Reflections from Edinburgh Science Festival

It’s been a wild few weeks. I’ve barely been able to crank out weekly blog posts on top of everything else going on. While I look forward to creating some less-rushed content as we move into May, here’s one more week of scrambling to post.

When I was hired to be a science communicator, I assumed I would be doing something similar to what I had done at my old job at home as an instructor of science programming/birthday parties. And most of my fellow science communicators did JUST that; they had scripted workshops to run and they did so all day every day at regular scheduled intervals.

However, this was not the case for the small team stationed at the National Museum of Scotland for family drop-in activities. Our job was to face a daily onslaught of children AND their parents coming in for drop-in activities. On busy days this was up to 12,000 people a day.

At first I was honestly pretty sore about this. Why were my skills not being adequately utilized? I am a well-seasoned performer and deliverer of youth science programming. Why was I stationed in ‘Build It’ making sure kids don’t hit each other with foam blocks? Another grim moment was working in ‘Break It’ desperately scrambling to disassemble a desk phone for the fifteenth time that day while a disapproving grandmother complained loudly that this was a “terrible way to spend a half hour” (this actually happened).

I got over this quickly. For a few reasons. First, because it is simply impossible to engage with upwards of 12,000 people a day while ruminating on your assignment. There is just too much to do. And second, more importantly, I began to reflect upon the critical role my team at the museum played. While very different from what the workshop people at the other venue were doing, our role was vital to the function of the festival.

Man in orange shirt facedown flopping on blue cloth inflatable planetarium dome
NMS team member Mikey doing critical work for the Festival.

I learned through my time at the Science Festival that science communication is not all the fun performative stuff I’ve come to adore. It’s a lot of logistical management. It’s a lot of safety monitoring. And it’s a lot of facilitation. My job was never to deliver anything. It was to facilitate exploratory learning and imaginative play for families in a safe atmosphere, while also being cognizant of the fact that these activities have limited space and seemingly unlimited participants. The lines between front and back of house blurred significantly over the course of the week. This was far from what I expected, but still highly valuable.

It can be summed up well by something we were told repeatedly at our first day of training: It is about the kids. Working on the National Museum team was an exercise in humility, arguably far more so than a workshop would have been. While the latter would have had me a center-of-attention performer once again, the former put me off to the side, silently keeping the wheels turning for a larger operation responsible for giving enjoyable experiences to a massive number of people at the Festival.

So despite any frustration, the experience proved invaluable in my development as a well-rounded communication professional. I learned a great deal. And a part of me will perhaps miss making block robots every day… Though I will not miss reassembling the phones. I was just terrible at that.

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One thought on “Reflections from Edinburgh Science Festival

  1. Just getting around to reading your post. I’m amazed at your insight. Philosopher/ performer/ facilitator: you are the whole package.

    Like

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