Public Outreach - How we present INTERCROSSING to the general public

Presentations at the Natural History Museum

You can play the videos of presentations following the Public Engagement & Outreach Training event at the NHM 2015 by clicking on the pictures below
Jeannine presenting at the NHM London 2015

Alexandre presenting at the NHM London 2015

Om presenting at the NHM London 2015

Habib presenting at the NHM London 2015

All the ESRs gave a talk in collaboration with the professional interlocutors from the NHM

Women in Science & Engineering Events (WISE)

October 2013/2014/2015, Queen Mary University of London
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At an information event for approximately 150 prospective students Jasmin & Lizzy presented our research areas and provided information about women in science WISE@QMUL .This led to interesting discussions about research, science, and doing a PhD. The students came from an international background and were interested in a variety of disciplines (medicine, dentistry, life sciences, arts, and economics.
Jasmin writes
It was really nice to engage with young motivated students and get them interested in what we are doing. Some of them immediately signed up to our mailing list and were enthusiastic to join the WISE committee.
In addition, in my role as chair of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE@QMUL) I welcomed new Master and PhD students to our university (each group consisted of about 40 students).I introduced WISE and my own research and answered all the questions the students had. Afterwards, we continued to talk during a network session over lunch and I am still in contact with some of them. I enjoyed the engagement and honest interest that the students showed in my field of research and the topic of women in science.It was nice to notice a few of them at WISE events later on and showed that they were genuinely interested and that my presentations had an impact on them.

PAG Conference

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Plant and Animal Genome conference. San Diego, USA. January 2015. Participants : 2800.

A small delegation of four Intercrossing students (Fabian Grandke, Andrea Hatlen, Elizabeth Sollars, and Jasmin Zohren) went together to the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, which had about 3,000 participants. We presented our research by giving talks or in form of posters and also gave information about the Intercrossing network in various sessions and situations. We talked to lots of students, other scientists, and industry partners, who were all very interested in what we were doing. Especially the academia-industry aspect of the Intercrossing network was well received.Andrea also attended in 2014 and writes:
These have been great opportunities to share not only what I have been doing, but to explain and represent INTERCROSSING and Marie Curie initiatives.

Scientific Speed dating


A scientific speed dating was organized during the EBM Alexandre attended in 2015 in Marseilles, at the venue of the conference. They were around 30 to 40 participants, most of them adults. Due to the location, all the interaction with the public were in French.
He writes:
This idea was to have short talks with a group of few person each time, with a couple of minutes introducing on what I'm working on (in a very broad way) and then answering the questions people had. Whereas the general theme was found interesting (formation of species) , the level of abstraction of my work was not really understood, the most common question I got was : "Which organism are you working on?" follow by "How does it applies to real life?"

Open House Day (LMU)

Vedran , Soumya and Fabian

Soumya presenting

Vedran and Alexey in front of the phylogenetic exercise board.

Soumya prepares the phylogenetic tree structure for the students.

In July 2014 and July 2015 the Biology Faculty of the LMU invited interested citizens (especially school students) to an Open House Day.The aim was to present the work of the different groups and provide information for possible applicants. Soumya, Vedran and Vedran organised an interactive task about phylogenetic relationships.It was part of the booth of the Evolutionary Biology Department. Interested citizens were asked to place multiple species at the end of the branches of given phylogenetic trees. Afterwards an in silico sequence comparison provided the real trees. The examples had different levels of difficulty and - for most visitors - surprising results.

EU Researcher’s Night – Science Uncovered (2014)

EU Researcher's Night- Jeannine

Jeannine at the booth

As Marie Curie fellows Alexandre (at the time on his placement in London) and Jeannine supported the NHM's Science Uncovered event especially the European booth for 1.5 hours in September 2014.
Jeannine writes:
We prepared material (photographs, charts, maps, dissecting microscope and mounted flowers/anthers) to inform the visitors about the hybridisation between the British bluebell and the invasive Spanish bluebell varieties in the UK.We mainly had two different customer groups. Young children were curious about the dissecting microscope and got an explanation of flower morphology and how we scientist can use features of the colour difference between either bluebell taxa to differentiate them in the field.The parents of these children, but also other adults, were particularly interested in the risks following the hybridisation between the two taxa.We reached approximately 20 people in that short period of time. Their take home message was mostly; how to tell apart the invasive from the native species and to carefully chose the plant supplier for their own gardens.For both of us, it was quite a challenging experience; you cannot predict the background knowledge of the visitors and their interest. So you need to be quite open and well prepared for questions regarding the wider perspective of life sciences.
Also, children need to be addressed at a very low level and but can easily be interested by, for instance, a microscope.

