PhD life: sharing science

The past few weeks I have not written much on this website. That does not mean I have not been doing any outreach activities. In contrast, I have done several and for a widely varying public. The first took place in a greenhouse in the middle of The Hague, the second in front of a group of Master students and the third at a symposium organized by NWO. An interesting mix of places and people and all new experiences for me.

International Fascination of Plants Day
On April 18th I went to The Hague, a city in the West of the Netherlands that is the seat of our parliament. For that day (and two following days), plant scientists and Dutch breeding companies had erected a greenhouse on the Square in front of the parliament buildings in honor of the ‘International Fascination of Plants Day’. Of course there were lots of plants, but also information panels about plant science and agriculture and even a small laboratory in which people could isolate RNA from small tomato plants.

Fascination of Pants Day in the Hague
Fascination of Pants Day in The Hague

Journalists and people from the parliament were specifically invited for breakfast and lunch, but the greenhouse was open for the general public the rest of the day. During the day I talked to many different people about plant science. Among them were the owners of a small flower breeding company, but apart from them I talked mostly with ‘common folk’, who came across the greenhouse by accident and decided to step inside – or were persuaded by me to do so. I very much enjoyed telling people about plants, making them aware that plants are actually pretty cool things and, whenever possible, very briefly introducing them to the kind of research that is going on at the moment.

Giving my first lecture
After talking to the general public in April I stood in front of a bunch of Master students on June 6th. These were students following a Master’s program in life sciences, but not necessarily anything at all to do with plant sciences. I was not there to give an regular lecture – the two lectures of the day, about RNA and RNA sequencing, were covered by two colleagues. Instead, I got to do the nice part: I got to present the part of my research that revolves around RNA sequencing.

The group was attentive, I got several questions during my talk, several more afterwards and when we called the session to an end a few more students came up to me to ask more questions. The questions ranged from questions about the techniques I used and the results I gathered to the application of my research. It showed that the students had paid attention ánd were interested in the material. First lecture for a group of university students: check!

Invited speaker at a symposium
Just this week, on June 20th came another first for me: I was an invited speaker at a symposium. The conference was organized by the NWO for people who work on a project that is supported by either the NWO’s Agri&Food or ‘Horticulture and starting materials’ grants. I received my personal grant from the latter and was therefore invited. Or well, in fact it was my supervisor who was asked to give a talk, but since the request was about the project I had written and am carrying out, he sent the request on to me. From 10 am to 2 pm the day was divided into three session for talks and a poster / lunch session.  Each presentation session had three parallel programs: two with four talks each and one in which public-private partnerships –between a university or research institute and a company – were discussed.

NWO symposium 'Co-creation? Naturally!'
NWO symposium ‘Co-creation? Naturally!’

I already enjoyed the first two sessions immensely. The topics varied widely, which worked well because talks were only seven minutes long and were geared to a non-expert audience. I heard about wasps being trained to find mites – which cause plant disease – more quickly in rose greenhouses, for example, and about how to model sustainable intensification in agricultural settings. Cool! My own talk was in the third session and was well very received. Like with the Master students, I got lots of questions, also after the end of the session. I even got my first speaker present: a bottle of wine. It made my day – even though I do not like wine at all.


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