science made simple celebrate ten years

by Wendy Sadler

 

I am so excited to write this blog to celebrate and reminisce over 10 years of science made simpleBack in the Autumn of 2002 I entered perilously into the world of the freelancer. This grew to become the world of the small business owner and has now evolved to become the world of the social enterprise.

We had many brilliant and creative ideas on how to mark this monumental occasion. However most of them cost significantly more than our marketing budget allows, so unless any rich philanthropist wants to step in and fund a big SMS celebration party (please?), we are going to do as much as we can throughout the coming year within our means! Starting with this blog.

And here it is: an attempt to distil 10 years of SMS activity into 10 little nuggets about who we are, what we have achieved so far, and the things that really matter to us. Read on and enjoy!

 

1. People with passion

Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

When I set up science made simple, it was always my intention to provide stimulating jobs for science communicators. I’d worked at many science centres, and often the staff who presented shows didn’t get to develop them, and the staff who got to develop them didn’t have any time to present them! Many places had paid by the hour casual staff, with no budget for training and development.

I had a dream… that I could create jobs for those talented people and together we could change the world! This business model is challenging. More financially successful competitors use casual staff, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. We may not pay huge salaries but we do invest time, money and lots of effort to make sure our staff have interesting and rewarding jobs and give them Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Even our staff who have now left us have gone on to brilliant things – becoming teachers and Science Junkies to name a few – and I hope we had a positive part to play in the impact those people can bring. We started with one part-time member of staff (err… me) and we now have 13 staff on our payroll. I fully intend this to grow in the next five years if I can find enough talent!

Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

 

 

2. Projects to be proud of

Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

Projects are an aspect of the job that keeps it interesting for presenters, when they aren’t out on the road presenting.

The very first project science made simple worked on was Lab in a Lorry, supported by the Schlumberger Foundation and the Institute of Physics. It was a fascinating process and I got to work with some great people including Caitlin Watson, David Burrett Reid, Paula Martin and the inimitable Dave Ansell. I’m proud to say we’ve continued working with all those people in all sorts of different guises since those early days – which I hope is a good sign! And on that project I got to see a wine glass (eventually) shatter with sound. A personal geek dream come true!

Other memorable projects include our show to promote STEM careers to girls, Who wants to be a superhero?, which included a debate about whether superhero was a gender specific term that we could therefore not use (sigh!). Since then we’ve created projects about Maths, Bloodhound SSC, Gravitational Waves, Bionic Ears and even a non-verbal science theatre show, Visualise.

The diversity of topics is amazing, but as I’m often reminded still leans towards our roots in physical sciences and engineering. That will soon be changing…

 

3. Shows, shows, shows!!

Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

What can I say? This is the core business of what we do. We love shows and we’re expert at them now; after 10 years of developing 24 new shows, which have collectively reached almost 400,000 people. From 3 year-olds in bobble hats to the ethics of prolonging life using cryonics, from the award-winning and truly ground breaking non-verbal theatre show Visualise, to our brand new engineering suite of shows, we’ve done a lot. In fact, we’ve done shows for the visually impaired and shows for the deaf, and we just can’t get enough of them. We sometimes consider that we may have a few too many of them now, but it’s hard to put them away when you’ve sweated over every word of that script and every nuance of each demo. Take a breath, here’s the conclusive list of every show we have developed to date!

Music to Your Ears, Science of Sport, Cartoon Science, Bubbles and Balloons, Beyond the Rainbow, From Cradle to Grave, Gravity: Beyond the Apple, Bloodhound Supersonic Car, Izzy’s Incredible Adventure, The Bionic Ear, Visualise, I’ve Got Your Number, Who Wants to be a Superhero?, Maths Apps, A Rough Guide to Engineering, Music vs the Machine, Science of Sound,Herschel Space Observatory Show, Sound at the Extremes, It’s Only Water, Science of the Voice, Einstein made simple, Science Sleuths, On Your Marks, Tomorrow’s Engineers

 

4. The unsung heroes

Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

You may have seen the famous David Price busking the streets of Malaysia and Manchester, you may have seen our very own Becky Holmes performing with Sponge Bob Squarepants at the Cheltenham Science Festival, or any other number of our talented presenting crew who are out there strutting their stuff – but what you may not know about is our amazing support team back at the office who make it all possible. Here’s a huge shout out to Helen James who processes all our travel receipts, Dan Reed who reads through all our international contracts, and Abby “Cuppa Tea?” Read who answers the phone when we all jet off on tour to Abu Dhabi. If you don’t know, we also have the brilliant SMS advisory group who generously donate their time to help us network in high places where we don’t necessarily have a seat at the table.

Hats off to you all – the unsung heroes of science made simple.

 

5. Our global impact

Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

Last year we reached our 26th country and our 389,000th person. We’re proud to have installed reliable evaluation procedures in place so we can cumulatively collect data about the impact we are having on those we reach, both in numbers and more importantly in attitude changes to STEM subjects. Over 90% of people we see learn something new from our shows and 60% have an increased interest in STEM after we’ve talked to them. In fact, we now update our evaluations live to our website, so everyone can see our most up to date feedback.

