Tiger-skin boots, big hair and science

I recently arranged a school day where students could learn about the drug discovery process, starting with a bit of chemistry, to testing a drugs on water-fleas. I was going to open the day with an experiment that changes colour – the traffic light experiment– to teach the students about reduction and oxidation and then move on to an assay. I had the day all planned out and then I thought I should think about my non-verbal communication, too.

One thing I like to stress to all people, and particularly school children, is that there isn’t one type of person who can become a scientist. The problem is that you can say this but people are often hearing your words without really taking them in. How can you really show that there are a lot of different kinds of people in science? Well, you can show them.

When I have to present, a bit of make up or a nice top can make me feel more confident. Some people don’t need to do this and hat’s off to them, but I like make-up, so that’s my thing. I thought that your average teenager wouldn’t be too surprised if the person that took their class was wearing a bit of make-up, but how about showing them how I really look most of the time? I got out my favourite pair of shoes (tiger-skin, very high, see below), took my rather unruly big hair down and introduced them to the building as someone who they might not associate with the lab-environment.

This gave me the added opportunity to get them to ‘dress me for the lab’. I asked them what was wrong with my outfit if I wanted to conduct safe lab chemistry. Lo and behold, my shoes were the first thing they commented on, so they hadn’t gone un-noticed. I swapped them for my favourite comfy lab shoes: Old cowboy boots, if you must know (also, below). Over the next ten minutes they swapped my metallic coat for a lab coat, made me pin my hair up and recommended that I wear some safety specs – perfect!

BootsShiny coatCowboy boots

 

With my mission of engaging them accomplished, we moved on to the science and I really felt that they got a lot out of the day.

I think most people will iron their clothes (or make sure they’re at least clean) when they talk to an audience but you should keep in mind that as soon as your in the room you are communicating with your audience, make sure you’re saying something helpful.

Fred Humphreys

Scientist at University of Portsmouth
I'm a research scientist based in Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. My passions include biology, gardening and walking.

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