Science & Psychology

Friday Five: Marieke Navin, Head of Programming at the Cheltenham Science Festival


Answering the #FridayFive this week is Marieke Navin, Head of Programming at the Cheltenham Science Festival. Several Northbank clients have spoken at the festival in the past, including Dr Hannah Fry and Dr Tim Gregory.

Tell us a bit about your job?
I am the head of programming for the Cheltenham Science Festival. I lead a team of 5 of us who curate the creative festival programme and the visitor experiences on our festival site. I work closely with our advisory board and development team to work with our partners to bring in content and sponsorship. I help to shape the direction of the festival. This year we brought in a free stage and made some really exciting changes to the site.

What are the key ingredients for success?
Tenacity, good relationships with scientists and science communicators and an eye on what’s happening culturally, not just in the science space. The brilliant teams I work with to create the festival are the key success factors, and also using the festival as a place to experiment with engaging ideas in science. It’s OK to try things out and is OK for some things to fail.

Describe a normal day?
On Mondays and Tuesdays I’m based in the festival office in Cheltenham, so those days are punctuated with travelling (I live in Manchester) and crammed in back-to-back meetings. It’s the only chance I have for face to face meetings with my line manager, the head of festivals (who leads on 4 festivals, as well as science we have literature, music and jazz), my team members and anyone else from across departments – education, marketing, development and operations. The rest of the week will usually be based at home, working on event content, inviting people to be part of the festival, strategy etc., or going out to other meetings – today I put on a nice dress and went to Birmingham to meet with a potential new sponsor.

For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?
It would be remiss of me to encourage people into science festival organisation – far better that they stay working in science, or become brilliant science teachers. As for my path, I got really involved in communicating science throughout my PhD (which was in particle physics), and came runner up in the FameLab UK science communication competition. I then worked for 10 years at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester where my role covered everything to do with informal learning around science – weekends, holidays, half terms and the Manchester Science Festival. I performed a family show for 12 straight years at the Cheltenham Science Festival before crossing over to behind the scenes a year ago

What are you reading, watching and listening to now?
It’s key programming time now so we are wading through books of potential speakers – I’ve got Say Why to Drugs by Suzi Gage and Transcendence by Gaia Vince on my bedside table at the moment. I’m watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians (light relief, sorrynotsorry) and listening to the Frozen 2 soundtrack on repeat.

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