Review: ‘The Science of Stress’ at The Royal Institution

A couple of weeks ago I attended an event at The Royal Institution in London called ‘The Science of Stress’. I probably wouldn’t have ventured to London mid-week if it hadn’t been for the fact that my supervisor Professor Julie Turner-Cobb was amongst the three experts presenting and then providing a question and answer panel session. It was great to support her and to see other individuals in the field present their work, and I was really glad that I went.

As someone who quite likes a bit of event management and organising an event, I was thinking on the train back to Bath, what makes a good panel event? Or any event for that matter? It really was a fantastic evening and I came away feeling enthused, excited, curious and impressed by all that I had heard. It was worth the journey to London and back.

So, what was it about this event that was so inspiring and excellent?

First of all, the host Vincent Walsh (UCL) really knew the territory when it came to the speakers and the area of stress. He wasn’t pushy about it by any means, and he let the speakers say what they needed to, however he was also able to offer his own insights and opinions, which added to the evening significantly. Vincent had a great sense of humour and was really engaging, both when introducing his speakers and speaking with audience members. He was able to handle potentially difficult or inappropriate questions from the audience during the question and answer session and did not hesitate to jump in when necessary. In this way it seemed that he really did have the best interests of the speakers in mind, and he wasn’t afraid to move on swiftly from any questions that had the potential to cause difficulty or undue controversy.

(Vincent Walsh Source)

Moving onto the speakers, Professor Joe Herbert (University of Cambridge), Professor Julie Turner-Cobb (University of Bournemouth) and finally Professor Shane O’Mara (University of Dublin) were all excellent. They were given 15 minutes to present some of their work in the area of stress. Each presentation was unique in its specific topic, but the speakers seamlessly tied together aspects of each other’s presentations – it was as if they’d planned it! Joe presented his work regarding the brain and its response to stress, specifically the role of the hormones in this process. Julie was second and gave a talk about her work with children and young people, also speaking about hormones and in particular focussing on whether stress might, just possibly, be good to you. Finally, Shane presented evidence for ‘Why Torture doesn’t work’ which also happens to be the title of his book (find out more on his blog). Given the variety of topics but the common theme of stress, the mind and the body, the evening was well situated for the discussion and question session which followed.

Joe Herbett (source), Julie Turner-Cobb (source) and Shane O’Mara (source)

After 45 minutes of presentations, the floor was opened up to the audience to ask any questions they were dying to find out the answers to. It was evident, very quickly, that the audience was incredibly diverse with individuals of all ages in attendance. Testament to Vincent’s approachable and engaging nature, a young child enthusiastically asked a very intriguing question, one that you can always rely on a young, inquisitive brain to throw into the mix! There were individuals who were students like myself, graduates, professionals, academics and people who attended just because they were interested in the topic. As a researcher who feels very strongly about making my findings and outcomes as accessible as possible, it really was great to see how accessible the event had been and how many people were returning home with a little more knowledge about the science of stress.

Finally, the event itself was held in a magnificent venue and entering the building we were in awe of our surroundings. A scientists haven! We found our way up the beautiful staircase to the room in which the event was being held and were surprised by how impressive it was – a tiered theatre dressed in gold and red. All speakers had microphones, the presentations were shown on a large screen and smaller televisions and runners with microphones were available for the question and answer session.


All in all this event was really interesting and enjoyable. The Royal Institution is situated in Mayfair, London, a short walk from Piccadilly or Green Park tube stations and they hold regular events throughout the year. Their tagline ‘Science lives here’ is true, and the variety of interests catered for is amazing. If you are in London or fancy an inspiring evening, I highly recommend finding your way to one of their events.

I’ll definitely bear this evening in mind should I ever get involved with the planning of a similar event in the future!

‘Til next time 🙂

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