Last month, I caught up with freelance science communicator, Sam Langford. We talked about his latest project, the Global Science Show, a virtual science festival based entirely on social media.
Sam is one of the best science communicators I know; his enthusiasm is infectious. He always seems to be working on the coolest projects. In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading, Sam realised in-person SciComm would be on hold for the foreseeable future. As science festivals across the globe were being cancelled or postponed, Sam took to Twitter (you may know him as @ScottishSciComm).
Harnessing the power of social media, Sam called on SciComm fans to share a thread about their favourite research or short science demo. He amassed over 100 volunteers from five continents. And the first Global Science Show was born.
Twitter might seem like an unusual platform for a science festival. With Sam’s followers mainly being scientists and fellow communicators, he felt the first show was “preaching to the choir”. But for the volunteers, the sense of community was encouraging. Whether intentional or not, the Global Science Show gave people the chance to try something new in a judgement-free arena:
“A lot of what the science festival exists for is to allow people to skills build”, Sam says. “So people are using this as an opportunity to find out how to make a video, how to present yourself to camera, how to do digital editing, how to get outside your comfort zone”.
I can attest to this. Having organised a video editing workshop last year with help from Sam, I volunteered to present. I wanted to see if I could remember any of the iMovie tricks I’d learned. I spent about 20 minutes filming and another hour editing on my phone. My editing was far from seamless but I was pretty pleased with my first attempt:
Each participant had five minutes to share their content before passing the baton to the next presenter. The show began in Canberra and headed west, finishing up in Los Angeles more than eight hours later.
Since its inception, the Global Science Show has become a science festival in its own right. The audience has expanded. In June, Sam collaborated with the Great Science Share for Schools. Far more kids are now watching. Some are even presenting. Sam says: “probably my favourite thing about it has been the impact that we’re clearly seeing with some miniature science communicators”.
Seeing kids doing science demos and trying experiments at home has been a highlight. With help from responsible adults, Marvellous Marthy and Libbet (both 6 years-old), 11 year-old Arushi, Wilf Wonders, 13 year-old STEMillie and Sana Vinoth have all become Global Science Show regulars:
For some presenters, myself included, the Global Science Show was the push we needed to upload our first video. But it was important to Sam that the volunteers didn’t feel pressured:
“They don’t have to do a video if they don’t want to do a video, they can do a thread and never show their face – that’s fine. They’re still getting something out there, they’re trying something different. But they’re doing it as part of a community at the same time”.
Having recognised that the initial shows lacked diversity, Sam has worked to foster an inclusive environment. Collaborating with creative producer, Hana Ayoob, the fifth show was delivered in partnership with Minorities in STEM, a network that supports and showcases the work of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people working in STEM fields:
In advance of the event, Sam worked with fellow freelancer, Sarah Cosgriff, to offer underrepresented minorities an introduction to SciComm. Nearly 40 people signed up to the free training sessions.
With SciComm training typically costing over £60 per session, Sam plans to find ways to open up low-cost (or free) training opportunities through the Global Science Show:
“All SciComm training either has to be funded by someone because it’s expensive, or people just can’t do it”, Sam says. “It’s expensive to come along and that’s why it’s quite exclusionary in itself, in terms of who can participate”.
The supportive atmosphere of the Global Science Show means people feel comfortable asking for feedback from Sam or the other presenters. Sam says that SciComm newbies can even request a mentor:
“We’ve had a buddy scheme in place in the past two months where some more experienced SciCommers have been able to say ‘maybe try these things’ or ‘here’s how to develop your idea into content’ – it’s all about being non-judgemental and making a safe space for people”.
So what’s next for the Global Science Show? Having added Pint of Science and Glasgow Science Festival to his list of collaborators in September, Sam is working with the STEM Village and Pride in STEM to bring us an LGBT STEM Day special on November 13th.
Currently, the Global Science Show is a solo project. Sam is keen to bring other organisers on board but he needs funding to make that happen. The show needs a website and to branch out onto other social media platforms. He also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of running a virtual live show.
First and foremost, the Global Science Show is as much about the presenters learning as it is about the audience. Sam says: “no matter how big it gets, because it will grow, it’s always first about the people taking part”.
To find out more about the Global Science Show, check out Sam’s website.