Science is more than just scientists: An inspirational accessible science event

In October 2023, the John Innes Centre (JIC) hosted an Accessible Science event, bringing together research and support staff from the four Norwich Bioscience Institutes (NBI) on the Norwich Research Park for a day of accessible science talks and networking.

Building on the existing JIC and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) Annual Science Meeting, the day aimed to showcase the science from across the Institutes, in an accessible and understandable way.

This year, funding from the Technician Commitment Collaboration Fund enabled the event to expand and include colleagues from new Commitment signatories, the Earlham Institute (EI), as well as those from the Quadram Institute (QI), and we invited schools, universities and alumni to join in person or virtually.

As the first cross-institute event of its kind, the NBI Accessible Science event aimed to foster collaboration and knowledge exchange among staff from the four institutions.

To start the day, delegates were warmly welcomed to the Norwich Research Park by Dr Penny Hundleby CSci, Senior Scientist and Technician Commitment lead for the JIC. Penny welcomed 166 employees, and 14 T-level ‘Laboratory Science’ students and staff from City College Norwich who joined in person in the John Innes Conference Centre.

After taking to the stage, Penny said: “It was a real honour to be a part of this event, and to welcome such large numbers into the auditorium and online was fantastic. It was exciting, it felt like the months of planning and preparation by the team had paid off.”

More than 200 participants joined online, as the event was streamed live into science classrooms in 15 schools and two universities in the UK, and to JIC alumni from around the world. We were delighted that so many were able to join in this way, watching the talks and taking part in the Q&A sessions.

After the welcome, it was over to the morning’s session Chair, Dr Monika Chhetry (Research Assistant, JIC), who introduced the first speaker, Dr Anita Scoones (Post Doctoral Scientist, EI). Anita gave a talk on “Charting the Course of a Stem Cell’s Destiny: A Single-Cell Sequencing Perspective”.

Anita’s fascinating fact-filled talk took us on a through a journey of the cells in our body and how single cell sequencing can offer a valuable insight into gene expression.

Next onto the stage was Professor Sophien Kamoun (Group Leader, TSL), with his talk “Benthamiana rhapsody”. Sophien gave valuable insights into his career pathway, and his love for the model plant N. Benthamiana shone through.

After this, delegates heard from Dr Ana Victoria Gutierrez (Research Scientist, QI) who spoke on “Detours to triumphs: Embracing my zigzag career path in science”. Ana gave an honest account of how she got to where she is now, including a bold decision to move to different continent to complete her PhD. Moving to a country where she didn’t speak the language proved to be an experience that changed the course of her career (read more about Ana’s experience here).

After these four talks, we welcomed research support staff to give flash talks. These engaging short talks showed us some of the diverse roles that people working on the Norwich Research Park have.

Tim Hicks (Science Support Specialist, JIC) shared the story of his winding career journey, with career advice from a 6-year-old providing the turning point for him to change his career. Tim was followed by inspirational talks from Julia Mundy (Science Technician, JIC) and Mark Youles (Synthetic Biology Support Officer, TSL).

Following a lunch break for networking, poster and table displays, including tours of the JIC labs for the T-level students, the afternoon session began.

Andrew Stronach (Head of Engagement, QI) chaired flash talks from James Lipscombe (Automation Senior Research Assistant (Genomics Pipeline), EI), Lizzie Meadows (Clinical Liaison Manager, QI) and Lewis Hollingsworth (Horticulture Support Staff, JIC).

Joshua Waites a PhD student at the JIC then took to the stage with his talk “Melons to Wheat: Gene Editing for a Healthy Treat”, highlighting his scientific failures, and successes.

The Accessible Science Event concluded with a compelling keynote address from Professor Ben Garrod, (Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement, University of East Anglia) with his talk “Science for all – making science about more than just scientists”.

Ben shared his journey from the ‘geeky kid’ with a penchant for dissecting dead animal finds, to becoming an evolutionary biologist and broadcaster. He emphasized the vital role of people behind the scenes and the people supporting science, including his passion for citizen science, and advocating for science to be accessible to everyone.

Dr Monika Chhetry, chair of the events organising committee said: “It really was the most inspiring day. I was fascinated to hear from the people that we work with across the Norwich Research Park, and I particularly enjoyed hearing about people’s career paths.”

It is clear that the 2023 Accessible Science Event was a huge success. It provided an inspiring and interesting, showcasing the research happening across the Norwich Research Park to a wide range of staff, students and alumni. Participants described the event as “intriguing”, “amazing” and “fascinating”.

Inspirational accessible talks combined with the sheer diversity of science and job roles on show made for a fascinating day that highlighted the variety of roles, people and skills that are involved behind the scenes in research. Events like this can inspire the next generation of scientists, and by reaching out to schools, universities and colleges, students can really experience what it is like to be a scientist here on the Norwich Research Park.

We would like to thank all of the speakers and the organisers of this event, in particular the committee: (Andrew Stronach (QI), Fiona Fraser EI, Adeline Harant TSL, Monika Chhetry (JIC) Sam Mugford (JIC), Sarah Tolland (JIC), Becky Cordy (JIC), Tim Hicks (JIC), Andrew Breakspear (JIC) and Penny Hundleby (JIC). Plus we’d like to extend thanks to Ruby O’Grady (QI), Naomi Wang (JIC) and Paige Staff (JIC) who helped with the exhibits and on the day.

You can watch a recording of the Accessible Science talks and presentations on our YouTube channel.

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