SANBI's PhD students among the 2015 New Voices in Science finalists

22 January 2016

Tlou Masehela

On 7 December 2015, 13 doctoral finalists competed in the New Voices in Science competition to impress an audience with oral accounts of their research findings, among them were SANBI PhD students, Tlou Masehela and Carolien van Zyl.

The publication of the fourth edition of the New Voices in Science also showcased 22 finalists in popular science writing. The competition is an initiative by the Postgraduate and International Office of Stellenbosch University and 2015 marked its fourth year.

Road to the finals

Tlou and Carolien, both registered at the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, were among the finalists in the article writing and 5 minute speed presentation categories. Carolien was also a finalist in the photography category.

Carolien van Zyl

Although the main event was held on 7 December 2015, preparations started long before that! The competition is advertised early in the year, and students can enter any of the four categories of the competition. These include an article writing category, a five minute speed presentation, and photography and video competition.

Workshops to perfect skills

Finalists are selected based on auditions (for the speed presentations) and draft articles for the writing category. They then attend several workshops to assist them in perfecting their writing and presentation skills, which enables them to share and communicate their science in an effective manner to a wider audience outside the science arena. Finalists and winners also stand a chance to win prizes in each of the categories.

Tlou and Carolien walked away with R2000 prize money each for being finalists in both the presentation and article writing categories. Carolien was awarded a further R2000 for the best photography award and R1000 for being runner-up in the article writing category.

Tlou’s article and presentation at the competition was based on his honeybee forage research work, while Caroline’s work in the three categories was based on her invasive wasp research. The full articles can be accessed in the most recent annual publication of the New Voices in Science.

This is what Tlou and Carolien had to say about their experience in the competition:

The New Voices in Science programme made me realise that science communication skills training is never a once off process. One has to continuously evaluate critical aspects of their research (work) and find easier ways to communicate these to the relevant audience. Conveying the correct message in the easiest way possible, makes a huge impact on how people receive and interpret your message. There are also lots of fun moments that come with such platforms…you laugh at yourself…we laughed at each other. But most of all, we learned to be critical of each other. At the same time, we learn from one another. Such moments made us pull through as finalists. Well, am I ready for FameLab*? Nope! But I will definitely be sharing more of my work through the skills I learned during the programme. - Tlou

I think that initiatives such as The New Voices in Science programme are one of the opportunities that all young scientists should grab with both hands. It touches on a different aspect of science that many of us are not always comfortable with or good at – communication. Not just conveying scientific information, but teaching you how to share your research in a clear, concise and interesting way, without sensationalising or dumbing it down. In an era where many decisions are made based on scientific findings, it can only be advantageous to flex your communication muscles. Of course, the laughs shared, awkward pauses and people you meet, make it a very memorable experience. (Also, can someone sign Tlou up for FameLab*. He’s definitely ready.) – Carolien

2015 New Voices in Science finalists, event organisers and Stellenbosch University staff.

*FameLab is a prestigious training programme in a competition format, held annually in the UK, in which entrants have three minutes to explain a science concept in a unique and entertaining way.

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Submitted by Claude at 23/02/2016 - 21:27
Science published but not publicized is half complete. Congratulations Tlou and Carolien. Science for Society, cheers
Submitted by Ruan Veldtman at 26/01/2016 - 11:40
Very proud of both of you! Well done!

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