My first experience bringing bioenergy into society

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Source: author's documentation.

Our columnist Novelita W. Mondamina (Veli) will share her experience participating in a campus event, talking about her interest in bioenergy to the public. This event was part of the University of Southampton Public Engagement with Research platform, aimed at giving academics and non-academics alike a closer look at various research projects on campus. Let’s check out her story below!

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Around July 2016, in the middle of thesis period, I had a chance to join an awesome event at the uni. This event was called University Roadshow: Bringing Research to Life. It is an annual occasion created to help researchers share their work progress with others. It is usually executed between May and September and included in a wide variety of social events, such as country festivals and community gatherings.

Because of the scale of the show, up to 20,000 people can join the University Roadshow and get a glimpse of how various academic study programs are being implemented on campus. Some research topic featured in 2016 were lightwaves, transport research, oceanography, eco hair products, astronomy, electrochemistry, energy, and art. I was involved in the topic of biogas production.

Bioenergy stand of the University Roadshow Source: University of Southampton website
Bioenergy booth at the University Roadshow. Source: University of Southampton website.

I heard about this event from my lecturer, who at that time announced an open recruitment for the roadshow. They needed students to help introduce research projects on biogas generation, so I signed up for it immediately. Since there were no minimum requirements to join the roadshow, I got accepted quite easily. As long as I was committed to attending the event from the beginning until end, they were happy to have me.

It was my first time ever to participate in this kind of event, so to be honest, I didn’t have any idea on how it was going to work. I hesitated to come on the D-day and almost changed my mind about participating. On the other hand, I was also curious about the roadshow. So, armed with basic knowledge about biogas, I decided to come on and enter the generating biogas roadshow.

It was about 9 o’clock in the morning and there were only several biogas tools already installed. Other booths were in similar condition. I saw several people bringing biogas posters and biomass sample as model, so I helped them install those posters on temporary walls and arrange samples to showcase. These activities helped me relax as I started to get ideas on how we would present the bioenergy booth.

Installing bioenergy stand Source: author's documentation
Veli and colleagues installing the booth. Source: author’s documentation

When people began to show up and look around the booths, we gave some information about biogas by presenting some properties. I did not have particular experience on sharing science data. So, I used certain terms and became quite worried that the visitors will get confused. Thanks to these properties, however, they could get better understanding while listening to the explanation. Although most of them were not specialized in or did anything related to biogas, they were passionate and highly appreciated our research. This was deeply rewarding and memorable for me.

The biogas booth that Veli prepared for and manned. Source: author's documentation.
The biogas booth that Veli manned. Source: author’s documentation.

Several things that I learned during the event that day:

1) Just give it a try
When there is a chance to be actively involved in outside classroom activities, go for it! It is very normal to feel doubts and hesitation in the beginning, but you will never know your own limits until you do something outside your comfort zone. You will learn and grow by doing so! Don’t worry about making some mistakes in the process, what matters is what you learn. Such valuable experience will only support your self-development, both personally and professionally.

2) Don’t forget to practice
As previously mentioned, it is fine to make some mistakes. However, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to prepare yourself. In my case, I reviewed course materials related to biogas before the event, including the working principles, required tools, as well as standard parameters and conditions. Having a self-talk is also to boost your confidence, convincing yourself that you can do this! I also sharpened my communication skills by practicing sharing knowledge about biogas with others (housemates or classmates) to see whether they understand my explanation.

Presenting biogas research progress Source: author's documentation
Presenting progress on biogas research. Source: author’s documentation.

3) Be confident and let’s begin!
After all preparations are completed, it is the time to enjoy the show! Before doing something like this, I always pray that everything will go well, that I can remain confident to solve any issues if and when they arise. Last but not least, don’t forget to enjoy the process because it may just be a one-of-a-kind experience!

In the university, there are a lot of oportunities to upgrade our skills. It is important to choose which extra activities to take wisely, taking into account our class schedule, homework, and other commitments. When you have finally decided to join any of these extra activities, be ready to gain valuable lessons and have a new you!