by Ioanna Papavergou

One of the advantages of belonging to a European ITN like AMVA4NewPhysics is the opportunity to participate to a range of outreach activities. Such an opportunity was given to me at the beginning of September, by volunteering at a literature festival called Festivaletteratura, taking place in Mantova, Italy.

The idea and the invitation to take part in the event was given to me by Tommaso Dorigo, the coordinator of our network, who is always encouraging us to take part in every kind of outreach activities.

Festivaletteratura is one of Italy’s most anticipated events which takes place in Mantova every year since 1997. It lasts for 5 days, usually in the beginning of September, and consists of group readings, live author interviews, performances, workshops, concerts and much more. All these activities bring together professionals from different disciplines like writers, musicians, artists and scientists creating an event of great diversity.

The volunteers play a key role for such events.  A few hundreds of youngsters (age 18-30) participated in this year’s Festivaletteratura as volunteers, and they were responsible for providing all kind of help, from driving cars and assembling furniture to assisting in labs, taking photos and turning the interviews into podcasts.

Myself, as a physics graduate student, participated at a science lab called Scienceground, which was taking place at a nice small church in the middle of the city. The lab was organised by a physicist called Matteo Polettini and most of the people volunteering were somehow associated to physics and/or math (undergrad or graduate students, researchers, etc).

The main idea of the lab was to have a full program of talks, workshops and author interviews focused on how people do science and how they use statistics for that. In one sentence, the moto of the lab could be “from data mining to big data, from statistics to machine learning, from objective data to subjective opinions” as mentioned in the lab’s website.

The volunteers at this science event were responsible for assisting during the event in every sense, from giving the lectures and organising the lab games for the kids, to welcoming the visitors and taking part or even leading the discussions and live interviews with the book authors.

Unfortunately, due to conflicting dates with the media training in Oxford, organised by our network, I was only able to attend Festivaletteratura two days before its end.

However, I tried to adapt to the environment as soon as I got there, meet all the other volunteers of the lab and catch up on what there was to do in order to help. Language was a barrier, since most of the lectures were given in Italian and I was not able to follow or participate in any of the workshops.

coverHowever, I was able to participate in the authors’ interviews (delivered in English) that took place on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. More specifically, I was able to ask a few questions to the author of “Statistics done wrong”, Alex Reinhart, on his ideas on the most popular statistic errors done by scientists, but also on his opinions on how statistics should be taught at the Universities.

Overall, volunteering at Festivaletteratura was a very positive and enjoyable experience. It was a nice opportunity to meet and communicate with other young scientists with whom we share the same interest and problems. In addition, the live discussion with Alex Reinhart was a unique experience of talking to the author of the book you‘ve just read, asking questions and having a real-time discussion with him. I really appreciated this opportunity. A great experience, highly recommended to anyone interested in participating in an alternative outreach activity.


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Here are a few links for everyone who is interested in participating next year: