Easing students into scientific academia

Kat Bowles introduces Speaking for Science and how the student-run event can help research students gain invaluable experience in a relaxed environment

It can be daunting to lead discussion and present your work to an audience so an event organised for postgraduates, by postgraduates with support from the University Graduate College aims to break students in to the world of academia.

This year, the Speaking of Science event celebrates a full decade of postgraduate led discussions and presentations about cutting edge research carried out by fellow postgraduate students in Cardiff. All science-based schools are represented in this event, including the physical sciences and engineering, as well as the biomedical and life sciences, giving the opportunity for students to share their work with a broad, non-specialist scientific audience. Similar events are planned for other research disciplines, ‘Voice of Humanities’ will be held on 22nd March and ‘Spotlight on Social Science’ on 30th March.

Postgraduate researchers from neighbouring institutions are also invited to SoS, further broadening the scope of research on display. Such diversity in students attending and presenting their work at the conference makes SoS a truly exciting event that is unlike any other science event held by Cardiff University.

Previous students who have attended the event have called a “broad-ranging conference for a day of refreshing science explained in an easy-to-understand way.”

Others have applauded the event for crossing boundaries between departments and for showcasing the achievements of the university. ”It was great to see the range of research that goes on in the University.  Also an opportunity to make links with different departments.”

Attendance by a vast assortment of research backgrounds may well launch some intriguing interdisciplinary collaborations, or indeed sow the seeds for brand new ideas or experiments, influenced by entirely different branches of science. Having trouble modelling fluid dynamics from a pump? Perhaps speak to a medic researching the heart. Do you want to do some brain imaging but just can’t get your head around an MRI scanner? A physicist would be the perfect person to speak to! SoS is so beneficial to researchers as it provides the environment for these exciting relationships and collaborations to flourish.

It is important for all students to occasionally have the opportunity to escape the bubble of the lab, and as a postgraduate student myself, I know that long hours in the lab and reading specialist papers can make even the most social student feel isolated. SoS is a great way to take a break from your everyday toil and strife, and see what everyone else is up to. It is also a comfortable space where you can discuss your experiences as a postgraduate with other students, and make some new social connections outside of your department, which may prove invaluable after spending 6 solid hours working in a dark basement with the same person every day.

As no research staff attend SoS, the event provides a relaxed, non-threatening environment in which students can develop their presentation skills and confidence in their ability to communicate their work in an accessible way, before moving on to larger conferences. Many students just starting their PhD may never have presented a poster before, and how to go about doing so for the first time is often a bit of a mystery.

Speaking of Science prides itself not only on its postgraduate-led interdisciplinary nature, but also on attracting quality keynote speakers who are keen to speak to and meet the next generation of researchers. Previous years have included talks by reptile specialist Dr. Rhys Jones (star of BBC series ‘Rhys to the Rescue’), and Dr. Kevin Fong, an expert in space medicine. This year, students will be treated to a talk from Professor Chris Budd, a mathematician from the University of Bath, who will be speaking about ‘Maths and the Making of the Modern World.’

As this is the 10th Speaking of Science conference, we are aiming to make it the biggest, widest ranging and most successful event so far. All science PhD students are encouraged to submit an abstract to present either a poster or give a talk at this worthwhile and fascinating event. Lunch and refreshments are provided during the day, followed by a wine reception while cash prizes for the best posters and talks are presented. Further information about this event and previous years’ events can be found at Alternatively, join the Facebook group (search for ‘Speaking of Science’), or follow the event on Twitter (@speakingofsci).

We hope to see you there!


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