Aisling Brennan: ‘Looking up cool videos of Komodo dragons is always a bonus’

4 Apr 2019

Aisling Brennan. Image: British Council

Animal enthusiast Aisling Brennan on how her FameLab experience has helped her volunteer work at Dublin Zoo.

Aisling Brennan previously earned a BSC in zoology from University College Dublin, her thesis studying formaldehyde-preserved natural history specimens and getting usable genetic material from them. Now, she has moved on to an MSc in science and health communication at Dublin City University (DCU), where she is studying the framing of science as a ‘neutral’ force used as a ‘tool’ by protagonists and antagonists in science fiction films.

Still keeping with her zoology roots, however, Brennan has also volunteered with Dublin Zoo for nearly a year and a half. “I spend way too much time there!” she said.

How did you hear about FameLab and what made you enter?

I was told about it by my course head, and also talked to a representative at Sci:Com in November.

I have had trouble in the past with public speaking and wanted to improve, and getting to talk about anything I’m enthusiastic about seemed a good way to do it.

What’s your presentation about and how did you prepare for it?

My presentation is about parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction. (At least, that’s the topic so far – who knows what’ll happen.)

In other words, it’s about animals (mostly insects, lizards and the odd fish) that don’t need two sets of genetic material to reproduce. They just copy their own chromosomes and make a genetic clone of themselves – no male gamete necessary!

I enjoy this topic a lot and have written an article on it in the past so I mostly have been revisiting my past research, and looking for other information about clonal reproduction from a zoo and pet-owner perspective. Before, I’ve mostly dealt with it from a ‘biology is really cool’ perspective, not thinking about the real-life effects or consequences it has in animal care. Also, looking up cool videos of Komodo dragons is always a solid research bonus!

What was your journey to the final?

I came runner-up in the DCU heat, competed in the Dublin heat with the same talk (‘Why Elephants Need Pedicures’) and performed it much better than I did in DCU. Alas, I didn’t make the top two but the video from that final was automatically entered into the video heat, and I successfully got into the final that way.

Now, unfortunately, I have to talk about something other than elephant feet!

How valuable is this experience in teaching you how to communicate?

It is invaluable for my volunteer work at Dublin Zoo. I spend most days there talking about random concepts in very short amounts of time to lay audiences, so getting to practise that on a stage for FameLab is really cool.

Also, as I’m studying to be a science communicator, I really should try to get not-terrible at it pretty soon!

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.