FameLab Australia 2017 was a truly career-enhancing experience for microbiologist Nural Cokcetin: her participation in the science communication competition opened up immediate opportunities including global media exposure for her ground-breaking research. Today, Nural is a lead researcher at the University of Technology Sydney and is one of the go-to media experts on the medicinal properties of honey.
‘FameLab has been excellent in terms of the exposure for my research’, says Nural. ‘People now know me as the honey researcher - rather than the postdoc that works in this supervisor's lab who does honey research.’
After winning FameLab Australia, Nural travelled to the UK’s Cheltenham Science Festival to compete in the international finals, where she was awarded runner-up prize.
‘I came back from the UK and everyone just wanted to know everything about every bit of research I'd ever done,’ she says. ‘It’s really been a snowball effect – and it hasn't stopped since 2017.’
Creating a buzz around the honey industry in Australia and New Zealand
Nural’s research expertise is in the medicinal properties of honey, and its potential as a cheap and accessible treatment of infections.
Over the last year, Nural’s research has been featured more than 50 times across media platforms, including a medicinal honey article Nural co-authored for The Conversation. The article’s initial audience was from Australia and New Zealand, but then CNN Facebook published it, drawing interest from USA and Canada and reaching over one million views.
And Nural is in demand as a speaker on the science communication circuit in Australia, receiving invitations to present at science festivals and to give a TedX talk.
Unsurprisingly, the Australian and New Zealand bee industries have welcomed the media attention and positive reactions about honey and bees – which is yielding rewards for Nural, who has successfully secured industry funding for her research as a result of the coverage.
‘One of the main reasons that I was awarded a grant as the lead researcher was because I had generated so much positive interest in the industry,’ she explains. ‘The industry and assessing panel had already recognised that there was a huge positive investment in the project.’
‘I don't think that would have happened if I didn't communicate the research we do as widely as I could – and it started with FameLab,’ she adds.
Impact of FameLab Australia
FameLab began in Australia in 2014 and has attracted a diverse and vibrant range of early career researchers. FameLab Australia has gone from strength-to-strength, with 170 researchers taking part in the competition to date.
‘I love what FameLab can do for young researchers,’ enthuses Nural. ‘I think it really gives them a platform to distinguish themselves from their supervisors or their research group, as an expert in their own right.’
Following her success in the 2017 competition, the FameLab Australia team put Nural in touch with radio stations and newspapers who were keen to learn more about her research.
As part of FameLab, Nural had taken part in a science communication masterclass which included preparation for dealing with the media: ‘It really pushed me out of my comfort zone,’ she recalls of the experience. ‘There were some exercises like acting, and using body language – things I’d never have normally done or even thought much about.’
She continues: The masterclass gave me a totally new outlook on all the different ways that I could engage with audiences.’
FameLab helped Nural on a more elemental level too, helping her to reconnect to the reasons she chose to pursue scientific research in the first place: ‘Sometimes you get so bogged down in the detail of what you do, you think why am I doing this, what is the bigger picture?’
‘But FameLab really helped me to step back and remember that the reason I love science and doing the research I do is because I want to help make the world a better place, and that's such a good reason to get up and go to work in the morning!’
Follow Nural on Twitter @nural_c
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.