Our global impact is better when seen rather than talked about, and is nicely demonstrated on this map:

Get Directions

 

 

6. Building a legacy

Photo: science made simple (CC-BY-NC)

Over the last ten years we have held contracts to train members of the Institute of Physics, FameLab finalists, EPSRC funded researchers, all the Researchers in Residence, Tenovus Cancer researchers and some Butlins redcoats (to name but a few). By sharing our skills and experience with those who have something very exciting of their own to say, we hope to build a truly significant legacy of brilliant STEM role models. Science made simple owns 50% of The Training Group, and along with our good friends, Graphic Science (who own the other half!) we are working away to ensure that there isn’t just a good supply of scientists and engineers for the future, but that they’re all great at communicating what they do as well.

 

7. Pivotal Moments

  1. Scribbling the logo for SMS on an envelope and getting an old friend and illustrator, Liz Bryan, to turn it into something real.
  2. Taking on my very first employee, Helen Lloyd. I had never realised how nerve-racking it can be as an interviewer! I’m proud that Helen now works as a physics teacher and continues to spread her passion for physics to many generations of scientists to come.
  3. Picking up the keys to our very first van! Although realistically anyone can go and buy a van to put their name on, this made the whole company feel very real all of a sudden. The old Citroen Despatch is still going strong (well she is now she’s had a new engine and gearbox, anyway) and has been christened ‘baby van’, as we have since added to the fleet with two more vans – Mega van and FUB, our little red van in the North.
  4. Having one of my childhood heroes, Johnny Ball come and launch our company and say very nice things about all the stuff we were doing. It felt like a wonderful but very surreal dream, and I was incredibly proud that day.
  5. Branching out into the North of England by snatching up the brilliantly talented Mr David Price. David has consistently, year on year, delivered more shows than any other presenter we have. We’ve tried to get him to slow down but he just can’t help himself! Also dubbed our international networking champion, he regularly spends large chunks of his year in other countries flying the SMS flag in many languages and cultures. A year or two later we then got the chance to work with one of my all time presenting heroes, James Piercy, who came on board with SMS in 2007. Norwich may not have been the most obvious choice for our second region, but when it’s a region that contains ‘The Piercy’, you’d be a fool to turn it down.
  6. Wondering whether it would be possible to develop a science show with no words – 7 years on, and after many hard hours of work from the performers and the fundraisers, we have a fantastic touring theatre show: Visualise. It has travelled to 16 countries already and inspired others to think about new ways to communicate science. The hairs on the back of my neck still tingle when I watch the finale of the show, which must be a good sign. Recently there has been talk of developing it into a TV format – exciting times ahead for the Visualise project! None of this could have happened without support from the IOP, NESTA, The British Council, The Scottish Executive, The Welsh Royal College of Music and Drama, and EPSRC.
  7. Appearing on prime time TV with the astoundingly un-flappable Becky Holmes in a bid to attract funding from some millionaires in the (never to be recommissioned) ITV programme, Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway. Richard Madely loved us, the audience loved us, but Duncan Bannatyne and some idiot footballer (who hated science at school) turned us down. More importantly, the way we were treated by the TV programme itself was an eye opening experience that helped focus both Becky and I away from getting too starstruck by TV opportunities again… some years later, older and wiser, I did enjoy a dabble on screen with Alan Titchmarsh in 2011, which was much more fun!
  8. Standing on stage in Brussels after being awarded the €50,000 EU Descartes Prize for Innovation in Science Communication, having competed against hundreds of projects across Europe. Even more gob-smacking was that the previous years winners included David Attenborough and Bill Bryson. It’s not often I am lost for words, but that evening I (almost) was! The money has been invested in developing our business, and still allows us to take the occasional managed risk in new directions. It has been pivotal in allowing us to remain creative and secure through minor financial ups and downs.
  9. Reaching our quarter of a millionth audience member in a local school, where the wonderful Becky Davies presented them with our Science Sleuths show and a certificate and gift to mark the momentous occasion. Here’s to the next three-quarters of a million!
  10. Realising every year at our SMS annual retreat that I have the best job in the world, and am lucky to work with such an amazing bunch of people who are passionate about the same thing I am. Sitting in a youth hostel writing a new science show about bananas – it just doesn’t happen in most jobs!

All photos: science made simple © (All Rights Reserved)

8. Our favourite science demos

Photo: science made simple © (All Rights Reserved)

 

 

9. Biggest learning experiences

Photo: science made simple © All rights reserved

  • Sometimes the customer isn’t always right and you have to gently tell them what the educational research says and what our experience has taught us. They may not listen.
  • Staff will leave you. I didn’t think it would happen but it does.
  • In a team consisting of at least 4 women of childbearing age, people will get pregnant (5 babies in less than 5 years – we’re good at maternity leave now!)
  • People with different values to you sometimes get the big funding. Don’t dwell on it too much.
  • Remember why you love what you do and force yourself to spend some time doing it as often as you can (despite the other stuff you have to do).
  • We never shout loud enough about what we have achieved – we’re too busy getting on with it usually!

 

10. Our vision for the next 10 years

Photo: science made simple © All Rights Reserved

> 1,000,000

To have reached over a million people through our live shows!

Redefine

To redefine the image of scientists and engineers to all those who have seen our shows.

x2

To have at least twice as many brilliant science communicators working for us, covering more regions and reaching even more people.

Social Mission & Sustainability

To improve our business model to get the balance between social mission and sustainability right, in order to help us secure better jobs for those aforementioned brilliant science communicators.

 

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in News