Evidence Matters EU

Evidence Matters EU

Hello all!

As part of my PhD doctoral training my funding body, BBSRC, expects me to take a bit of a break from my research project to embark on a 3 month internship. My internship was based at Sense about Science EU in Brussels and the main body of work I conducted  was geared towards finding speakers and beginning the organisation of and event called Evidence Matters EU. 

Evidence Matters is a campaign run by both Sense about Science and Sense about Science EU and is all about the citizen. The Evidence Matters campaign is working to mobilise citizens and provide them with a voice to let politicians know why evidence-based policy making is important in their everyday lives. Working on the Evidence Matters event was one of the most rewarding aspects of my internship due to the sheer diversity of the citizens Sense about Science were connecting with. You can therefore imagine my excitement when I was invited to attend the event on 21st June in European Parliament, Brussels. I jumped at the opportunity and I couldn’t be more glad that I did.

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The beautiful Grand Place, Brussels upon my arrival for the Evidence Matters event on 21st June 2017.

The gloriously hot weather upon my arrival in Brussels on 21st June set the tone for the rest of the day! Upon arrival, the citizens were taken for a tour of European Parliament which was followed refreshments (including wine!!) at a near-by establishment. There was a lot of excitement and nerves among the citizens about the 1 minute speeches they were giving. The atmosphere was certainly one of enthusiasm and anticipation. The event was hosted by Julie Girling, Marco Affronte and Jan Huitema and co-hosted by Ricardo Serrão Santos with Eva Kaili, Carlos Moedas, and Mairead McGuinness present as panel members. After an introductory word by Sense about Science EU director, Sofie Vanthournout, it was time!! The 16 citizens took to the floor! Each citizen stood up for a minute and, in their native language, explained why evidence-based policy making is integral to their everyday lives. Having the citizens speak in their mother-tongue was extremely powerful as the emotion when talking could be more clearly observed. The variety of languages also displayed clearly that concern regarding evidence-based policy is a Europe wide discussion. English translations of what each citizen was expressing were provided on the screen, allowing a clear understanding of each individuals concerns ranging from sustainable hunting to evidence-based medical treatments.



Once the citizens had spoken the MEPs were given an opportunity to respond. The MEPs all seemed to hold an extremely positive opinion of the event. The event finished with an opportunity for the MEPs to connect with citizens and discuss their concerns.

‘This has been one of the best events.’ Mairead McGuinness

Once the event had come to a conclusion the Sense about Science team took the citizens to a bar nearby to taste the famed Belgian beer! The event had such a clear ethos and was a fantastic opportunity that I can’t thank the Sense about Science EU and London offices enough for providing me with the experience. The Evidence Matters EU event was a roaring success and hopefully is just the beginning of many more to come from Sense about Science EU…I can’t wait to see what the future brings!

Sense about Science Evidence Matters Frank Pittoors photographer, fotograaf, portret, fpimagine-events sport dance-0346 | by Sense about Science
Sense about Science EU director chairing the panel after citizens have made their case for why Evidence Matters.

Placement: Week 12

Placement: Week 12

So here it is, the ultimate placement blog!  I am not being egocentric and implying this is THE BEST blog about placements (that’s a matter of opinion). No, I mean ultimate in terms of the final, last, terminal, conclusive blog post regarding my time at Sense about Science EU. I am constructing this on my ultimate day in my ultimate hour so I may get a little soppy and self-reflective but hey, its been an experience!

Those of you who have been following my experiences at Sense about Science EU will know that in my first week I went to European Parliament and was ever so excited. This week I attended my second parliament event. It seems rather fitting that I visited parliament in both my first and final weeks. Although I was just as eager (and still managed to get lost) I found I approached the event with a new found confidence. In my first week I was keen to alert people to the fact I had just started at Sense about Science EU (which was my British way of implying ‘please do not not to ask me any important or tricky questions’). The second time however I found myself much more confident during the event. Having a better understanding of Sense about Science’s ethos (and having met a lot of people in science comms) I felt I could have a more natural conversation surrounding what people were working on and how it might link with Sense about Science EU.

I have to admit, I found myself a little sad signing off contact with the members of the public who are working on the Evidence Matters campaign. One of the favoured parts of the internship was learning about the people ‘on the front line’ who are affected by policy changes. Chatting with them to develop and listen to their stories about why evidence is important to them has, without a doubt, been the best part of this internship. It means I have communicated with a variety of individuals fighting for a variety of causes. These diverse people have taught me a lot, not just about where the policy doesn’t quite work, but also about different cultures, nationalities, languages and the different issues we are challenged with in Europe.

