Beer and science / Bere și ştiinţă

From blogging to creating a network of science communicators abroad

Headshot of Monica Abrudan, a woman with light skin and brown hair, with a smile looking at camera

Monica Abrudan is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute working on the genetic epidemiology of infectious diseases.

Monica Abrudan is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute working on the genetic epidemiology of infectious diseases.

Monica delivering an activity for CGaP at the Science centre.

Monica delivering an activity for CGaP at the Science centre.

I have a special interest in engaging in my own language. Science takes place mainly in English, and I feel we are leaving many people out that simply do not speak the language or do not speak it well enough. This has led me to translate Wikipedia entries into Romanian, my native language. I think I might have already translated more than 50!

I started writing about science in a blog, in the first years of my PhD. Having worked as a software engineer before, I had little knowledge about life sciences and reading and understanding scientific research articles was an arduous task. So, I would summarise and explain the scientific articles I was reading.  Blogging proved to be fun and it helped me structure, digest and remember scientific concepts.

I was blogging in Romanian and this is how I learned the translations for certain scientific terms. I like to think that my blog was also helping others, as some of my articles have been referenced in Romanian mainstream newspapers. My blog became a sort of repository, or diary of the scientific topics that fascinated me over the years and I sometimes refer back to it when I explain my ideas. For example, I referenced one blog about the public engagement activities I ran with colleagues at a school in Haverhill when I approached teachers in Romania with an idea for a project. It was easy for them to get an understanding of the type of activities we were suggesting to implement in Romania, based on the blog posts. 

When I started working in my current role, within the CGPS team (Centre for Genomic Pathogen Surveillance), my colleagues organised a public engagement activity for World Antibiotic Awareness Week and encouraged me to contribute to other face-to-face public engagement events, like the Cambridge Science Festival or school activities with pupils from the Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill.

Aerial view of Bucarest

Bucarest. Image credit: Aleksandr Osipov.

Bucarest. Image credit: Aleksandr Osipov.

This is how I came to realise that face-to-face public engagement events have a different impact to blogging. So, in 2019, along with three other Romanian colleagues from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and EMBL-EBI, I applied for a Public Engagement Enabling Fund from Wellcome Connecting Science, to organise a series of public engagement events in three cities in Romania. We named the series “Beer and Science” where scientists gave presentations to the general public in local pubs. In each Beer and Science event, up to 10 junior and senior researchers gave 5-minute talks, followed by a Q&A, in front of an audience of up to 30 people. 

The events, each coordinated by one Bioinformatician from the Wellcome Genome Campus, promoted the importance of interdisciplinary research with an emphasis on Bioinformatics, Genomics and Personalised Medicine. It aligned with my effort to raise awareness about science in general in Romania and to start a network of local science communicators.

woman holding beer and science t shirt
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woman holding beer and science t shirt

One thing I learnt from organising public engagement activities outside the UK, was the need to provide a national context: to explain what was being done in Romania in these directions of research, or how strategies from abroad could be implemented there. 

Something that also struck me was the fact that young Romanian scientists preferred to deliver their talks in English, although their audience was Romanian. This aspect created a sort of elitism and excluded some people from the B&S events, including my father, who is definitely interested in popular science but lacks English skills. 

A review from a few years ago on the popular science resources available in Romanian concluded that online scientific resources were scarce. There was not much popular science content generated in Romanian by professional science communicators.

This motivated me even more to support science communication. The Beer and Science events were received with enthusiasm by local researchers, students and the general public. However, it will take several iterations before public engagement activities in local communities become a trend and continue to be organised independently by local scientists in Romania.

Remarkably, a group of researchers who had been involved in the Beer and Science events stepped in early in the COVID-19 pandemic and created an online resource hub, in collaboration with a Romanian Government Agency, to inform the general public with important facts about the virus and disease.

screenshot of the RSBI website with information on COVID

The RSBI covid updates website

The RSBI covid updates website

The events were organised in collaboration with local researchers from the Faculty of Computer Science and Faculty of Biology at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, researchers at Faculty of Medicine in Targu-Mures and researchers from the Institute of Biochemistry in Bucharest. It does take some time to reach out to researchers from abroad, to gain their trust and to convince them it is worth investing their time in something like public engagement, which in their eyes has little academic value, yet has huge potential in terms of changing public attitudes towards science. 

On the personal side, I have improved my public speaking skills and have learned some tricks about how I can keep an audience interested. The feedback forms that were handed out to the audience at the end of each event were very informative in that respect. Although it was not obvious in the first place why public engagement events in Romania should be run in the local language, some attitudes did change along the way, and the last of the Beer and Science events we had planned for March 2020 was supposed to happen in Romanian. Unfortunately, this event got cancelled because of the pandemic, but we are looking into organising similar events, online - and in Romanian!

beer and science poster