What if you could combine your passion with work? For Stacy Phillips (@Shtacy_Phillips), this meant doing a CENTA placement on science communication. Stacy is a 4th year PhD student at the Open University, and shares her placement experience here with us.
Throughout my PhD I have been lucky enough to have lots of opportunities to hone my science communication skills; I’ve taken part in the Engaging Research workshop, published educational material online, I’ve even co-created my own science podcast! It’s something that I’ve found a real passion for, and I’ve managed to carve out a little a bit of a niche in this field too…Lego! By using Lego photography and stop motion animation I have been able to communicate my research in a fun and engaging way, and to all sorts of different audiences. So, when the opportunity arose to do my CENTA placement at a big organisation who needed my communication skills and loved the idea of Lego, I jumped at it!
In December 2019 I spent two weeks working with the Environment Agency, writing and producing a video that shared and celebrated their ongoing research into environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA techniques are really important for ecological monitoring, and the Environment Agency (EA) is at the forefront of this type of work. Now, I am not an ecologist nor a biologist (I’m a geologist who shoots lasers at rocks), so I know nothing about the ins and outs of this type of science, but that just made the challenge all the more fun! It meant that I was able to test my communication skills by applying them to a topic that isn’t my specialism. And it meant that I got to work with scientists whom I would’ve never met otherwise.
I was working primarily under the guidance of Megan Gawith and research scientist Kerry Walsh. I spent some of my two weeks at the EA office in Wallingford where I developed the script for the video together with Megan and Kerry, checking that the science was being represented correctly, and designing a storyboard of my ideas. It didn’t take much time for news to spread around the office about the project I was working on. I got lots of excited people coming over to my desk to tell me about how much they love Lego, and if I could do their department a video too! I was also able to visit the EA office in Bristol, which allowed me to find out even more about how the EA operates, and to meet lots of wonderful people from every corner of the organisation!
After we had planned out the video in meticulous detail and ordered the last-minute bricks that I needed to fulfil my vision, it was time to make it a reality. I stuck my storyboard to the wall of my bedroom back in Milton Keynes, organised my Lego and got to shooting. Piece by piece, bricks and minifigures were painstakingly moved bit by bit, with over 1000 photos being taken in the process. Rough cuts were assembled to see how it looked, some scenes reshot to make them better, and the audio recorded under a blanket in my bathroom. Then came the task of editing everything together, including adding some special effects in post-production. Eventually everything came together and now the “What Lives Below” video has finally been published! It will hopefully be used by the EA to communicate the important science they do to a wide variety of audiences, including stakeholders, schools and the public.
I thoroughly enjoyed my placement at the EA, and a big thanks goes to everyone who was so lovely to me in both the Wallingford and Bristol offices. And thanks to CENTA for approving my placement; who knew playing with Lego could count as work, eh?