My path to public engagement

My path to public engagement

My path to public engagement

Back in 2017 I brought a group of students all the way from South London to the Institute as part of a STEM engagement programme for sixth formers from ethnic minority backgrounds, who are often underrepresented in higher education. They met an amazing group of scientists who shared their career journeys in cell signalling research here and spoke to lab services technicians about their important role in keeping the labs working properly.

I had no idea that one day I'd be working at the Institute as a Public Engagement Officer!

Getting Started in Science

My journey started back in the late ‘noughties’ with my bachelor’s degree in Zoology at University College London. Learning from some of the world’s top researchers in life sciences about the magnificent diversity of the natural world - from flies to whales and a dissertation on snails - was a dream come true. Coming from a non-selective school, as the first person in my family to go to university, it was a life-changing experience and gave me a firm grounding in research and ecological fieldwork.

Sasha in the countryside with her arms outstretched

Outside of studying, I was drawn to public engagement. I became a student ambassador, conducted campus tours, mentored school students, and organized summer schools. I discovered a new passion – making science accessible to talented young people who may experience barriers in reaching university and research careers in STEM.

A scientific poster

Later I focused on my master's degree in Ecology, Evolution at Imperial College London, in beautiful surroundings. I had outstanding training in academic research methods and dabbled in biostatistics. My final project focused on changes in the fish populations and fisheries in the North Sea. This introduced me to the connections between lab science and politics and how public engagement could truly help shape our society for the better.

The MSc was also a gruelling experience, which made me question if scientific research was really for me. Luckily, I have always been open to new opportunities.

Science Museums & #SciComm

In 2010, I shifted from academia to public engagement full-time. My science background helped massively in science communication as a presenter and science educator in the Science Museum and Natural History Museum (NHM), in London. I loved being in the centre of a diverse melting pot of people, cultures, institutions and so much history, in the city where I grew up.

Sasha in museums that she worked in and presenting to children

Working in public engagement within the museums sector was a career choice I'd never expected, but it was the right one for me. It re-ignited my passion for sharing my awe and wonder for nature and scientific discovery, especially with audiences who have been historically underserved. At NHM I also joined the LEARN CitSci team– coordinating a Science Learning + research study, investigating environmental science learning for young people in citizen science.

COVID-19 Career Change

During the global pandemic I made another transition, into the (virtual) classroom, completing my PGCE in 2021. I trained as a teacher during the national COVID-19 lockdowns, after a challenging year in which I also sadly lost two relatives. Becoming a science teacher to 11–18-year-old students in a secondary school truly put my science communication skills and resilience to the test!

Sasha in an empty classroom with chairs on the tables

I learned a tremendous amount from passionate, knowledgeable, and committed teachers, who made time for me despite their daily challenges.

Teaching a range of subjects, including genetics, ecology, immunity, evolution, and cell biology, deepened my understanding of the importance of public engagement with real-world science. This eventually led me to apply for a job in the Public Engagement team at the Institute, where I officially started my role in early September.

Life at Babraham

My role at the Institute focuses on engaging with schools and teachers, especially building relationships between the Institute's researchers and local schools. I am excited to participate in various initiatives, including:

  • Protein Challenge 2023
  • The Cambridge Festival
  • Schools Day

For more information about upcoming events or if you're interested in getting involved, please click here. If you're a teacher looking to join our schools' mailing list or an Institute staff member curious about public engagement opportunities, please get in touch.