Letago Kgomoeswana shares her passion for science on the global stage

Congratulations to Letago Kgomoeswana for her achievement as runner-up in the FameLab International 2021 competition.

FameLab® is an international science communication and public speaking competition and gives young scientists a platform to share their science concepts with a public audience in under three minutes. The idea is to make the talk fun, engaging, and relevant to everyone, without using jargon or formal presentations. Talks are judged on content, clarity, and charisma.

Letago, an North-West University master’s student, has shown that knowledge is more powerful when shared. During the FameLab International 2021 competition her passion translated well.

She tells us about her experience and what young scientists should remember about their research.

How did you feel about being a runner up? What was your first reaction?

I honestly could not believe it and my reaction during the live stream is testament to that. Being part of the top 10 science communicators in the world and then making it to the top 3 is beyond my wildest dreams as a master’s candidate who went up against doctors, doctoral candidates, seasoned scientists and science communicators. This experience has shown me that the world is ready for African science and that we are responsible for getting our work out there because the contribution could change the world.

What has been the best part of your FameLab experience?

The best part about FameLab is that they are constantly providing us with resources to become better science communicators. From the regional heats all the way to the internationals, we attend masterclasses hosted by some of the world’s best communicators. I have become a better communicator, not only of science but even outside my career because of the lessons and tips received in the masterclasses.

Second to this is the opportunity to network. Through the competition, I have built a community of like-minded people who I’m keen to collaborate with on future projects to change the face and impact of science, not only in South Africa but in the world as well.

What has this journey taught you?

This journey has taught me that no dream is too big. Me, a 24-year-old black girl from the Limpopo province raised the South African flag high in a stream that I’ve considered intimidating for most of my childhood. If that doesn’t inspire a new generation of bold, young scientists ready to take on the world, I don’t know what will.

Above all the experience has been life changing. The lessons learnt in the Masterclasses and the networking class been amazing. I’m excited for future collaborations and the chance to continue contributing to African science as a whole.

Your research focuses on people’s understanding of climate change. Can you tell us more about it? What sparked your interest?

I come from an agricultural background; my grandparents are farmers, and my mother works in the department of agriculture. Combined with my love of geography and climatology, I was inspired in my honours year to find ways to use both science and indigenous knowledge to find adaptation methods for climate change.

In order to do this, I needed to find out how well people understand climate change because I believe that how well farmers understand climate change determines how well they adapt to it; and this is how the aim of my research was established.

When measuring people’s perception about climate change, are you looking at a specific timeframe?

The climatology aspect of my research looks at weather patterns over 30 years, this includes min and max temperatures, rainfall patterns, winds, and humidity. However, with public perception you cannot really put a timeframe on it. It’s about personal experiences and how people observe changes as well how they apply these observed changes to their daily lives. Perception cannot be measured as such. The degree of perception can be approximately measured by analysing the reactions that would follow after perception.

What have your research findings been thus far?

From my interviewees, I’ve found that smallholder farmers are aware of the changing climate and that they are actively applying various methods to both mitigate against further damage and to adapt to the already harsh impacts of climate related hazards. Key to my research was finding out if farmers prefer scientific methods prescribed by the department of agriculture or if they prefer indigenous methods passed down from generation to generation. The older farmers prefer more of their indigenous methods, while younger farmers use a combination of both knowledge sources.

How do you see your research impacting your field?

I’m hoping that with the advocacy for Indigenous Knowledge Systems in adaptation policies, we are able to develop sustainable policies that assist rural communities which are vulnerable to climate change hazards. Agriculture is the backbone of many African economies and in order for us to ensure food security in the future, we need to include the public in decisions like policies that affect their livelihoods.

What tips would you give fellow scientists about public speaking and communicating about their research?

The most important thing to remember is that our research is not for us. We study science to improve access, to create better technologies and to improve the lives of people. The best way for people to know about our work is for us to communicate it – hence the importance of science communication.

The best way to speak to any non-science audience is to move away from scientific jargon. Approach every concept in a simplified manner without “dumbing it down”. Use everyday analogies that people can relate to as this makes it easier for your audience to not only understand but to also take a keen interest in your work. Lastly, be passionate about your science! When an audience sees how much you enjoy your science, they become more interested in what you’re saying.

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