Odette Wills: a review of my BSPP outreach internship!

25 Apr 2014

News image
News image

Written by Odette Wills (University of Exeter/BSPP Outreach Intern).

My BSPP outreach internship has sadly come to an end; I have gained invaluable career experience and enjoyed myself while doing it. Working in such a small team has meant that I have encountered multiple aspects of science communication, from creating resources to running events. No tea and coffee making for me, it was a case of roll up my sleeves and get stuck in from day one! I feel that I have gained a true insight into science outreach and acquired many valuable skills along the way. Throughout the 3 months I have been on many fascinating trips.


January: real plant doctors

In January we went to the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) to meet Dr Paul Beales and saw the workings of a real plant doctors at the pathogen diagnostic centre. The FERA clinic receives plant samples from all over the UK, these specimens undergo tests to diagnose the causal pathogen. In some areas Katie Tomlinson (BSPP Outreach Officer) and I had to don 'stylish' foot covers and gloves, making us feel like plant detectives on a crime scene.


February: meeting the BSPP board and getting ready for the Big Bang Fair.

I enjoyed attending the February BSPP dinner and board meeting; it was interesting to see behind the scenes and better understand how the society runs. I worked really hard in February, helping to get a new secondary school level activity ready for the Big Bang Fair. We also trialled this activity in a secondary school, which provided valuable feedback.


March: the Big Bang Fair

On 13th – 16th March we ran the Plant Doctor stand at the Big Bang science fair; a four day event held at the Birmingham's NEC. This was the highlight of the whole internship. It was the most tiring and inspiring thing I have ever done. The six day round trip kicked off with Katie and I picking up a massive van; you could even stand up inside! I put on my 'brave' face and drove us, as carefully as physically possible, to Birmingham. There were a couple of other hiccups at the event, such as me throwing coffee all down myself and numerous accounts of getting lost, but overall the entire event was an enormous success. I really enjoyed getting to see the benefit of all our hard work developing materials through the engagement of individuals - from all age groups - in plant pathology. I even wrote an article of how the whole event went. It was been inspiring to see people working on science outreach from many different angles at this event. I thoroughly recommend attending the Big Bang Science fair in 2015 for a wonderful free day out.


March: the Molecular Biology of Plant Pathogens meeting

On the 25th-27th of March the outreach team attended the Molecular Biology of Plant Pathogens (MBPP) meeting at Reading University. We were there to run the BSPP publicity stall; informing people about the advantages and benefits of joining the BSPP and recruiting people to take part in our outreach activities. We attend some engaging talks and learnt about some exciting current plant pathology research!


What else have I been doing?

While not on the road my time has often been spent creating resources. As a social media novice Katie initially had a struggle teaching me the ropes of Twitter, however over time I have learnt the in's and out's of # and @ and finally understand it #IthinkIdoanyway! Releasing myself from the shackles of complicated scientific language was also hard work at first. Years of academic conditioning meant it was difficult to write a simple sentence that was both informative and engaging. Slowly over time this became a lot easier as I started to discover so many quirky and gruesome facts about plant pathology! For example did you know that the fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum releases over 100,000 spores in a single 'puff'. Together these form a spore-cloud which acts as a miniature air current that carries the spores over 20 times further than if one spore was released by itself! If you like this fascinating fact, check out our pathogen Information Sheets (online shortly) for more information. Not only have I expanded my knowledge of lots of plant diseases I've also realized how much I enjoying sharing this passion with other people. 

The outreach bug!

I am sad to be leaving my internship but all the things I have learnt will help me in my PhD work and aid me in communicating my findings to the public. I've caught the outreach bug and hope to be back helping at the plant doctor stand in the near future!

I'd like to say a huge thanks to the BSPP outreach officer Katie Tomlinson for all the support, direction and guidance. Also thank you to Dr Paul Beales and Dr Diane Hird for their help. Lastly thank you to the BSPP and all its board members for giving me such a great opportunity!


Thank you Odette! 

Katie Tomlinson (BSPP Outreach Officer):

'Odette was a fantastic support throughout her internship. She really developed so many different skills, including: managing lots of different tasks at once, communicating complex science to a wide audience at events such as the Big Bang and developing an engaging writing style for written resources. With these success I’m sure Odette will succeed with the remainder of her PhD and future career.'

Dr Paul Beales (BSPP Outreach Mentor)

'Odette worked exceptionally well during her internship and was a great ambassador for the BSPP.  She willingly took on many responsibilities and was happy to work in areas unfamiliar to her with great success.  She is a good team worker with a friendly, bubbly and enthusiastic personality.  These attributes are just what were required for this internship.'