Laurene Cheilan is the only ESR in EUROPAH who is not a scientist. She was an actor, director and a science coordinator before joining EUROPAH. She believes that dialogue with public is an important requirement of science research nowadays, and she is here to observe and analyse this process. She finds it exciting to observe the social world then go back to her desk to write about it and try to understand it. Her favourite scientist is Hypatia of Alexandria – an astronomer, philosopher and mathematician who lived in the 4th Century. “She is an inspiring figure for her multidisciplinarity and her role in the society as an advisor for political leaders”, she says.
A mother of two, Laurene considers the fact that she can do research and care for her kids as her superpower. Talking about her kids, she says “I would never have thought I could become a PhD researcher one day, and I think I was quite inspired by my own kids! Babies are so amazingly confident and persistent when they are trying to achieve something new! I think we should all take example on them.”
Here’s what Laurene answered to some questions I asked her about her work and life.
What have you studied? How did you become an ESR?
My academic path has been rather winding! I got a bachelors degree in literature at the Sorbonne University in Paris, achieved in 2005. I was trained in a drama school in the same years and I then worked as an actress and a director for a few years. I switched to working in science centres in 2010, and I began working as an art and science coordinator in 2012, at the Espace des sciences Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, which was linked to the research centre ESPCI-ParisTech in Paris. In 2015, I decided to go back to studies with a Master in Cultural Studies as a distance student, and I focused on making as a cultural practice. I liked it so much that I decided to go on with a PhD and found this position so much related to my past experiences and interests that I felt it was meant for me! So, I am now pursuing a PhD at the school of Education in Bristol University, and working on how Public Engagement in Science. My “industrial” supervisor is Ben Johnson, who runs Graphic Science – a small and very creative science communication company – and my academic supervisors are Pr. Keri Facer and Dr. Helen Manchester – both have been doing a lot of great educational research with non-academic partners.
If not a part of EUROPAH what would you be doing?
If I weren’t doing this PhD, I would probably be doing what I used to do before: working for museums or science centres, designing events or visitors experience. The world of museums has been evolving a lot in the last years, gathering people from many diverse trainings and interests, and it is still a very stimulating environment for me.
What do you do apart from observing scientists communicating their work?
I love to spend time with my partner and children and to do all sorts of activities with them: going to cultural events, visiting heritage or natural sites for example. I practice Shaolin Kungfu 2 or 3 times a week with my 7 year old daughter and I try to practice Yoga and meditation at least once a week. I need to practice a sport otherwise I wouldn’t sleep at night! I cycle everyday and I enjoy swimming when I can. I read a lot of fiction, mainly novels, to relax after hours of academic readings! There are so many great authors I love that I don’t know which one to call my favourite, but at the moment I am reading Chimananda Ngozie Adichie and I really love her writing about being an African woman in the USA, it is fascinating and insightful.
What are the three words that describe you the best?
If I should pick three words to describe myself, I would say
1) Contemplative – I love to watch, contemplate, observe. Nature, cities, human, processes, everything!
2) Messy – but the world is a messy place itself, isn’t it?
3) Intense – I do everything in a passionate way – eating an apple, writing a literature review or reading a story to my kids!
How many languages do you speak? Are you currently learning a new one?
I speak French, English and Italian. I have learned Flemish Dutch for 6 months when I lived in Belgium but I forgot everything! Same thing for Japanese, and I would really love to learn it better when I have some time… When will that be??? And I will have to learn Japanese anyway, since the first thing on my bucket list is to spend 6 months in Japan! I have been there for 3 weeks but it was really too short for absorbing enough aspects of this fascinating country.
How do you like moving to Bristol after living in Paris, Bordeaux and Brussels?
I grew up in Paris, and I agree it is one of the most amazing cities in the world, but what I like the most about Paris today is not living there anymore – it is exhausting. But it is so great, when I come back, to enjoy its frenetic cultural life! I love living in Bristol for so many reasons, but mainly because of the mindset here, there is a very strong sense of community and a great history of social fights.
This is a mural ordered by Bristol University to Alex Lucas, one of our best street artists – and we have a lot of great street artists in Bristol!
- My pet peeve is… when I cannot plan things in advance, I am a bit of a control freak, even if it is hard to admit it.
- My favourite food is fresh seafood! I could die for a good oyster with a glass of white wine!