Beforehand, she had never imagined that she would be so involved in science communication as a researcher. But she had only just started her PhD project or she was already on a stage explaining her research to a large audience. 'My supervisor signed me up early on for Faces of Science and from there I was asked to participate in the Science battle for PhD students. I presented my research in ten minutes, all by myself on a big stage, with no handhold of powerpoint slides. I found that very exciting.'
From then on, requests kept coming and the researcher stood at all kinds of events: from public lectures to food markets and festivals such as Mundial, the Weekend of Science and Lowlands. Later, the University of the Netherlands recorded a video with her. 'From a lay audience you get very different questions than from scientists, louder too, questions like: 'Should tax money go to this? People often see less value in alpha research than in medical research, for example. It was great fun that people were often convinced by the end of my talk, for instance when I had told them how my research can improve communication or develop hearing tests. I also explained how we understand each other better in crowded environments using hand gestures. People in festival situations could immediately take those insights into practice.
Sometimes too little time
Although I didn't plan to perform at festivals beforehand, I do think it suits me well. I always liked presenting, so this was a great opportunity to grow in that. I now also encourage my PhD students to do this kind of thing, because it teaches you how to make a compelling story of your research. Of course, not everyone needs to go on a stage, but if you want to, there are plenty of opportunities. Discuss it with your supervisor, who often gets a lot of requests to give talks and can then put you forward from time to time. And if you have interesting new research, always inform the science communication department.
Of course, it does take a lot of time, which I sometimes found difficult. Sometimes, for instance, I did a theatre performance in Drenthe in the evening and didn't get home until the middle of the night. And I couldn't always just spend a day working on a blog, because of course I had to write a dissertation. Nowadays, fortunately, PhD students do get more room for that kind of thing.
Thanks a lot
But in the end, I benefited a lot. Once you have given such public lectures, you are asked for more and more. I regularly appeared on the radio and the more I was heard there, the more requests I received. I also built up a large network. During these science battles I met many other PhD students, which in turn led to collaborations. Such a network is also useful if, for example, you want someone from another field to look at your research proposal. When grants are awarded, it also counts what you have done in terms of outreach. Of course, I'm not sure if I owe later research funding to my public appearances, but the publicity I gained from it surely helped.'