainers were thoroughly impressed with the growth and development each student made on their performance skills throughout the project and the students hugely benefited from the cross-pollination of mixing the sciences and arts in their teams.
Due to its success, the science slam will be run again in next year’s Leeds Festival of Science working with the CAPA students but perhaps involving other local schools in a head to head competition!
Dr Charlotte Haigh, University of Leeds (This article was published in Physiology News 99)
If you’d like to run your own Science Slam or have another idea for engaging schools and the public with physiology, you can apply for an Outreach grant of up to £1,000 to support your activity. For more details, please visit: www.physoc.org/grants