Behind the Scenes at PCST 2020

23 October 2019

Preparations for PCST 2020, to be held in Aberdeen on 26-28 May next year, are in full flow. Get a peek behind the scenes with our interviews with PCST Network Programme Committee Chair Jenni Metcalfe and Local Organising Committee Co-Chair Heather Doran.

It’s clear that there’s lot of preparation going on for PCST 2020, from venue selection to reviewing abstracts. Hear about current activity and some top tips from Jenni Metcalfe and Heather Doran below.

Jenni Metcalfe, PCST Network Programme Committee Chair

You’re the chair of the programme committee for PCST. How long have you been doing this? 

I was elected chair of the PCST Network Program Committee at the Istanbul PCST conference in 2016. This means I’ve been doing it for almost four years. I got involved because I wanted to influence the quality of our PCST conferences. In particular, I wanted to create sessions that would generate discussions and new thinking around science communication. I also wanted to make sure the program delivered on the goal of the Network to bring science communication practitioners and researchers together for mutual benefits. Lastly, I think the quality of conference sessions depends on the quality of the chairs, and I wanted to promote and inspire those who chair sessions—mostly the members of the PCST Scientific Committee—towards excellence.

What’s the best part of the role?

The best part is gaining some understanding of the breadth of practice and scholarship being carried out in science communication across the globe. For the last conference I examined every proposal, to at least some degree, and corresponded with each author. While this is time-consuming, it’s also endlessly fascinating.

I also enjoy interacting with the local organising committee, and had a productive day visiting venues and meeting with organisers in Aberdeen earlier this month. The opening night plenary will be held in the wonderful Aberdeen Music Hall and will feature locally composed music. The conference will be held in new state-of-the art facilities right next to the airport. It’s the same venue used by the likes of Elton John and Michael Buble!

What do you find the most challenging aspect?

Time, time and time. I need to fit in program committee meetings and tasks in between my full-time job of running a science communication consultancy. Luckily, I forgot to have children so at least I don’t have the same family pressures as others might!

Any insights about the submissions this year? 

Not yet… only that a few reviewers have said that they thought the standard of proposals was higher this time around. This means it is going to be tricky deciding on the proposals to accept into the program. That will be the program committee’s big task after reviews close on November 10.

Heather Doran, Local Organising Committee Co-Chair

What’s your role in PCST 2020? 

I am the Co-Chair of the Local Organising Committee with Professor Marcel Jaspers and a member of the PCST Conference programme committee. I bid for the conference with Dr Ken Skeldon in Istanbul in 2016 and was elected as a member of the PCST Scientific Committee in 2018 in New Zealand. I’m involved with every aspect of the conference – from the venues, spaces and social events to the programming of sessions and speakers. There’s a huge team of people involved in making PCST happen and it has been an absolute privilege to work with so many incredible people across the UK and the globe who all have fantastic ideas to make the conference come to life.

Any news on plans for the conference? 

The planning is extremely busy – we started back in 2016 working with the venue and supporters. Since then we’ve defined the themes for the conference, outlined the structure, worked with sponsors to keep our costs down for delegates, created materials to support people to attend, invited keynote speakers, launched the call for contributions and are now busy reviewing abstracts! We want to make sure that the social side of PCST demonstrates Scottish hospitality too – stand by to hear more about that.

I am so pleased that we could launch our ‘pay-it-forward’ initiative so those that feel they are able to can contribute funding to enable others who might be less financially able to attend. We’re also extremely grateful to The Wellcome Trust for supporting a number of bursaries.

The conference venue is brand new and the building hadn’t started when we first placed our bid. It is complete now though! The Music Hall venue where we will open PCST has also been through a transformation during this time. The Music Hall was built (as a revamp of an existing development) for a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science back in 1859. That meeting was so popular that they had to cap the membership – I hope we get a similar response for PCST!

What are you most excited about so far?

I am really excited about the conversations and connections that take place at PCST – even more so because these will be happening in Aberdeen. Although I’m not originally from Aberdeen it’s a very important place for me personally. It’s where I discovered science communication and this has connected me with a network of people worldwide. Having an opportunity to bring those people to the city is extremely exciting.

Any top tips for visitors to Aberdeen? What’s your favourite thing in the city?

There are a few top tips! I would really encourage people to head to the harbour at Footdee (known locally as Fittie), it’s a beautiful old fishing village and from there you can often see the dolphins in the harbour. You also get a good idea of Aberdeen as an industrial city, as the supply boats come in and out of the harbour entrance. It really sums up Aberdeen in one spot – lots of history, plenty of nature and an industrial heritage.  Further up the coast you can also see seals and the beautiful, beautiful beach at Balmedie. The north east coast can be blustery and rough but I love it! It’s often lovely and sunny – especially in May – but make sure you pack your jumper! The University of Aberdeen campus is also beautiful. I think the best view of the city is from the 6th floor of the Sir Duncan Rice library, a wonderful spot to write a PhD thesis.

My favourite local eateries are Melt (a cheese restaurant(!)), Foodstory (a local café which has excellent coffee and plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians – and incredible salads), Kilau on the University of Aberdeen campus does the best coffee and of course if you are looking to try a wee dram of whisky while you are visiting the best place the locals go is The Grill, one of Aberdeen’s oldest pubs on Union Street. However although they have over 600 whiskys on offer it is quite small – so we wouldn’t all fit in there at once!

Huge thanks to Jenni and Heather for taking the time to update us on progress!