Dr Joanna Bagniewska at Cheltenham Science Festival ©

British Council

Since winning the FameLab Poland 2014 competition, zoology lecturer and science communication specialist, Dr Joanna Bagniewska, hasn’t looked back.

Now a FameLab masterclass trainer, Teaching Fellow in Ecology and Zoology at the University of Reading, and Communications and Public Engagement Officer at the University of Oxford, Joanna believes that FameLab firmly helped with her mission to share scientific knowledge and understanding with students and non-experts alike.

‘I loved my FameLab experience, I thought it was brilliant. The biggest impact it’s had on me was the contacts I made with other science communicators, and with other scientists and journalists because it was that which really got me into science communication - writing about science, radio work and TV work, so it really was very valuable.’

Joanna observes that it’s not just the competition winners who benefit from the FameLab experience: ‘The nice thing about FameLab is that all this did not just happen to me and the overall winners, but it’s what happens to all finalists – I think all of us are equally successful in terms of science communication.’

Joanna’s path to science communication

Being an animal lover from a young age, it might be assumed that studying zoology was an easy decision for Joanna to make, but it took some consideration before arriving at her choice. ‘I was thinking of maybe studying architecture or Chinese studies’, she recollects. ‘And my mum wasn’t sure animal studies would be suitable for me.’

But eventually Joanna went to Germany to pursue her studies in biology, and eventually a PhD in zoology at Oxford University - and naturally found herself becoming a science communicator in the process. ‘When you do a doctorate, you always get asked ‘so what is it exactly that you do?’ And if you answer that question a good few times during family dinners or whenever you meet someone new, whether you like it or not you become quite good at science communication!’

Impacts of FameLab and public engagement

Joanna believes that informal scientific conversations and anecdotes such as these have wide-reaching impacts beyond the dinner table: ‘The more people who are science-literate, the better for society; it helps us to think critically, analytically and verify sources of information. Science communication is great because it gets people, young and old, interested in science and in that thought process of analysing how the world is - and that is why it is so wonderful!’

She continues: ‘Talking to someone at a science festival, reading an article in a newspaper or watching a YouTube video on a science topic, can build up this capacity for science learning.’

Joanna goes on to reflect on the phenomenon of FameLab in Poland: ‘FameLab was a trailblazer as it was the first major science communication competition, and gained popularity really quickly. On the back of that, it seems that now there are other science communication competitions, which is good for the science community. Without FameLab we wouldn’t have that interest in science communication and the expectation that scientists should be able to talk to the general public.’

She continues: ‘As the pool of FameLab alumni grows, we have a bigger network of scientists who can collaborate with journalists – and we’re hoping that because of that we can help influence the media and invite more experts to talk about science.’

Read more about Joanna here

About FameLab

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.

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