Are you thinking about applying to take part in the Royal Society Summer Exhibition 2020?
Hear from Cinzia Imberti from the Sadler Group, Chemistry department who exhibited at the 2019 showcase. She has compiled a blog post of 15 fantastic tips for anyone looking to apply in 2020.
Applications to exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition this year close on Tuesday 10th September at 3pm.
You can find everything you need to know about applying here as well as further guidance.
On Monday the 8th of July, myself and my colleagues from the Sadler group (Department of Chemistry) spent the whole morning dismantling the stand that saw us busy for all the previous week at the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition in London, and for many months before while planning and preparing for the same event.
The Summer Science exhibition is a major scientific festival taking place every year at the Royal Society, attracting over 13,000 visitors and displaying more than 20 stalls featuring cutting-edge science from selected UK universities and research institutes. Our group, and our collaborators from Oxford and Surrey (plus special guests from Bradford and even Stellenbosch in South Africa) had been presenting stall number 1: “In your element, a periodic table for life” and on that morning was finally time to pack our things and come back to Warwick.
We were extremely happy and excited with the feedback we received about our exhibit, but also extremely tired, and it safe to say we felt almost jet-lagged for all the following week. Would we do it again? Surely (because it was so much fun!), but in hindsight it would have been helpful to have a chat with exhibitors from previous years before we embarked on the project to have a clearer idea of what to expect.
So here are my 15 tips for any wannabe exhibitor at the Summer Science exhibition 2020 directly from my experience and divided according to the different phases of the process
- Start from what you are passionate about
Where do you start from in your application? Simple! From the science you are most passionate about, it can be a new promising line of research in your lab, or a more general topic in your field, but it has to be something close to cutting-edge research that makes your eyes light up.
- Think about your messages
What do you want visitors to get out of your exhibit? Have key messages very clear in your mind already in this stage to make sure these are conveyed effectively in your activities.
- Use your application to start your planning
It is never too early to start planning. It is useful to have already an idea of what your activities will be. If you can start checking for feasibility and getting feedback from the organisers at this early stage you are on a very good track to put up a successful exhibit!
- Plan in advance.
There are many months sitting between the acceptance of your application and the exhibit itself, but do not fool yourself as time will fly! Start working on your exhibit (ordering things you may need, building mock-ups of your activities and, importantly, approaching funding bodies for money to actually build your stand!) as much as possible and as soon as you can to avoid a last minute rush.
- From brainstorming to narrowing down
You can start with lots of ideas, and that’s good because it means you have a wide choice, but as the weeks go by, you need to narrow them down to a few to make sure they do not end up diluting your message. Test your ideas with team members and other colleagues and select the 2-3 best ideas to build your main activities on.
- Diversify for different types of people
At you exhibit you will meet a wide range of people, from high school students who may want to study your discipline in Uni, to world-class scientists, to 4 to 94+ year-olds who do not yet know, or have forgotten, what science is all about! Make sure that your activities can give something to each of these people! Think about having different layers of complexity in your activity so it can be a fun and useful experience for all your visitors.
- Keep it organised
Although you will need a lot of help to staff your stall (more in tip number 11), and you may want to involve more people in the brainstorming process, once you have defined what your activities are keep it as organised as possible. Have 1-2 people responsible for each activity, 1-2 for branding of the stand, 2 for looking for funding and, importantly, someone responsible for communicating with all of them and can keep everything under control, from start to finish.
- Have a constant dialogue with RS people
During the whole preparation process you will have several meeting/skype calls with the Royal Society organisers. Although it will feel sometimes uncomfortable to admit that – no, you have not yet built a mock-up of your activity- , please be as honest with them as possible, and try to use these opportunities to ask questions and feedback on how you are doing. They have been there before, and many times! So they are the people that can help you in making sure your stand is a success!
- Try out your activities and be prepared to change them
Participating in small-scale public engagement events to try out one of more of your activities and receive feedback from the public is a great idea, but can be tricky if you are presenting your activity for the first time. A good alternative could be to engage with students from your courses or visitors to open days at your universities, or if this is not possible simply with colleagues that come from a different field, indeed any friends or relatives. If an activity does not work with the public, be prepared to let it go, even if it means revolutionising your narrative!
- Make sure you have back up plans
No matter how perfect your plan and preparation are, still things can go wrong. Some activities will stop working half-way through your exhibit, some will get damaged during transport and never work at all. So you will need back up plans to make sure you are prepared for the worse. Having a simple activities plan (in our case it was some molecular models made with plastic balls that we could use to describe the structure and functioning of our anticancer agents) can really save the day during the exhibit.
- Get as much help as possible
During the exhibit you will need as many hands as possible to make sure the stand is always staffed enough. 4 people are ok for most of the week days, but the weekend will need at least 6 people on the stand at any time (so plan to have 7-8 people available) and the late evening days will be crazy busy so you just gather as many volunteers as you can and brace yourself for the crowd! Overall, taking into account that no-one wants to spend an entire week on the stand (you may think you want to, but believe me, you don’t! see tip 12) you will need at least 20 volunteers available at different times over the whole week, but 25-30 will allow for a more relaxed rota.
- You are not super man- you need breaks
Talking about the ROTA, you definitely need one to organise your volunteers. Divide the day in shifts (morning, afternoon, evening), assign people to them and make sure they do leave when they are supposed to. It is very easy to get excited and decide you’ll just stay there another 5 minutes that become 3 hours! I did it on the first day and as a result I did not have any voice left on the second. Remember staffing the stand is great but extremely demanding and unless you are super(wo)man (spoiler: you are not!) you will need time away from it.
- Do not panic!
Sometime things don’t go as planned: a visitor is upset, an activity breaks in the middle of your spiel, or simply someone will openly criticise your stand! In any case do not panic, things like this happen all the time, and there’s no way you can avoid it. Just keep it professional and polite, apologies for the inconvenience if necessary (and remove the activity form the table if it can’t be fixed), then move on to the next interaction.
- Keep it simple
Whatever your activities are keep them simple and concise. An average visit to your stand will last around 3-5 minutes (although I can assure you that some will last much longer!) You want to have simple activities that can be performed by your visitors (alone or with your help) in that time. Unless the person specifically asks for it, do not launch in lengthy and detailed explanations of your science - no one is interested in that!
I found explaining my science to the public incredibly rewarding from a professional and personal level. Probably the most important advice I can give you is this: just relax and enjoy your time at the exhibit, it will be a life-changing experience.
The Public Engagement team are here if you would like any internal support with your application - head over to our weekly drop in 1-3pm in the University House Atrium or contact email@example.com