Guest Blog with Kip Heath:

Starting out as a Science Comic

A massive thank you to Kip Heath for being our first every guest blog on Girlymicrobiologist. If you have something you would like to share with me (Girlymicro) and the world, drop me a line and we’ll see what we can do. Now over to Kip…

For a number of reasons 2019 was a very difficult year for me. In December 2019 I started a new job and, like many others, used the arbitrarily selected day of January 1 2020 to set a collection of resolutions to improve my life. A few weeks later I was at the London STEM Ambassador Forum event and saw Dr Steve Cross speak about Science Showoff.

The following week Steve asked on Twitter if anyone was interested in performing at a Science Showoff in St Albans. Why not? I thought and signed up. I’m still not sure quite what possessed me to do it. A few weeks later I would be standing in a toilet cubicle in St Alban’s museum, desperately fighting the urge to throw up, as I remembered several very important things:

  1. I had no experience and no flipping idea what I was doing.
  2. No one in my life has ever implied I was particularly funny.
  3. Public speaking of any kind makes me feel vaguely ill.

By this point it was a little late to back out and escaping from a converted magistrate’s court (which was now a café and event venue) was a little tricky. After the first act, I was announced and the crowd cheered as I clambered into the dock with all the elegance of a newborn giraffe.

With nothing else for it, I introduced myself. ‘Hi, my name is Kip Heath and I’m a healthcare scientist. For those that don’t know (and why would you?) it means that I work in an NHS laboratory doing 80% of the work in diagnosing a patient, so a doctor can come along and take 100% of the credit.’

And people laughed!

I don’t remember much of the rest of set but when I finished I felt a rush of adrenaline. I left feeling that this is something I wanted to do again, and that all of the other performers were friendly, welcoming and supportive. So I continued, and in September 2020 I was selected for the Talent Factory which is a year-long communication and performance development scheme.

This seemed like a great way to raise the profile of healthcare scientists and I desperately wanted to share what I had discovered with others in my field. Plus, I was really keen to get some training in the hope I would one day seem competent. So I applied for a public engagement grant from the Society for Applied Microbiology. They were wonderful enough to support my crazy plan and we had a science comedy training session on Monday 12 October 2020. I was thrilled to see there was a fair amount of interest and it was fully booked.

Now that we had the training, it was time for the show! National Pathology Week seemed like a great backdrop, and I was thrilled that we managed a full line-up with people who had attended the training. This included my ever supportive boss, who I am grateful is always there for me. (And I’m not just saying that because this is her blog!)

We set a date of Friday 6th November and opened up an Eventbrite for tickets. By the day over 100 people had booked and bookings kept trickling in. It was incredible, but also terrifying. I have a habit of planning for the worst, so I started to panic about technical issues and performers dropping out at the last minute.

Steve set up the livestream on YouTube (saving me from the stress) and at 7pm all of the performers met online. We had performers, we had a functioning YouTube stream, and – not long after – we had an audience!

As the person who organised the event, I was up first. Performing comedy online is very different to performing live. It’s almost impossible to read the room which can be difficult, and I find that I am much more likely to rely on my notes, which can lead to sounding as if I’m just reading the set. Probably because that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Still, what it meant was that once I was done I could sit back and enjoy the other performances. And they were brilliant. From comparing Immunology to the mafia, or an entire bakery’s worth of doughnut puns in one set, everyone was fabulous.

We were popular, too. There were 70 devices logged into the live stream on the night, and over 300 views of the show on YouTube over the weekend. It surpassed all of my expectations and I am thrilled to have been able to share the experience with others in my profession.

If you’re a healthcare scientist and this sounds like something you’d be interested in – drop me a message on Twitter (@miceheath).

All opinions on this blog are those of Girlymicro

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