Overall, interning at Sense about Science has been extremely rewarding. Working for an organisation that has such a clear ethos and encourages others to pursue that ethos is great. The director of Sense about Science EU, Sofie, has been an inspiring and supportive mentor, on both work related issues and general life matters. To anyone considering working in science comms, I would wholly recommend spending some time at Sense about Science EU for some genuine and enjoyable experiences (both professional and social) and if not for that, do it for those Belgian waffles!



Placement: Week 11

Placement: Week 11

So here it is, my penultimate week at Sense about Science! They say time flies when you’re having fun and I really can’t believe I am writing this during my final week in Brussels. It’s certainly been an interesting journey but I will leave the soppy self-reflection for my final post!

One of my tasks this week has involved promoting a ‘Standing up for Science EU’ workshop organised by Sense about Science EU. Promoting this has made me reflect on the opportunity I had to attend a ‘Standing for Science ’ workshop hosted in Glasgow. This week I thought I would share my experiences with you and explain how the Brussels workshop would differ.

On a beautiful, crisp morning in November 2016, I joined a group of fellow early career researchers at a fascinating workshop exploring the representation of science in the media. Sense about Science had arranged for experienced researchers and journalists to discuss with us the importance of public engagement in the scientific community.

The day started with tea and coffee, over which I explored why other early career researchers had applied for the workshop. I was struck by the overwhelming interest researchers held in ensuring their work is presented correctly to the public. Being surrounded by individuals who felt passionately about science representation in the media excited me as I expended a lot of time and energy in the first year of my PhD exploring the science behind the supposed beneficial effects of tequila (I wish) and many other products as presented by the media.

My enthusiasm was further encouraged during the workshop through a press conference style discussion with academics who shared their experiences with the media. The session focused on the potential dangers of communicating with the media and how researchers can avoid these dangers. Overall it became clear that communication is key! The take home advice we were given at this point was to be clear with our message and stick to our guns!

After a clear message from the academics (and a mid-morning caffeine hit) it was time to take on the panel of journalists! The insights they provided were fascinating and did a lot to improve my perception of science journalists. In the past, I attributed any misrepresentations in the media to extreme pressure placed on journalists to create an interesting story. Although the journalists agreed the pressure was is extremely evident, they made it very clear they don’t want a mistake published as it would tar their name.

To round up the day, we discussed the never-ending and exciting ways we, as early career researchers, can participate in public outreach making it apparent that whether you’re a public speaker or more of a computer whizz, you can find ways to promote the excitement of your research in an approachable, interesting way.

The workshop in Brussels plans to hold a similar layout but with the extra opportunity to meet and greet with policymakers! The additional time to talk with policymakers makes the ‘Standing up for Science EU’ workshop in Brussels an amazing opportunity not to be missed. I can guarantee, it’s a brilliant way to spend your day!


Image courtesy of Sense about Science.

Placement: Week 10

Placement: Week 10

As my final two weeks at Sense about Science EU encroach upon me, I thought I would revisit a topic I have already touched upon in my blog. Its an integral part of working in Brussels and it merges with a whole lot more of your social life than you anticipate…it’s networking. That’s right guys, get ready for networking 2.0!

When I wrote my previous post on networking it was early days in my internship. I knew networking was a big thing in the Belgian capital but I underestimated how many contacts (and enjoyment) I would get out of it. I should have twigged when I went to a running club meet up in my first week here. It did seem strange to me that there were 4 fellow science communicators (all of which familiar with Sense about Science) who were enduring the 5k in the snow, but I was a Brussels newbie so I continued without too many questions.

As time passed on I realised, wherever there are people there seems to be a networking opportunities. Everyone is in Brussels working for ‘someone who knows someone you know.’ The Six degrees of Separation theory actually seems rather generous here.

The fun associated with networking can often make you forget that it happening. A evening trip with wine and food to Leuven was actually an event in which 6 fellow scientific communicators attended and, despite all the fun, it held host to many interesting discussions surrounding work! Who knew, work can be fun!

Image courtesy of: http://www.cweonline.org/NewsEvents/ViewArticle/tabid/164/ArticleId/332/Wednesdays-Women-Wine-CWE-Worcester-Feb-27.aspx

Placement: Week 9

Placement: Week 9

I guess you could say week 9 has been pretty mellow compared to my previous weeks. Although I had a constant ‘to-do’ list, there were less meetings and networking events than seen before. No complaints here though, the unlimited coffee in the office was welcomed greatly. Most of my work this week has focused around the Evidence Matters event I have mentioned in previous blog posts.

