UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences


Catriona (Catie) Williams

Spirit of SLMS Winner (Community Engagement & Citizenship)

Catie is currently studying for a PhD at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute, looking at the evolution of the primate gut microbiome and considering how various factors such as species, diet and captivity influence the set of gut bacteria a primate has.

Tell us a bit about your community projects?

I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of lots of public engagement projects and events during my time at UCL. For example, I’ve helped to run stalls at festivals such as the Bloomsbury Festival, performed stand-up comedy about my research at Science Showoff and Bright Club, organised several Animal Showoff comedy nights at the Grant Museum of Zoology, given talks to children at science clubs, and ran a series of “ask me anything”-style drop-in sessions at the Wellcome Collection as part of their Reading Room Open Platform series. Being a student engager in the UCL museums also allowed me to really work on my science communication skills, and gave me the opportunity to get involved in the planning and running of events like International Gibbon Day at the Grant Museum.

Perhaps my favourite thing I’ve been involved in was in 2017 when I was part of the creative team behind the Royal Institution’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES, a series of science shows for children that are broadcast on the BBC – this involved everything from building a Rube Goldberg machine, to testing explosions, to herding a sheep, a goat and two cows around a listed building - it was always great to work with a team that treated science as a subject that everyone can get involved with and understand.

What have been some of the great milestones and/or achievements for you during your time at UCL?

As silly as it might sound, I think probably presenting my work at my first international conference and not having anyone tell me it’s all nonsense was a huge milestone – it gave me a lot more confidence in my work and meant that I felt much more comfortable creating public engagement projects around my area of research.

What role do you think public engagement of science plays in wider society?

Presenting your research in a way that everyone can understand is just as important as doing said research in the first place - whether that’s through public talks, stalls at festivals, or even more creative forms such as art, comedy, theatre or film. I’d like to think that most people who work in academia do so because they want to add to our understanding of the world and that knowledge should be available to everyone who’s interested, not just those who have access to academic papers.

Where possible too, creating projects that non-academics can get involved with (especially the people whose lives your research might affect) can benefit everyone; you as a researcher stand to gain knowledge, perspective and context that can better inform your research and the participants have a chance to become directly involved in matters that they really care about. Science isn’t something that only academics can understand, discuss and even do - it’s time we stopped treating it in that way.

Top 3 places/things to do in London?

See a show at the Soho Theatre (they have a tonne of great comedy and cabaret and the bar is pretty nice too), visit some of the weirder museums around London (the Hunterian is particularly interesting for “medical anomalies” in jars) and make the most of all the cool food places (Doughnut Time near Piccadilly has the best doughnuts you’ll ever taste, I promise).

What would surprise people about you?

I love water sports but have a phobia of fish.