From birds to bones and the BBC

Kate Rogerson

Kate Rogerson took time out of her PhD to work with us as our 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES programmes assistant. Here she shares her experiences of her time at the Ri.

Read time: 4 minutes
three people working on a theatre prop
Credit: Paul Wilkinson

I spent October to December 2018 thoroughly submerged in the world of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES at the Royal Institution, and I loved every minute of it.

As Programmes Assistant I was part of the amazing Programmes Team and got the chance to see all aspects of the large project that goes on behind the three hours of lectures that are broadcast on TV as well as insights into the other aspects of the Ri.

A TV camera is in the foreground with children and adults sitting in the background watching something we cannot see
Kate seated in the front row of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Credit: Paul Wilkinson

I am now in the fourth year of my PhD and I have enjoyed all elements of it, especially the fieldwork I got to do in Portugal, handling young birds and watching them fledge. However I was keen to get experience in the world of work outside of academia as I do not want to restrict myself to an academic career. The area of science communication is very appealing to me as you can remain in tune with scientific discoveries and get to inspire others about them too.

In my role as CHRISTMAS LECTURES programmes assistant, I was extremely excited to be part of such a long standing Christmas tradition, as important as the Queen’s speech or the Doctor Who Christmas Special. As well as being an extremely well known and admired scientific programme, it has inspired many of today’s scientists.

The main part of my role was to keep on top of the project plan for the CHRISTMAS LECTURES and to make sure that certain aspects were completed on time and to help anyone if extra hands were needed.

This meant that I got experience in all sorts of things; from the behind the scenes logistics, understanding health and safety requirements, the long term strategy behind the CHRISTMAS LECTURES as well as writing the letters A, C, T and G repeatedly on ribbon (as seen in Lecture one).

Also I had the opportunity to get involved with, and help coordinate, the pilot project of live streaming the filming of the CHRISTMAS LECTURES to science centres around the UK. It was very successful and I am so glad the Ri will get more venues involved next year.

Ri lecture theatre with coloured LED lights and all the seats filled with kids watching the recording of the 2018 Christmas Lectures
Filming of the 2018 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Credit: Paul Wilkinson

From day one of my internship, I was involved in script development with the fantastic production team from Windfall Films and the Demonstration Team from the Ri. It was really exciting to be part of discussions about how we would make the science in the lectures come to life in the theatre and on TV.

Working with the Ri’s Fran Scott and Mike Cutts was a big highlight of the internship – they made seemingly impossible demonstrations come to life and, as you saw on the TV, they worked brilliantly!

I got a chance to help with researching for the scripts and organised contributors for the lectures, including someone to undertake a fish dissection, some dinosaur eggs, a hominin skull and a researcher in gene therapy. Sadly the lectures got so jam packed with goodies, some of these things did not make in to the final script.

In the most part our demonstrations included audience members – sometimes the whole audience – but for a few demonstrations we wanted to gather information from the audience in advance of the lectures to create the demos beforehand. I created the surveys that we needed to collect the information and helped to contact the ticket holders.

The busiest part of my internship was the rehearsal and filming week, I was in charge of the prompts that are available for the lecturers if they need a hint of which segment is coming next.

This year was the first time there were two lecturers, Alice Roberts and Aoife Mclysaght, and I am sure that everyone who has seen the lectures can agree that it was a perfect pairing. The friendship between the two scientists was clear and their fun was infectious for the audience.

I was extremely lucky to be sat right at the front of the theatre, squeezed between two cameras, during the filming of the lectures and despite knowing the script back to front, I enjoyed it as much as the children sitting around me. 

around 30 people in Christmas jumpers waving and smiling at the camera
Christmas Jumper Day at the Ri, Credit: The Royal Institution

The Ri was a fantastic place to take a break from my PhD and get to experience a fun and engaging place to work. The biggest eye-opener for me was understanding my love of working in a team; I hadn’t realised I had missed that during my PhD.

Being in a team, working towards the same goal and completing that goal so successfully was a joy I won’t forget and would love to repeat again soon.