Will Sheel: Science Communication

Through volunteering as Environmental Educator for our schools outreach project in the North-East, Will Sheel discusses how we was able to overcome his fear of public speaking and learn some new skills in the process.

Will Sheel

Why volunteer?

I ended up volunteering with the BES by asking two very big, very difficult questions:

  1. What did I want to do with my life?
  2. What is the scariest thing I could possibly do?

This first question has eventually brought me to ecology and conservation (via, in no particular order: Archaeologist, Vet, Surgeon, Astronaut, Fire Engine, Prime Minister, Wildlife Cameraman and Wizard). All of these ultimately stem from a burning curiosity; I want to know the why and how of everything around me, especially the natural world. The goal of the connecting schools to nature project is to spread that fire.

The second question has led me up mountains, into frozen rivers, across borders and on dates with people much more attractive than I am. It also led me to giving an assembly to primary school students about my work as both a “lab coat scientist” and a “wellie boots scientist”. This was a doubly terrifying prospect because as well as feeling very anxious talking in front of people, I have always quite disliked children.

Learning new skills

By pairing volunteer environmental educators like me with schools around the North-East of England, the BES is helping children who’ve been stuck indoors for two years connect to the world around them and discover a passion for nature. During mammal week the children set up camera traps and pawprint tunnels to find out just how much nature was right on their doorstep and feel like little David Attenboroughs.  After speaking to several teachers it was clear that this opportunity was particularly important to get across to students from all backgrounds that they could be a scientist.

There is nothing more rewarding than conquering your fear and turning it into something truly positive

I was able to talk about my experiences in diverse scientific fields, from my lab coat days of hospital laboratories to strapping on my wellies to study flatulent baby seals. I gave the assembly over Zoom which meant the children could see me but I could not see them. This both removed any source of nerves watching for yawns and emphasised the goal of speaking to all of them equally, inspiring indiscriminately. We were able to interact, with them shouting answers and relaying questions through the teacher and by the time the session was up I could feel tiny hands still straining towards the ceiling.

There is nothing more rewarding than conquering your fear and turning it into something truly positive, truly valuable. I have gotten so much more out of volunteering than I have put in, it has given me that which defines ecology itself- connection.