Outreach has always been one of the highlights of science for me. I love writing, taking photos and making all sorts of digital media (posters, videos, websites…), and I’m very keen to bring all those passions together to tell an exciting scientific story.
Popular science articles
My opinion piece on conservation issues in Australia’s Outback is published in the BIOSPHERE magazine.
How can we deliver conservation outcomes in areas that are out of sight and out of mind for so many? Recognising the importance of the communities that have always seen the value of the vast interior of Australia, and re-connecting them with their land, can empower people not only to identify environmental degradation, but also to actively engage in mitigating it.
Conservation Science game: “Species on the move”
Faced with climate change, habitat change, conflicts with human activities and naturally occurring environmental change, species have three options: adapt, move, or go extinct. We focused on moving, or changes in distribution ranges, as this strategy might be particularly relevant in Scotland, where climate change and land use change might force species to move. Each student drew a species card and joined one of two ecological communities. The students, each representing a species, lined up – their current habitats were no longer suitable, so they had to move. Species traits, human attitude and conservation support all influence the success of species on the move. I then called out various criteria for movement, like: “If you can fly, take one step forward”, “If fences can’t stop you, take one step forward”. Half way through we introduced lynx and beaver in our ecological communities, which then had effects on the success of some of the already present species.
The aim of the game is to find out which species first reach their new, more suitable habitat. As students were taking steps forwards and sometimes back (poor rare alpine plants!), we could already put together a picture of how intrinsic factors, like species’ traits, interact with extrinsic factors like land management and conservation interventions, to create dynamic ecosystems, where some species will be winners, and others losers.
Team Shrub Outreach
The research group I am a part of, Team Shrub, is very passionate about outreach. Here are some of the outreach activities I have helped out with so far.
The ‘Arctic from Above’ exhibition – an art-science collaboration showcasing the beauty in Arctic research during the Edinburgh International Science Festival.
In 2017, Team Shrub took part in the Explorathon – a weekend celebrating research in Scotland in the wider context of European Researchers’ Night. We transplanted our shrub knowledge from the Arctic to the Curiosity Forest, where the public got to experience our research from different angles: from above, using our drone flight simulator, and from inside out, thanks to Sandra’s cool dendro samples!
Team Shrub’s exhibition includes photographs of Arctic tundra landscapes and the plants and wildlife that inhabit them, captured as a part of scientific research expeditions to the rapidly warming Arctic. You can find our photos and videos in the online exhibition, or if you’re in Edinburgh, in the Main Library in May!
This work represents the interface between science and art, where the process of data collection has produced imagery that communicates the reality of global change and captures the patterns and beauty of remote Arctic ecosystems.
I am a tutor on the Geoscience Outreach course at the University of Edinburgh, for which I co-lead a workshop on using social media for science communication and outreach, and lead a second workshop on graphic design using InDesign. I am also co-supervising five students as they turn their outreach goals to real life projects. I was a student on the course last year, and it has been great to return as a tutor. Check out the course website for more information on the great projects students are leading!
Gardening Club was my Geoscience Outreach project! I set up Gardening Club in Trinity Academy, a secondary school in Edinburgh, as one of the elective classes pupils can take as part of their interdisciplinary learning. For me, Gardening Club was an opportunity to bring together my life as an aspiring scientist and my rural Bulgarian life – traditional farming has always been a big part of who I am and I am so happy that even though I am often away from my own garden in Bulgaria, I have managed to create gardens and share my passion for agro-ecology around the world.
Find out more about Gardening Club and the teaching materials
I was deeply inspired by the wonderful pupils I was teaching and Gardening Club quickly grew into a long-term commitment to promote farmland conservation, sustainability and the gain of both practical and theoretical knowledge. Our adventures in growing fruits and vegetables, learning about complimentary planting, urban wildlife, and many others are all documented on Gardening Club’s website. There you will also find blog posts by my pupils, aged 12, who reflected on our work and shared their thoughts on topics such as the importance of pollinators. One of my personal Gardening Club highlights was when I helped my students to grow from the receivers of outreach to those leading it – my pupils had their very first public talk experience when they presented in front of a room packed with teachers, parents and local gardeners. They also led a tour of our allotment, prompted discussions and answered questions from the public.
In Gardening Club, we grew peas, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, lots of flowers, raspberries, strawberries and many other crops, and although we had a great harvest (especially of lettuces, never had I seen lettuce bring so much joy and pride in children before!), the most important growth we saw was within us – I grew as a teacher, my pupils grew as enthusiastic young gardeners and a close-knit group of collaborators. All the learning materials I created (presentations, lesson plans, hand outs) can be downloaded and used free of charge here. I also created an original board game, designed to teach complimentary planting and interactions between different plants, which can also be downloaded, printed and enjoyed by everyone.
Finally, all of my advice and lesson plans for teaching gardening in schools are collated in the booklet “A Teachers’ Guide to Gardening in Schools”– some of the advice is specific for growing food in the UK and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, but the majority of it can be used by educators anywhere in the world.
I am an ambassador for STEMNET Scotland and after taking a training course by Teach First, I volunteered as a teacher’s assistant in a secondary school in Edinburgh. I helped with practicals in the Intermediate Biology class and taught weekly lessons in ecology and evolution. I also organised and led a day trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, focusing on plant adaptations to diverse environments.
I love making posters, conceptual diagrams, booklets and other visual materials. For my Geoscience Outreach project, I made a booklet on how to teach pupils about agro-ecology –“A Teachers’ Guide to Gardening in Schools”. I also made a booklet about the BSc Ecological and Environmental Sciences programme at the University of Edinburgh.
I also lead a workshop on graphic design and using InDesign in general – you can find my online tutorial here.
I think that websites are a great way to share our science with a wide audience, and even more, I think that informative, well-maintained and pretty websites are important! I am always so happy to read lab blogs and get acquainted with research, outreach and fieldwork around the world, and to promote that spirit, I have designed several websites: Coding Club, Geoscience Outreach, Edinburgh Ecology Network and Phenoweb.
Photography has been a hobby of mine ever since I followed a mysterious bird in sixth grade and afterwards identified it from my photos – my first green woodpecker! I find it fascinating how words and photos can complement each other to create a great story – that’s the goal I aspire for with my photography and my writing. I am happy to share any photos you think could be used in any way to promote conservation and education, so feel free to get in touch. For more photos, please view my Flickr gallery.
Traditional farming & sustainability in Bulgaria
I grew up in a village where everyone grew their own food, made hundreds of jars of peach compote and pickles (among many others) – I have been writing about life in rural Bulgaria, sharing my experience growing tons of tomatoes (literally) and promoting traditional farming for over 8 years. I have also written several articles for Bulgarian magazines, focusing on growing food sustainably, supporting village communities, and conserving farmland biodiversity.