Although I have dropped the Evidence Matters event into previous posts, I don’t think I have clearly explained the event and its aims. Promo time! I have mentioned Evidence Matters is all about mobilizing citizens within the EU. This means bringing real people who face the realities of policy changes to European Parliament. The event, which is being hosted by several MEPs;  Julie Girling, Marco Affronte and Jan Huitema, provides individuals with a platform to speak for 1 minute about why evidence is important to them in their everyday life. The support of MEPs means on the 21st June 15 citizens are able to enter European Parliament to provide their story of how evidence has helped their lives.

This week I was working on confirming the citizen speakers and developing their stories which meant a lot of emails and skype meetings. We have a wide range of interested citizens including a Spanish fisherman, a young person involved in the Except project who is concerned with youth employment and a representative of the Real Junk Food Project, Berlin who fight to reduce food waste. So far we have confirmed a dutch farmer, a Spanish environmentalist and a surf-rider from France who wants to protect the beach. This is just a taster of the variety of potential speakers we are aiming to have at the event. The range of citizens makes organising the Evidence Matters event fascinating but challenging. There are several hurdles, including language, that I face when talking to potential speakers as I am not well versed in the European policies surrounding many of the areas they are fighting for. I can honestly say at Sense about Science EU I have learnt the meaning behind the saying, ‘You learn something new everyday.’ I have really learnt evidence matters in all walks of life, not just science!


Image featured from :  Frédéric Solvel

Placement: Week 8

Placement: Week 8

Week 8, blink and you’ll have missed it! Things with the placement were definitely heating up last week. With a member of the London office (Dr Sile Lane) visiting Brussels for an extremely tight schedule of meetings and the Evidence Matters event looming closer, my ability to organise was being put to the test.

First thing on Monday was to prepare a schedule for Sile and Sofie. The task: ensure Sofie and Sile meet all the desired people with enough time to cover all topics required without rushing from one meeting point to another all the while considering Sile’s arrival and departure time…easy right? In reality, organisation would have been much easier if the contacts they were meeting hadn’t been quite so busy! But we managed and once meetings had been established all I had to do was ensure the waffles and coffee were prepared for any meetings in our office.

Chatting to the pair after each meeting was great. The enthusiasm to which they were met motivated me further in my work which lead to the organisation of a meeting in Ghent with a potential Evidence Matters speaker regarding open-pit gold mining in Spain. This coupled with an evening networking with other science comm folk in Leuven meant I got to see even more of Belgium, something I will never complain about!

Image courtesy of: http://www.maydae.com/diy/eat-your-waffles-fat-man/ 

Placement: Week 7

Week 7 at Sense about Science EU and after a couple of weeks of slightly ‘creative’ pieces , I thought it best to refer back to the internship at hand. Yes, although wine, food and culture discussions are interesting, so is science communication!

Working at Sense about Science EU involves a lot of communication, which results in interesting conversations but also challenging encounters which can be amplified by the language barrier. Interactions involving potentially explosive topics (classics include GMOs and pesticides) can be somewhat tentative between native English speakers so you can imagine the potential for upset when you throw in a multitude of different languages. Not only have I had to learn to sensitively address the differences in opinion, but I have also adapted the ability to do so using layman clear English.

The Evidence Matters event that Sense about Science EU are organising,  discussed in week 1, is about mobilising citizens within the EU. Getting down to the citizen level communication has,in some cases, been slightly troublesome. My lack of ability to speak anything more than pidgin French (or any other language to that matter) meant drafting in some volunteer translators has been a necessity. This week I have been in contact with an Italian doctor regarding a patient that had a good testimony for the Evidence Matters event. The challenge: the patient knows no English. Luckily for me,the doctor saved me from the turmoil of Google translate and agreed to act as translator. Now, I simply had to prepare a letter, for a layman that used clear, simple English to explain evidence-based policy and the Evidence Matters event, all the while ensuring we found out the details of the patients story to create a strong testimony. I also needed to consider the potentially sensitive nature of the patients story…easy right?! After a bit of time and a lot of advice from colleagues, I had drafted a letter which, I feel, achieved all of this while maintaining sensitivity…it turns out bullet points are very useful when trying to be clear!

Despite the complicated, challenging nature of this weeks tasks, I have learnt the answer to effective communication is the opposite…simplicity is key.  Basically, I have learnt it’s best not to over-complicate things…an important life lesson I would say!