Guided tour through the Natural History Museum London

The museum at night
Jeannine writes:
I organised a guided tour for a German high school class in collaboration with two curators from the NHM London. About 25 students at the age between 17 and 19 came to London and for half a day we showed them the highly valuable Sloane collection and the new state of the art digital imaging lab. For the advanced physics students especially the scanning electron microscope amongst other instruments was very interesting.We discussed the value of the collections being analysed with these modern technologies.

Further, I explained the steps from fieldwork, lab work to genetic data analysis and the demand for researchers well trained in bioinformatics and statistics. I also wrote a Blog post on the event

Summer School of Bioinformatics Saint Petersburg

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In 2013 Alexey & Evdokim presented at summer school in Russia. The audience comprised around 100 undergraduate students.

He writes
The most interesting part was answering questions of the students that were interested to know about career opportunities in research and available fellowships.

Plant Earth Online podcast

Click the picture to hear the podcast
ESR Lizzy Sollars and PI Richard Buggs speak about the ash dieback disease, and their research on sequencing the genome of the ash tree in a public online podcast from the Natural Environment Research Council.
Lizzy writes:
In October 2013 I was interviewed along with my supervisor Richard Buggs. Since ash trees in the UK have recently come under threat from a fungal pathogen causing the ash dieback disease, there is great public interest in the research being done to combat it. I was specifically asked about the process of genome assembly, but as the audience for the podcasts is the general public, I had to explain the process without being too technical.I also described some of the research previously carried out in Denmark which found a small number of resistant trees. As this was my first experience of doing an outreach activity I was slightly nervous about how to word things so that everyone would be able to understand, but surprisingly I found it quite easy and enjoyable.

Queen Mary, the University of London Open Day

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Habib writes:
During my PhD placement at Queen Mary, the University of London in 2013, I participated in an event for the prospective students and their parents. About 200 students participated. After the formal event, I met various groups of students and their parents and told them about myself, my PhD research activity, especially our consortium INTERCROSSING.
I also told them about the prestigious Marie Curie funding and underlined the importance and competitiveness of these fellowships. All the students and their parents listened to me carefully and showed an interest in our conversation. They were keen to know how to acquire such funding and prepare themselves to apply for it in the future.They also asked me about their future careers and possible opportunities within academia and in the industry. The overall experience was great and I felt the need that PhD students should regularly meet up prospective students to better guide them for the future scholarships and science careers.

Jasmin and Lizzy's work on TV (France 24).

Click on the picture to see the video

Natural Sciences Day at Kurt-Tucholsky Highschool in Berlin

Kurt-Tucholsky-Schule, Berlin
Jeannine writes
I was invited in December 2015 to present my research and career from A-Levels to current state of scientist by the STEM teacher, Detlev Nordman, at the Kurt-Tucholsky Highschool in Berlin, Germany. In a 70 minutes workshops we discussed the relevance of evolutionary biology in daily life. We also got into more details of evolutionary theory and hybrid zones.My main take home messages were that evolutionary biology is becoming more interdisciplinary and dependent on good skills in bioinformatics and statistics. The presentation was tailored to the students’ background knowledge but I also tried to make it quite engaging by for example resolving the phylogenetic tree of hominoids from molecular markers as a group exercise. The audience were two groups of 20 – 30 German A-Level students in the age of 17-19 years. Some of the students were really interested in the topic, even though they were not interested in going to university at all.
Other students expected a more philosophical discussion of the theory of evolution. Nonetheless, for me personally it was a great challenge and success standing in front of a school class and explaining the principles of evolution and hybrid zones in German. I enjoyed the interaction a lot and will probably do it again. I also produced a blog post on the experience.

Aarhus Academy School science fair

Aarhus academy
Lizzy writes:
In March 2014 I was invited to attend the local international school's science fair along with two other scientists from Aarhus University.The pupils, aged between 11 and 13, had planned and carried out their own experiments or research projects, with questions such as "What happens when you add soap to milk?", "What makes the biggest difference: thrust or friction?", and "How can we use the properties of metastatic tumor cells to prevent the spread of cancer?".
We asked each group questions on the background of their projects and also to critically examine their methods. We then gave awards for the best experimental design and best communication. I was very impressed by the effort and enthusiasm that all the students had put into their projects, and especially the level of expertise in many of them.

