Glasgow Science Festival: Bee the Change

Glasgow Science Festival creates a space where the public can learn about current issues in science and society, from health and well-being to the environment. We spoke to three PhD students who are shedding a light on the growing threats to our bee populations.


1. Who are you and what do you do?

Kirstin – I’m Kirstin, a first-year PhD student in public health. I’ll be using big data to explore patient adherence to cardiovascular medications, or more simply, looking to see if people are picking up their drugs to keep their heart healthy. It’s an important area of research because unfortunately, we have a lot of heart disease in the West of Scotland!

Fernanda – I am an animal and plant lover that used to grow tadpoles in my fancy Barbie’s whirlpool and pool. My interest for living beings and their development inspired me to pursue a career on biological sciences. Later, I felt a lot of curiosity for those microscopic beings we cannot see but can exterminate the whole of humanity. For this reason, I specialised in cellular and molecular parasitology, which is the study of parasites that cause diseases. Currently, I am finishing my PhD thesis which was focused on reassessing the ability of a parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii, to move and invade human cells. Since then, I have converted in a micro-photographer and micro-movie maker. I have spent plenty of hours on different microscopes studying the way parasites move and penetrate human cells in the absence of very important components of the parasite “micro engine” .

Lynne – I work in Public Health Medicine and am in my second year of a PhD.  I’m interested in how public health threats are reported in the media and how this impacts on public perceptions of risks to their own health.  I’m particularly interested in what the public thinks about the health risks associated with antibiotic resistance.

2. Have you done public engagement before? What made you want to get involved?

Kirstin – I wanted to get involved because public engagement is so important to big data research. People find it a scary concept and I know in my career going forward I need to help people understand why I do what I do and how we keep patient data safe, otherwise they might not trust the research we are doing. Although our activity isn’t informing people about big data, I thought Glasgow Science Festival would be a fun way to get involved with public engagement and build my confidence for future outreach projects.

Fernanda – I’m lucky to have been involved in several ‘Crafty Critters’ events. This project, developed by  students at the University of Glasgow,  aims to teach the general public what different parasites look like and how they function. I had the opportunity to interact with lots of people of different ages. Their comments and questions made me realise the importance of communicating relevant/accurate information to others in a friendly and informal manner. For this reason, I thought that the Glasgow Science Festival was not only an opportunity to project my own ideas, but also to interact with other fellow students similarly interested in passing the voice of science to the general public.

Lynne – I’ve had plenty of experience with working with the public as a doctor but not of sharing scientific research.  That’s a whole different ball game!  To generate interest, an activity has to be fun but also to be relevant to the audience, and hopefully show them how they can make a difference.  Antibiotic resistance is such an important issue and I think we can communicate it more effectively – I hope I will be able to use some of the skills I learn by being involved in the Glasgow Science Festival to develop some public engagement activities around my own research area. Plus, you get to wear a bee costume!

3. Describe your activity to us. Why should we come along?

The importance of hives and individual bees has been remarkably understated over the years. These insects are gardeners, farmers, landscapers, and honey chefs of nature, but sadly their populations are rapidly declining and dangerously disappearing. Our activity  is focused in three different points: 1. Why bees are important 2. Why they are disappearing and 3. How we can help.

Our activity allows you to ‘Bee the Change’. Here, kids (or adults!) get to dress up as queen bees, and carry a hive while tackling our obstacle course. The aim is to rescue as many bees from your colony as possible before time runs out. At the end of the trail, you get a small bee-friendly gift for helping bees, taking the message home and spreading the information as much as possible.

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

Kirstin – I think it would be amazing to go to Iceland. I loved geography at school and it would be really cool to see a real glacier, climb a volcano, and see the Northern Lights. I’m also a big food fan so I’d love to travel to the Far East and explore some authentic cuisines!

Fernanda  If I had the chance I would love to explore the deepest and darkest environments of the sea even if my mom won’t let me go. What’s most interesting to me is the capacity of all beings in there to adapt to such a habitat. The anatomy of these organisms is extremely specialised for high pressure, darkness, and cold temperatures. Interestingly, these important environmental characteristics drove them to develop senses and biological features opposite to all the other living beings that inhabit the surface. Go team abyss!

Lynne – I have always wanted to explore the breath-taking scenery of the Rocky Mountains in Canada.  I’m more interested in photography than climbing so I would probably prefer to do this by train! There are also lots of beautiful parts of the Scottish highlands and islands that I have yet to explore.

 5. What’s the best thing about being a scientist or engineer?

Kirstin – I love being part of the scientific community. Now that I’m in public health I don’t get to spend time in the lab anymore, but I still get to do research that could genuinely benefit people and I find that really exciting. I was at a health informatics conference recently and it was fascinating to see what you can explore with big data; it’s a great time to be working in such a dynamic field.

Fernanda – The best bit about being a scientist is keeping alive the girl that grew tadpoles in a toy pool; I know that conditions have changed a lot, but the principle is the same. We do things for passion, vocation, knowledge and somehow, improve the living  quality of others. We all have projects directed to think outside the box and progress by updating information. Interestingly, this is the way to march forward as humanity and as professionals. In the same sense, in the same way.

Lynne – I am increasingly interested in behavioural science.  In order to improve health, we need to know the science behind disease and prevention, but we also need to understand what it is that determines whether people are able to make necessary changes to the way they live.  To make a difference to people’s lives we need all branches of science working together.

Join Kirstin, Fernanda and Lynne for ‘Bee the Change’ at Science Sunday on Sunday 18 June. Free, drop-in. Full details on the website.


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