The Worldcon is the world’s oldest science-fiction convention. A convention for sci-fi and fantasy lovers. There are several authors signing their books and various discussion panels on different thematic to talk about how sci-fi/fantasy influence our world/life and vice-versa.
This year it was the 75th Worldcon at Helsinki in Finland. Thousands of famous writers and sci-fi fanatics attend each year. For the last two years the Worldcon has invited young scientists (PhD student and postdoc level) to present their work to the public audience via a poster and a five minute presentation. I couldn’t miss this great opportunity to do some public engagement and I was really happy to be accepted among 15 others for the academic poster presentation session. The title of my talk was: The tale of the neuroscientist who modifies DNA of mice with viruses.
Many people helped me to prepare in the lead up to the event. Amy and our graphic designer Becca helped transform my scientific poster to a cartoon-style filled with quirky graphics and symbols. Additionally I got valuable feedback from non-biologist friends. Thanks Craig and Victoria, hopefully my poster was really clear and understandable!
Then the Worldcon75 started. I pinned my poster and came back on the Saturday for my five minute talk. I then stood next to my poster to discuss my research and answer questions. This Saturday was a great public engagement event. First, the talk, five minutes maximum. For this I decided not to use any slides or have supporting material owing to the short amount of time. I prepared well for my talk and hoped that this would be sufficient to clearly communicate my research. Despite it being stressful to talk in front of an audience, I saw that people were interested. I saw them nodding in agreement when I talked about health issues of shift-workers; surprised and amazed when I told them we can modify the DNA in the brains of mice using viruses; and I saw them engaged with my research work which made me really happy. I feel I succeeded to pass the knowledge of my research to a non-scientific audience. After the talk I got an interesting question related to translation of the work from mice to humans.
Moving to the poster area, I talked to different people. There was one lab director studying, like me, behavioral neuroscience. We talked about my research and mouse behaviour. He commented that he liked the last part of my poster “The mad scientist cliché”. He said it was important and great to mention that we are far from the cliché of the mad scientist. I talked to other biologists, not directly in my field but who know about some aspects of my work. For example, I spoke to a woman who was using viruses to study the auditory neuronal network. We were talking about using AAV virus in our respective research work. Other biologists were interested about the methodology of my work.
Others attending the event from a non-scientific background were also interested by my work. Some people asked me whether we can use gene editing in humans, how it would work, and what are the challenges. One person asked me about the ethics of using laboratory animal as this was mentioned a couple of times on the poster. Others were just curious and happy to learn more in general about my research. One student told me they would love to follow a science career. I recognised her English accent invited her to shadow me in the lab and do some experiments to discover the field of neuroscience. Unfortunately she lives far from our lab but I told her to get in touch with biology labs closer to her, I am sure they will also be happy to welcome her for few days.
It was great to talk to a variety of people, from both scientists in my field to non-scientists. I was happy to see curiosity and have a range of discussions with the Worldcon75 attendees. On top of that I was surprised and very pleased to win the academic poster presentation judged by the panel of the Worldcon75 and sponsored by the BWAWA (Baltimore-Washington Area Worldcon Association). It was really amazing, the panel judged the poster as well as the presentation. I am so happy about this award and to have been part of the Worldcon75.
To finish, I would like to thank the Worldcon75 for accepting my abstract and judging me the winner of the academic poster presentation. I would like to thank again Amy, Rebecca, Craig and Victoria. Without them my poster would never have been as good. Last but not the least; I would like to thank the MRC public engagement for their funding.