Science alumnus runner-up in FameLab National Final

University of Melbourne alumnus Andrew Katsis was runner-up in the national final of British Council Australia’s FameLab, which celebrates effective science communication in young scientists.

FameLab is an annual competition looking for young scientists who can present their work in dynamic, engaging and accessible ways. At the national final, held at the Western Australian Maritime Museum, participants were asked to speak for three minutes about their research.

Andrew’s talk was titled ‘The benefits of being an attentive embryo’. He spoke about zebra finch embryos and their capacity to grow in anticipation of hotter temperatures, in response to a “heat call” from their parents. It was concise, clear and bookended with Dr Seuss rhymes.

Andrew’s speech at the national finals.

“I applied for Famelab in February, at the very last minute,” said Andrew. “I was so busy with my summer experiments that I filmed my application video at sunset on the final day of submission.”

Despite his rushed entry, Andrew made it through to the semi-finals held at the Melbourne Museum, and polished his presentation during science communication training from the British Council.

“I enjoyed meeting the other finalists—an assortment of early-career researchers with diverse presentation styles. On the morning of the national final, we sat around in a semi-circle and gave feedback on each other’s practice talks, so there was a real sense of camaraderie rather than rivalry.”

British Council Australia aims to raise the priority of science communication in the research world, and with events such as FameLab they share the importance of making science accessible to non-scientific audiences.

Andrew completed a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science (Zoology) at the University of Melbourne. During his masters, he honed his communication skills by completing the popular Science Communication subjects run by Dr Jenny Martin. He is currently researching zebra finch embryos for his PhD at Deakin University. Like for many other participants, the experience taught Andrew some handy science communication tips.

“You need to grab the audience’s attention from the get-go. That’s step number one, and you can sneak your science in afterwards,” says Andrew.

“The more you communicate, the better you get at it. Standing onstage before hundreds of people doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’ve embarrassed myself enough times that I’ve developed something of an immunity.”

Andrew holding his MSc study species, a superb fairy-wren.

Andrew’s dream career is to combine ecology with science communication.

“I think it's crucial that scientists be able to engage with the public, to influence policy and inspire the next generation of Attenboroughs.”