The first time I presented a speech I had written in front of a large audience was in the third grade. Our school's gymnasium was full of students and teachers alike, each with a stare so piercingly directed at me. The gym fell silent, and it was my time. I was never one to shy away from large crowds, but never before had I been such a focal point amongst one. By the end of my speech about my great grandfather's experience in World War II, I had cried. Not particularly due to the subject matter; I had practiced this speech many times before, and I knew his story well. Rather, I was scared. For the first time my, and only my, voice was the one being projected, and most importantly heard. It was overwhelming. I had the platform to communicate a story that I loved. People listened. People clapped. I was proud.
March 7th, 2020. The day I competed in now my second year of the FameLab UK science communication competition as an Oxford Finalist. FameLab aims to identify the world's next leading science communicators, who are tasked with translating a complex scientific concept to the general public, in a way that displays charisma and creativity. Fine. In under three minutes though? That's the fun part. How do you convey something so complex without losing scientific rigour? How do you make topics so serious and multi-dimensional, such as endometriosis (a focal point of my DPhil studies) seem approachable to those that have potentially never heard of the disease before?
Last night, I chose to speak about menstruation for a couple of reasons. One, my research area is in women's reproductive health, and naturally, menstruation falls under that. Since beginning my studies, conversations involving female anatomy and associated processes are ones that I welcome, gladly and without reservation. Two, it seems fitting that I began writing this on International Women's Day, but we need to talk about women's health issues more. It's a non-negotiable fact. Menstruation is taboo, and for as long I can remember, it has been something to be kept private from even your closest friends and family members. If you suffered from severe menstrual cramps, we were told that this was 'normal' and that it was just a 'part of the process'. To be clear, this is not the case. There is a deeply-rooted trans-generational propagation of misinformation, intwined with cultural understandings of menstruation, which can be detrimental in many ways. That's for another post, many incredible organisations are doing such important work to disentangle this complex web of misinformation.
It's funny. Third grade me could not have imagined speaking about something so personal such as periods, and the deeply ingrained social taboos and stigma surrounding it, with a brazen attitude. On March 7th, I shamelessly screamed my speech from the rooftops in front of the science-loving Oxford public, and expert science judges. It's an indescribable feeling really. Of course, I must recognise that I'm in a position of privilege to be able to use my voice without reservation in this community to speak about menstruation.
Reflecting on this year's experience in FameLab, I am proud of the fact that I have identified a passion and strength of mine. I am proud that I have chosen to pursue it. Each time I speak about women's reproductive health, I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that I am contributing to the ever-needed ongoing dialogue about it. I also am reminded, how along my science communication journey, these conversations cannot end at the competition. I need to hold myself accountable, by embracing conversations about menstruation, the vulva, and endometriosis, to name a few.
Until next time,