As I travel the country working on events and visiting schools, it always makes me smile when someome says “We had a visit from X, not sure if you have ever come across them?” or “Ah, so you know and get on with X?” (X is a STEM presenter).
There’s a high chance that I know them and they know me. You see, whilst we may seem to operate by ourselves as freelancers or appear to compete for headline shows, we do talk and support each other. The UK Science Communication scene is very close-knit.
It may come as a shock to some people who consider us to be competitors that we may admit to liking each other or (heaven forbid) even recommend someone else for a particular gig. If I am unable to fulfill a potential client’s needs, rather than just say no, I would much prefer to recommend an alternative and point them in the right direction.
But our collaboration goes beyond that. There are regular messages flying around on WhatsApp, email and Slack groups about potential clients, laser safety, the best cameras or smoke machines, plus things like how to get hold of large quantities of borax or veterinary lubricant.
We are one industry with a mission: To engage our audiences with science (in fact, all of the STEM subjects). Sure, we each bring our own expertise or niche to the festival stage, school hall, theatre, online videos, television or radio shows, but collectively we share a common broad aim. With that in mind, why wouldn’t I want to support my fellow science communication colleagues, be it formally or informally?
I have worked with and supported many other presenters behind the scenes on theatre tours and festivals, particularly from a Health and Safety perspective. Whether it is working with Greg Foot on a national theatre tour, supporting production H&S at Cheltenham Science Festival or advising on Christmas show tour safety, I enjoy my work behind the scenes just as much as being on stage.
Of course, I get to see another side to presenters and support them towards best practice in science show H&S. It provides an interesting dual-perspective on the performance world!
That’s why I value being part of a close-knit group of people and organisations such as the BIG STEM Communicators Network. It gives us an opportunity to support each other and, in the longer term, raise the quality bar.