Bioinformatics at Kurt-Huber-Gymnasium

Fabian gives an introduction about linkage-mapping.

Vedran explains the role of bio-informatics in various applications.

Fabian writes
In February, 2014 Soumya, Vedran and I went to the German high-school Kurt-Huber-Gymnasium (KHG) in Gräfelfing, near Munich five times (1x preparation, 3x presentation, 1xresult presentation of student projects).

Together with two biology teachers we organized three 90-minutes sessions where they gave presentations and exercises to ~75 pupils of the 11th grade biology classes. We covered: Bioinformatics in general; Science funding by the European Research Council (ERC); INTERCROSSING; Marie-Curie Actions; Studying Bioinformatics; Being a scientist; How does a scientific career look like and Individual ESR projects.

Outreach in India

Om in full flow
Om writes:

In August 2014 I had an opportunity to talk about my PhD project and research life at a community centre in my hometown, Khopoli, India. Awareness of research careers, particularly in the EU is not wide spread in India, most students aim for Masters courses in the US/UK. The audience of ~50 people comprised mostly of parents and students interested in planning higher education outside India.
I spoke about life as an ESR, right from how I got the position to my day-to-day activities. Being aware of the situation most students in India are just after their Bachelors degrees, I tried to clarify common misconceptions about higher education in the EU. e.g. most people are unaware of funding opportunities such as Marie Curie fellowships, or availability of EU MSc/PhD programs taught in English.
I also spoke about my project, particularly the bioinformatics bits as I found out most people are unclear over the definition and assume it is a highly biology-centric field. Another major point was the interdisciplinary aspect of research, and how INTERCROSSING fits into this theme. I spoke about the opportunities I had during my internship, and being a part of the ESR and ethics committees.
I felt this talk was a great way to inform the public about being a researcher in the EU. The audience had questions on topics like the application process, funding, lab work, and some really interesting ones about language barriers and the weather. I had a few people follow up after the talk, and I think I was able to get the audience to consider research in the EU as a viable option for higher studies. It was an interesting experience, but I am planning a similar talk for just students, with more focus on the science.


Click on the picture to enter the blog
The ESRs contribute to a tublr blog.
Alexandra talks about her experience of blogging and other outreach activities:
in one of the last trainings as Marie Curie fellows in Belgium, we visited BAYER where I realised that research on plants could be very exciting therefore I wrote a small article on that published in the INTERCROSSING blog (above). I have also writen an article in IEEER8 to encourage students follow the field of bioinformatics and a small article about plant research.

My PhD journey

I can’t really realize how quickly time has passed since I started my PhD as a Marie Curie fellow three years ago. When I finished my master, I was very enthusiastic with research on bioinformatics, so a PhD was the obvious step to follow. I wanted to do everything perfectly, to be the best!

However, as Salvador Dali said: “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.Personally, I had to reach in the end of my PhD to realize that.In my opinion, starting a PhD is an easy step; the difficulty is to finish it successfully.The Greek philosopher Plato said: "Εις τελειότητα του ανθρώπου τρία δει συνδράμειν: φύσιν, μάθησιν και άσκησιν", which means: three are the main components to approach human perfection: nature, learning and practice.

This is exactly what a PhD is for. Improve yourself, learn to face difficulties and challenges both on research and life. Learn your limits; how many things you are able to sacrifice for your initial goal; how many dead ends you are willing to overcome?Practising, working and committing mistakes are the only way to achieve that and answer all these questions.

I was lucky enough to join this ITN network, which gave me numerous opportunities for training in statistics and genetics; a cutting edge field. Being in a group of 13 intelligent PhD students was very exciting. All of us of had different background and different expertise. We had many seminars especially the first year of my PhD, in which seminars we were exchanging ideas, we were helping each other on our research and our problems, but we also had lots of fun. The big advantage with the specific fellowship is that it gives the chance to all PhD students to join teams both in academia and industry; which is the main dilemma once one finishes a PhD.

I enjoyed the whole journey despite all the ups and downs that it had. The simplest advice that I would give to a PhD candidate is to be positive and observe whatever happens on the bright side of research and lif