By now, most Bristol PGRs will (we hope) have heard about Research without Borders, the University’s festival of postgraduate research.
You might not have heard, though, that there are a lot of good reasons why it’s worth your time — from communication training to making new connections.
So, ahead of the closing date for applications (11am on Monday 5 February!), we thought we’d share a quick round-up of the benefits of taking part. (Of course, if you’re ready to apply now, you can just pop over to our Research without Borders page.)
1. It’s a chance to showcase your work to potential employers
We’ll be welcoming a wide variety of visitors to both the Colston Hall exhibition and the discussion series — from academics and industry contacts to fellow PGRs and school pupils.
If you’re keen to share your research with the wider world, then, Research without Borders is an amazing opportunity to make connections with audiences that otherwise would be hard to reach.
Want to get a flavour of the festival? Watch this round-up video from the 2017 showcase.
2. You’ll get £30 to develop your display
We’re encouraging all our exhibitors to come up with creative and imaginative displays — above and beyond the standard academic posters.
We know that this kind of creativity comes with a price tag, though, so every PGR who takes part in the showcase event will get £30 that they can use for materials or equipment.
But what happens if you have a particularly ambitious idea for your exhibit? We’re keen to encourage innovative approaches — so, during the training phase, you’ll be able to apply for up to £200 to make it a reality.
3. You’ll sharpen your communication skills with free training
Every PGR who takes part — whether they’re exhibiting at the showcase event or presenting during the evening discussion series — will receive a bespoke package of training that’ll help them structure and communicate their ideas.
4. It can open up new opportunities
It’s not just a fun event in itself; Research without Borders can also be a springboard for PGRs who want to communicate their work to the world.
After last year’s festival, some of the participants went on to talk about their research on podcasts, at public events, conferences — and even on television.
You don’t just have to take our word for it, though. Watch Jessye Aggleton, who took part in last year’s festival, share some of her reflections on the event.
6. You might win an iPad
Interested in taking part in the showcase event? If you do, you might win the coveted title of ‘Most Engaging Exhibit’ — an honour that comes with a free Apple iPad. Other prizes on the day will include money for researcher development activities.
Katiuska M Ferrer Portillo is a PhD student in the School of Modern Languages. Her research project focuses on the charting the influences and geography of the Bristolian dialect. She shared her experiences with us as a participant in both the Discussion Series and Showcase Exhibition events in this year’s Research without Borders festival.
Applying to take part
February 20, 2017: busy as I was with the preparation for my father’s visit from Venezuela, I received an email from one of my PhD supervisors suggesting that I should participate in the Research without Borders (RwB) event organised by the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC). I paused for a moment to read the event’s advertising:
“All festival participants will: •be offered a bespoke programme of training •meet, connect and collaborate with researchers from across disciplines •showcase their work to a broad audience of academics, students and the wider public •have the opportunity to connect with external experts and industry professionals.”
Although I am a mature student with previous experience in a legal background, and I have presented my work in conferences, youth charities, social clubs, community centres, and have further discussed my research on the local press, BBC Radio Bristol and ITV West News, the fact that English is not my native language made me feel somewhat uneasy and that I needed more training to hone my presentation skills. Hence why I decided to apply for both the Showcase Exhibition and the Discussion Series components of the festival.
Training and preparation
As a proud member of the University of Bristol research community, and I am aware of the high academic standard, prestige and recognition enjoyed by our University. However, I was not prepared for the excellence of each one of the speakers who led our training for the discussion series.
Malcolm Love’s ‘Presenting your Research with Impact’ workshop marked a sea change in my presenting style. Thanks to Malcom’s advice, I learnt the importance of: warming up before presenting, dividing presentations in sections, how to apply a story-telling approach even for the most technical talks, and some good tips to calm my nerves – such as chewing gum for twenty minutes before presenting.
After weeks of hard training and thorough preparation, the moment of truth arrived. The RwB week started with the first ever discussion series, ‘Changing perceptions, transforming identities’, and I was the very first presenter in a venue packed to the rafters with 100 people capacity, including my husband, my niece, my two PhD supervisors, lecturers from the School of Modern Languages, and several friends. No pressure there, then!
