Luiza Wasiewska: ‘Electrochemistry is not so complicated’

4 Apr 2019

Luiza Wasiewska. Image: British Council

Having travelled across Europe (and even presented her thesis in French), Luiza Wasiewska is ready to take on the FameLab challenge of communicating clearly.

Luiza Wasiewska is enrolled at University College Cork and working with both Teagasc in Dublin and Tyndall National Institute in Cork. Satisfying a long-running fascination with food science, she is working on the development of a biosensor for quick detection of pathogenic E coli (VTEC) in beef.

Wasiewska’s academic life began with a dietetics degree from the University of Life Sciences in Poznań, Poland. Pivoting away from this as a career, she found an exchange programme in the Netherlands for a one-year course in food safety management, which then led on to a master’s in food safety at Wageningen University while she was also working part-time in a biotech producing bacteriophages (viruses that kill bacteria) for food safety applications.

Next stop was France, where Wasiewska undertook an internship in INRA, Europe’s top agricultural research institute. “After all I had experienced abroad I didn’t feel ready to go back to my home country. Fortunately, I have found this amazing PhD project between Teagasc in Dublin and Tyndall National Institute in Cork, and here I am,” she said.

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

I heard about FameLab through colleagues from Tyndall who took part in the competition before. It was highly advertised in our institute last year when Simone, one of the PhD students, qualified for the Ireland final.

A year ago, I took part in a different competition where I presented my thesis in three minutes in French and managed to win one of the prizes. Even though it was very challenging (my French is not even close to being as good as my English) I managed to do it and completely loved the experience. I thought that taking part in a similar competition but this time in English should be my next step.

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

My presentation is going to describe what electrochemistry is. Even though the word might sound scary for many people, I want to convince you that electrochemistry is not so complicated in the end. Moreover, I want to show that it can be very useful in our everyday lives.

I started my journey with electrochemistry just two years ago after joining my PhD project. I want to take you through the journey I had to go on to understand this new area.

I wrote the talk myself, inspired by the masterclass in Dublin, looking at different ways to describe science. After completing the talk I asked for lots of opinions from both electrochemists as well as people not involved in the area at all, to see if the way I described the topic was easily accessible and at the same time scientifically accurate.

What was your journey to the final?

I am honoured to be the winner of the Cork regional heat. Before the first FameLab training to prepare us for the heat, I already had a general idea of what I wanted to talk about. The training we got in Cork was extremely valuable and the advice I got there inspired me to finalise my presentation the same night.

Over the following days, Andrea Pacheco (another finalist from Cork) and I spent time together practising both speeches over and over again. We were trying to believe that we could qualify together, but there was this voice in our heads saying, ‘What are the chances?’ And in the end, we are here together at the national final!

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

It is extremely valuable! I experience it very often in my life when friends or family members who are not scientists are even afraid to ask me what I am working on. They are afraid that they are not going to understand because it’s ‘too complicated’.

What I have learned with the FameLab experience is that if someone can’t understand your work it doesn’t mean that you are so smart. Instead, it means that you can’t communicate it well. What is the reason for doing research if no one is going to understand it? I am convinced that after my experience in FameLab I will be able to explain my work much better for people who are not scientists.

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