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Slam your way to Europe

Harini Barath

Science communication contest challenges researchers to share their research with a general audience — clearly, creatively and succinctly.

Can you explain your research to a person who is not an expert in your field, say a dancer or a policy maker, in 5 short minutes? That’s the challenge extended by the EURAXESS Science Slam India 2015. The 3rd edition of this science communication competition has just been announced by EURAXESS Links India in partnership with IndiaBioscience and the Indian Institute of Science—researchers can send in their video entries before September 20th, 2015 to qualify.

The focus of the Science Slam is on presenting concepts in an entertaining and engaging manner while being comprehensible and concise. Participants are invited to give live experiment demos, rap, tap dance or simply make a good old presentation that gets the message across. The audience is the final judge.

“Science communication is not an easy exercise, particularly when the complexity and the relevance of one’s own research needs to be explained to a lay person. Nevertheless, it is a very useful exercise because as you prepare to explain your work it gives you a sense of ownership and increases your confidence as you reach out to the public,” says Anand K Das, winner of Science Slam India 2014. Since its inception in Darmstadt, Germany in 2006 this format of science communication has been rapidly growing in popularity. It was brought to India by EURAXESS Links India as part of the EURAXESS Global Science Slam in 2013.

The EURAXESS Science Slam happens in two phases. In the “online” pre-selection phase, interested researchers are invited to submit a 5-minute video of their presentation idea. The video or a Dropbox link of the same can be sent to euraxessindiaslam@gmail.com. A 5-7 member review panel, which is a team of European and Indian research scientists and/or persons with expertise in communication, reviews the videos and selects 5 finalists. These five will receive a short training on science communication in Mumbai before they present before an audience at the “live” finals in Bangalore in October 2015. At this stage the audience selects the winner—the review panel steps in to decide only if the audience has no clear vote. The first prize is a free trip to Europe, which includes a visit to a European research institute of the winner’s choice, a 1-day science communication training workshop, a meeting with European Commission representatives in Brussels and time to catch up with the winners from the other five Global Science Slams—from North America, Brazil, China, Japan and ASEAN.

What makes a successful presentation? The review panel and the audience look for the same things: accessibility for non-experts, conceptualisation of the slam (how structured is it?), presentation style (how entertaining is it?) and originality (how creative is it?). “A presentation where the slammer is having fun and appears relaxed already has an edge,” says Ainhitze Bizkarralegorra Bravo, Country Representative, EURAXESS Links India.

Winners and participant’s from previous years have several useful tips to share: “Be spontaneous, confident and open to criticism,” advises Sreejata Gupta, a finalist in 2014. “Think wild and have fun! You may think some ideas are too absurd, but you should consider them,” enthused Shraddha Karve, Winner 2013. “Chalk out the key aims of your project and reduce to a maximum of three key ideas. Spend time thinking of ways to communicate these ideas in a simple and entertaining way without exaggerating the findings or being inaccurate,” says Anand K Das, whose potpourri presentation of drama, news reading, double role and caricature secured him the Slammer crown last year.

Participating in the contest is a tremendous confidence boost and a chance to meet other people from different fields. Many of the participants have also struck up friendships with Bizkarralegorra Bravo and benefited from her advise about opportunities and fellowships in Europe. The winners have made the most of their Euro trips. “I got a chance to go to Brussels and meet people. It was a very different crowd from regular conferences—science communicators, science policy makers. Interacting with them opened up new options career-wise,” said Karve. Das, who has just returned from his trip to Europe even secured a few postdoc offers in his kitty. “I could visit labs, meet scientists in person and get interviewed by them,” he said.

The audience is a big part of Science Slams. The format owes its popularity to the diverse crowd that is eager to learn about the researchers’ work. It is part of what makes the experience challenging and rewarding for the participants. “How science can be portrayed is not the same everywhere. For example, in India, many still perceive it as a rather serious matter,” says Bizkarralegorra Bravo. She hopes that the Science Slams throw some fun into the mix, both for scientists and the audience.

Written By

Physicist turned science writer. I enjoy writing about interdisciplinary research and interviewing scientists about science and careers in science.