Ivayla Sopotenska, a food engineer, science journalist and FameLab Bulgaria finalist 2014 and 2016, is grateful to have found the path that she’s on – in part thanks to her involvement in the global science communication competition.
‘For me, one of the most important things about FameLab is that you meet people who share the idea that science is something important in their lives – even if they’re not from the same field as you.’
Ivayla first entered FameLab Bulgaria in 2014, reaching the national finals – and making lasting connections with fellow FameLabbers and the British Council Bulgaria team in the process.
After completing her master’s degree in fermented products at university, Ivayla initially began working in an industry unconnected to her studies. But she often reflected on her FameLab experience and the inspiring conversations she had, in particular with the British Council Bulgaria country director and a FameLabber with whom she remained in close contact.
Motivated by their encouragement and words, Ivayla decided to return to science, and to pursue a PhD in food engineering. And in 2016 she decided to enter FameLab again: ‘These two people gave me back hope, and showed me that FameLab is something that is definitely worth doing. FameLab really did bring me back to science,’ she reflects.
Ivayla’s research is focused on gluten intolerance and deals with an everyday problem for affected people, and she is exploring the ways we can make edible gluten-free bread, biscuits and other flour-based food.
FameLab: an interactive training ground
A key aspect of FameLab is the learning experience it offers all participants. And for Ivayla, one of her highlights of the experience was the science communication masterclass led by UK science communication trainer, Frank Burnett.
‘It was an amazing experience – something I'd never seen or done before,’ she enthuses. ‘I hadn't thought before about taking a different approach depending on the audience type’.
Ivayla engaged with the interactive style of the workshop, which included acting, speaking exercises, and even destressing exercises to practice before going on stage. The content of the workshop is still proving valuable to this day: ‘Frank gave us lots of tips, which I now use in my presentations.’
Cultivating connections through the FameLab experience
FameLab is a science competition that fosters a strong sense of community between like-minded people. ‘I remember the first time I was really impressed that I was able to find 12 people who have similar interests to me. I created a new circle of friendships,’ says Ivayla.
Being part of the FameLab network has led to invaluable opportunities – including an immediate job offer as a writer for a website that aims to popularise science, which she works on alongside her PhD research.
‘I have my job now because of FameLab - my boss was watching the 2016 finals,’ explains Ivayla. ‘And after that they contacted me and said they thought I would be a good journalist, and proposed for me to work with them.’
Later in 2016, Ivayla was invited to London’s Natural History Museum to return to the FameLab stage to speak at the Hall of FameLab event, opening her up to a new network of international FameLabbers.
And over the past few years, a contact Ivayla made through FameLab has also led to a professional opportunity in France, where she gives masterclasses and acts as a mentor to aspiring young scientists in schools.
Ivayla has come a long way since that initial spark of inspiration from the FameLab network, and she credits the competition as the catalyst to these exciting developments: ‘My environment changed because of FameLab. I'm now surrounded by more FameLabbers and communicating to FameLabbers in my everyday life, which really is a great blessing.’
Bulgaria joined the International FameLab community in 2007 and since then over 120 science, technology, engineering and mathematics students and young scientists have become part of its global network.
FameLab Bulgaria has been instrumental in establishing, sustaining and expanding the science communication community of practice in the country, and also led to the establishment of Sofia Science Festival.
FameLab is a global competition started in 2005 by Cheltenham Science Festival to find and support the world's most talented new science communicators. Participants have three minutes to win over the judges and audience with a scientific talk that excels for its content, clarity and charisma.
Through a partnership with the British Council since 2007, the competition has grown into the world’s leading science communication competition, with more than 10,000 young scientists, mathematicians and engineers participating to date.