Science communication competition FameLab virtually coming to TU/e on April 2nd

March 27, 2020

The jury of Famelab TU/e 2020 ‘wants to be surprised’.

FameLab is a science communication competition where young researchers are asked to present their work in an engaging manner and, in the process, gain new communication skills. And FameLab is coming to TU/e on Thursday April 2nd. Digitally that is, to allow as many people as possible to attend the event due to the current Covid-19 situation. Here we introduce you to the three members of the jury that will decide on one of the winners. The other will be chosen by the audience.  

Science communication is of paramount importance as it serves to inform people of the latest advancements and to inspire people to become active in science. As a result, it’s important that scientists can tell captivating stories about their work that are accessible to audiences.

FameLab is a science communication competition with a twist. Researchers are given just three minutes to speak about a research topic of their choice. There are no presentation slides but props are allowed. FameLab is an international event with more than 30 countries taking part in last year’s competition.

Before the national final in the Netherlands, a number of heats are taking place at Dutch universities to select the finalists. The FameLab TU/e heat was set to take place at a location in the center in Eindhoven. However, due to the measures that are in place to address the current Covid-19 situation, FameLab TU/e will go digital and take place online on Thursday April 2nd.

As with any competition, FameLab TU/e 2020 has a jury, which consists of last year’s FameLab TU/e winner Dan Jing Wu, science editor at national radio station BNR Karlijn Meinders, and TU/e physicist Kees Storm. Moderator for FameLab TU/e Barry Fitzgerald (Science Communication Officer at TU/e) sat down with the jury to hear some of their thoughts on FameLab TU/e 2020.

(Left) Dan Jing Wu; (Center) Karlijn Meinders; (Right) Kees Storm.

Dan Jing Wu (PhD candidate at Department of Biomedical Engineering (TU/e) and winner of FameLab TU/e 2019)

Why did you enter FameLab TU/e 2019?

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail with a link to the event page. I was getting involved with science communication at the time and I thought that this was a very good opportunity to learn more about it. The challenge of having just three minutes to talk about your work is something that I really wanted to take on.

What is it like to present your work in three minutes as part of FameLab?

It’s important to be very clear. When it comes to preparing for your talk, I think you should prepare for less than three minutes. In this way, you can really take your time with your story and it allows you to put more emphasis on certain elements of the story. Three minutes is very short and researchers are used to presenting for far longer than this. I found it refreshing to present in 3 minutes. It was something different.

What did you take away from your involvement in FameLab?

Before FameLab I would have been cautious about getting involved in science communication or outreach activities, such as doing videos or podcasts. But after FameLab, I picked up skills that have helped me to be creative with regards to presenting my work to different audiences.

This year you are a judge instead of being a contestant. What are you looking for as a judge?

I’m looking for a very clear story and I want to be surprised. I want the presentations to be memorable and to stand out from the rest. Then the contestants do a very good job. But the most important thing is to make sure that the story is clear.


Karlijn Meinders (Science Editor and Presenter of De Techniektour at BNR Nieuwsradio)

You’re the external representative on the judging panel. In many ways you’re representing the general public on the panel. What are you most looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to being surprised. As a journalist, I hear lots of stories and I receive lots of e-mails. Some of these stories and e-mails stand out. Some are different than what’s already been done before. Sometimes the story is better or the person telling the story knows how to tell it better. For FameLab, I want to be surprised by the person or the story.

Second, enthusiasm is also something that I’m looking for. If you’re able to enthuse any audience about your work, there’ll be more general acceptance of your work. You need communication skills nowadays as the general public needs to know if what you’re doing is important. And if nobody knows about the significance of your research then it’s going to be harder to get funds.

In FameLab, the contestants speak about their work in 180 seconds or less. What advice do you have the contestants when it comes to crafting their story?

Well first of all, this sounds like a difficult prospect, but the contestants need to be confident about the hard decisions they make on the content in their story and then stick to it. It’s important to only include the most important details and to ensure that you communicate in your story that your work makes you happy. Be sure that people can hear this in the pitch. If there’s a smile in your voice when you’re talking people can tell.

Coming from radio, how important are proper acoustic cues and pauses in the delivery of your story?

First, it has to feel good for the individual person. It needs to feel natural so don’t force things that don’t feel good for you or are not representative of you. People can tell when you’re faking it.

Second, don’t be afraid to take it easy. Three minutes is a short period of time so people might naturally speed up as they are on the clock. They might also get stressed because it’s exciting. Breathe and pause. It’s okay to be silent for a second. If your story is airtight then it doesn’t matter. A tactical pause can release tension and show people that you’re not worried, you’re okay, and that you’ve got this. Of course this means that you have to be very strict about what you include in your story.


Kees Storm (Researcher at Department of Applied Physics, TU/E)

How important is Science Communication?

It’s massively important. We get our money from the general public and we do research that is intended to help the general public. This research can help them to live better lives, live smarter lives. I think that it is important that they know about what we as researchers are doing and what kind of future they need to start preparing for.

What are you most looking forward to as one of the judges for FameLab?

I’m looking for science content. This is a huge ask but these contestants must be able to convey some of their hard work in an understandable manner. I’m not looking for trivial things or quick scores. I want work that actual effort has gone into. This is the biggest challenge when it comes to presenting in such a format.

Other than that I’m looking for clarity and enthusiasm. I’m looking for people who can really get across why their work is important, why it’s exciting, and why people should know about it. But scientifically it’s content first!

If you had the opportunity to enter a competition like FameLab when you were starting out your career in scientific research, would you have entered?

That’s a really good question. When I was doing my PhD, I would have been reluctant since it is such an unfamiliar format and I was busy with many other tasks associated with my research. As I’m becoming more familiar with speaking to broader audiences, I find that if I’ve prepared well and if I’ve a good story to tell then it’s actually something that I really enjoy!

Today I would definitely sign up for this brilliant science communication competition (if I were eligible that is). Taking part in FameLab allows researchers to develop transferable skills that cannot be taught in the confines of a small research group, at a desk, or at a scientific conference. These skills will not only help individuals to speak to the outside community but also help them to become better researchers.

Media Contact

Barry Fitzgerald
(Science Information Officer)