Science blog

Exploring science at the British Library

3 posts categorized "Bees"

05 August 2015

Policy into practice

Applications are now open for RCUK Policy Internships at the British Library at 2016. We are offering up to three NERC/MRC funded PhD students the chance to join us in team ScienceBL and help deliver a TalkScience event. In this blog post former intern Stuart Smith reflects on his Policy Internship placement at the British Library.

Stuart (red hat and trousers) in the Falkland islands (Photo: Marju Karlsson)

After finishing my BBSRC policy placement at the British Library in July 2013 and wrapping up my PhD thesis, I went in search of a job. Wishing to find a job that balanced both ecological research and public engagement, I was finally offered a 2-year position leading a Darwin Initiative funded project that aims to build capacity to enhance habitat restoration in the Falklands Islands. Despite only being a small island in sub-Antarctica, with a total population of around 3,000 people, there has consistently been a need to communicate scientific and environmental issues effectively. Working for Falklands Conservation, I have established an island-wide re-vegetation trial using native seeds and I regularly talk about my work to people with a range of backgrounds: farmers, landowners, policymakers, researchers, members of the public and military personnel. And while I might not have the opportunity to get a BBC presenter to pop down to lead a panel debate, like I did my when organising a TalkScience event at the British Library, I find myself involved in outreach activity on a weekly basis, whether writing an article for the Penguin News, the local newspaper, or giving a lesson on seeds or habitat restoration in a school. 


Bill Turnbull chairing the TalkScience that Stuart developed and delivered as part of his Policy Internship at the British Library

Following on from work on the Falkland Islands, I am about to start a post-doctoral position at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway as part of AfricanBioServices, an EU funded project, and will be working in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in Tanzania/Kenya. My involvement in the project is to investigate the effect of different land-uses (both wild grazing versus domestic pastoral grazing) on grassland productivity and ecosystem functioning. Again, this role is likely to require excellent communication skills to a wide range of audiences from scientists involved in the international consortium to farmers and landowners on the ground. Even though I am still actively involved in ecological research, the essential skills of effective science communication and outreach are highly valued. The British Library has an incredibly supportive and friendly team and were happy to take on an ecologist, who particularly struggled to wear a tie. I would recommend that every postgraduate should take the opportunity to learn an increasingly important set of skills involved in outreach and public engagement and apply for a science policy placement.

Stuart Smith, BBSRC Science Policy Intern 2013

19 July 2013

BBSRC intern and potential ‘poster-boy’ buzzes-off…

From organising a public debate to writing-up science conferences and festivals, my time as part of the science team at the British Library is at an end. My placement followed on from first BBSRC intern, Catriona Manville who became the ‘poster-girl’ for the BBSRC placement programme in 2012. Even though it was never really a competition, after three months at the British Library could I be the next BBSRC ‘poster-boy’?

Stu.BeinnEigheflipped.Photo_by.Kyle_MunroStuart [me], surveying a grazing exclosure on the Beinn Eighe nature reserve in Scotland. Photo by Kyle Munro.

Before my internship I was writing-up my PhD thesis in Biological Science at the University of Aberdeen, but I wanted some experience in science policy. A placement at the British Library was appealing as an intermediary between interacting with policy makers and the general public. To that effect, I have attended as many meetings, workshops, conferences as possible; from the British Science Association Science Communication conference to a day talking to MPs at the House of Commons with the Society of Biology. For many of the events I attended, I wrote articles or blog posts to share what I learned. For example, I attended my first ever festival (and kept my wristband to prove it!) - the Cheltenham Science Festival - and helped write an article in their newspaper, Litmus paper.

DSC_6836Spot Stuart during TalkScience@BL ‘Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?’ Photo: Peter Warner.

The pinnacle of the placement has been organising TalkScience. This is a quarterly evening event, similar in format to a café scientifique. After reading the news, policy briefings, publications and reports, we decided our next TalkScience topic would be on issues surrounding the potentially harmful effect of pesticides on insect pollinators. “Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?”  was chaired by Bill Turnbull, BBC presenter and beekeeper in discussion with the panel comprising Dr David Aston (British Beekeepers Association), Dr Peter Campbell (Syngenta) and Dr Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge). Even greater public outreach was gained via Bill hosting a BBC Horizon programme about demystifying the bees - leading to the event being filmed by the BBC. Keep your eyes peeled on BBC2 on 2 August at 21.00 and you might see a few shots of the event!

