Sam is in his third year of his PhD, based out of the British Heart Foundation at Kings. As an aligned student, he gets to take part in CDT activities. He is passionate about outreach and has volunteered at numerous CDT outreach events over the past three years.

Sam Vennin at a public engagement event

Tell me a bit about you and your PhD project

I am doing an interdisciplinary PhD at King’s BHF Centre on the relationship between central blood pressure and flow. My aim is to create new technologies clinicians can use to assess this relationship non-invasively.

My first supervisor was a clinician with a strong focus on collaborating with engineering researchers such as my second supervisor. Since I also had an engineering background, I worked a bit more closely with my second supervisor who is part of the CDT. As time went by, I got to know more and more people from the CDT and they kindly gave me the status of an “aligned student”, meaning that I get to take part in the CDT seminars and activities. But, more importantly, I benefitted a lot from all the outreach events organised by the CDT!

How did you come to get involved in outreach?

I was already part of Native Scientist, a non-profit organisation that aims to empower migrant communities through science. I am in charge of organising workshops in England where French scientists get to talk about their research to bilingual school students.

The CDT allowed me to be more involved in such activities as it puts a big emphasis on getting students to engage the public with their research and science in general. We host or participate lots of stands at various exhibits such as the Imperial Festival or the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and also host school students for placements.

Participating to these events has given me the confidence to organise bigger activities than the ones I am used to. For example, I was the project manager for our stand at the Imperial Festival this year.

Thanks to the CDT, I also got to be a student contributor for Physics World, the world’s leading physics website, for which I write articles on any new medical research that I find worth reporting. The CDT offered me possibilities that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise and I am very grateful to it.

Kids love the “magic tricks” or the playful aspects of the activities and their reaction is always priceless.

What do you most enjoy about doing it?

I love science engagement because there is something for everyone to be interested in. Kids love the “magic tricks” or the playful aspects of the activities and their reaction is always priceless. Teenagers and students are more interested about the careers in science and this is a nice opportunity to try to explain vocations or reflect on my own journey. Adults will be interested in the scientific phenomena behind the activities and can sometimes relate to it through their personal experience. No two interactions are the same and that is what makes it so interesting!

I always realise how little I know sometimes about my field of research when doing outreach. The other day, I got asked by a 10 year-old why blood was red and how much of it do we produce daily. Despite studying it all the time, I had to look on the internet to find the answer… I feel like my PhD taught me how to do research on my topic, but I only got to learn about it in and out by doing outreach.

You also won the I’m a Scientist Competition. Can you tell me a bit about that?

I have been contacted on Twitter. The competition was an X factor-style of competition where 6 scientists are gathered in a topical zone and answer questions on science from school students from all over the UK for 2 weeks. The students vote for their favorite scientists and during the second week, one scientist is evicted each day so that the last one left at the end of the event is declared the winner. I was in the Heart Zone and won £500 that I have to spend on science engagement activities. I have lots of ideas but I need to sit down with our engagement officer to talk them through.