Being part of the British Library science team was a large learning curve and has increased my awareness of activities supporting, using and extending scientific research. For example, I gained new insights into Open Access and how recent policy changes are influencing libraries, funders, publishers and researchers. Even on a day-to-day basis, the transition from PhD student to science outreach is a change in mind-set and routine.

•    Preparing for a monthly supervisor meeting to participating in daily meetings with a wide range of people
•    Preparing for a single yearly conference to attending a conference every few weeks
•    Focusing on a single specific area of science to following multiple disciplines
•    Expanding sources of information from primarily research articles to journal and society news, policy briefings and blogs/Twitter!

DSCF0847A typical internship job at the British Library; fixing the life support system in the office to stop rising CO2 concentration killing the team! This was a team away day at the Leicester Space Centre.

Should I become the next ‘poster-boy’? To be honest, as a PhD student, I feel lucky to have experienced my fair share of media engagement with BBC Horizon. There are many scientists, societies and government advisors completely immersed in outreach and policy that deserve more recognition. Undertaking a placement at the British Library has been a rewarding experience in itself and I would encourage future PhD students to consider the opportunity.

Stuart Smith is a PhD student studing the effect of livestock grazing on the carbon cycle at the University of Aberdeen and has finished his internship as part of the BBSRC policy placement scheme.

12 July 2013

A bee-friendly British Library on the horizon…

On the evening of 26 June, the British Library was abuzz with discussion of issues surrounding the plight of the humble bee. This was our 21st event in the Science Team’s popular café scientifique series, TalkScience. “Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?” brought together scientists, policymakers and representatives from industry, along with the general public (many of them beekeepers), for a lively debate about the pressures facing bees and other wild insect pollinators.

British_Library_logo_and_honeybeeBee and pesticide discussions held at the British Library. Bee image © photo Eric Isselée.

BBC presenter and beekeeper, Bill Turnbull, chaired the panel comprising Dr David Aston (British Beekeepers Association), Dr Peter Campbell (Syngenta) and Dr Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge), who expressed a diverse range of views on the decline of insect pollinators and the effects of pesticides on bees. While some research suggests pesticides do have a detrimental effect on bee populations, the issue, as we heard, is far from clear-cut; land-use, diseases and poor weather conditions also contribute to the decline in numbers.

Introducing_TalkScience21_panel.Pollinators_and_pesticides_v2. Lee-Ann Coleman (British Library science team) introduces the panel. L-R: Bill Turnbull (BBC), David Aston (BBKA), Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge) and Peter Campbell (Syngenta). Photo: Peter Warner

The BBC Horizon team filmed the event as part of an upcoming programme on demystifying the issues impacting bees.  As well as highlighting the discussion from various experts to demonstrate the complexity of the issue, they wanted to reflect public concern for the plight of the bee. The BBC Horizon programme, which will likely contain clips from our TalkScience event, will be broadcast on Friday 2 August at 21.00, after Springwatch.

BBC_Horizon_filming_TalkScience21_panel.Pollinators_and_pesticidesTalkScience being filmed for the first time by BBC Horizon. Photo: Peter Warner

As a result of this TalkScience event, the Science Team is exploring how to make the British Library more bee-friendly. Please let us know about success stories from other public or city buildings that have made a bee-friendly transition, whether it’s planting more flowers or hosting hives of their own. And we'll report back on our own experiences.


The bee boleA potential idea of how to use books as solitary bee homes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Photo: Alec Finlay

Following on from TalkScience, lively discussion continues via the blog posting of beekeeper Emily Heath, who attended the event. Lynn Dicks, one of our panellists, also summarised her four key action points to protect bees and other wind insect pollinators after TalkScience, and in preparation for the Bee Summit.

Audience members discussing pollinators and pesticides during the TalkScience interval. Photo: Peter Warner.

The event was organised by the Science Team with significant contribution from our PhD student intern, Stuart Smith. Stuart has spent three months with us through a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded policy placement. Next week read about his un-bee-lievable placement at the British Library.

Stuart Smith and Johanna Kieniewicz