So, there I was, nervous but with an adrenaline rush, trying to transmit to the audience the importance, usefulness and beauty of my research, while cracking jokes to conceal that the wrong set of slides appeared on screen! Thankfully no one noticed! Yet the training, preparation and my genuine passion for my work paid off. The presentation was a success. People who were unfamiliar with my discipline asked the most interesting questions during the discussion afterwards while we were enjoying our drinks. The experience has led to further interviews for the University of Bristol Facebook series, Bristol Faces; the Science Technology Today website; as well as my collaboration as an article writer for PolicyBristol. Yet the best was still to come.
The Showcase Exhibition on Friday, 12 May kicked off with a vibrant atmosphere full of the energy and enthusiasm, the sort that only ideas, endeavour and hopes of young researchers can produce. Very rarely do science and humanities researchers get the opportunity to amalgamate their work. That day, a combination of vets, mathematicians, sociologists, engineers, physicists, biologists, physicians, lawyers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, dancers, artists, literature researchers, and sociolinguists like myself, amongst others, had the chance to share their experiences and bridge the gap between academia and our local community. Thanks to the BDC, Colston Hall became this unique melting pot.
As soon as I got to the Colston Hall, I started to set up my stand trying to put up a giant poster to a poster board, when Kitty Webster, one of the event organisers, asked me if I wanted to talk about my work with Made in Bristol TV. Of course, I replied “YES!”, and Kitty told me that the reporter was going to interview me 20 minutes after the opening of the showcase.
I suddenly realised that I had just an hour to set up my stand and prepare my talk!
The RwB presentation skills training proved to be a lifesaver, because it helped me to give a natural and professional interview about my research on Bristolian, with less than 60 minutes of preparation. That was indeed, the most exciting moment of the week for me!
Last, but not least…
Lastly, but no less important, was my interaction with the general public, and the possibility I had to collect data from young Bristolian speakers, a group I was struggling to encourage to participate with my work. That was definitely a rounded day, but all good things come to an end, and after an exciting and diverse round of presentations for the 3 Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), the event finished, but not without a wonderful post show celebration, whereby the winner of the 3MT and the most engaging stands were chosen. I had the opportunity to make friends with engineers, vets, and biologists, a crowd that, as a sociolinguist, I do not normally mingle with, and once again, RwB made that possible.
Thanks to my fruitful experience at the RwB event, I realized that the University of Bristol offers professional spaces like the BDC, where communication skills are a valuable asset, and this defined a breakthrough moment in my professional life, because helping people communicate their work with impact is a career path that I would like to consider in the future.
Interested in applying for Research without Borders 2018? Visit the BDC website to read the FAQs and submit your application. The deadline is 11am on Monday 5 February 2018.
Alfie Wearn won the Bristol 3MT final last month for his presentation on predicting Alzheimer’s disease. Here he shares his experience of taking part; from almost pulling out of the competition to winning the Bristol 2017 finals in Colston Hall.
“Step out of your comfort zone. Comfort zones are the enemies of achievement.” – Roy T Bennett
I’m not normally a fan of inspirational quotes like these, but I make an exception for this one. I like it because I heard it just as I was about to pull out of the Three Minute Thesis ® (3MT) competition just a couple of days after applying. I told myself that because I was at such an early stage of my PhD, attempting to present a kind of “thesis” summary would be a bit fraudulent – in truth however I think I was wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself in for, and was looking for a good excuse to run away back to the safety of my comfort zone. I lost that excuse pretty swiftly when I was told that plenty of people had taken part in 3MT in their first year. So I bit the bullet and continued with the process. In hindsight – a good decision!
Training & Practice
I was enticed, in part, to participate in the 3MT competition and Research without Borders because of the various public engagement training courses that were available for all successful applicants. During one course a communications expert at the University taught a group of us 3MT hopefuls the importance of creating a story, and using relatable analogies to engage audiences in our research. I also got a chance to practice a very early draft of my talk to this group during that training course. I got some really helpful feedback which helped shape the final version of the talk.
In the days leading up to the semifinals, I practiced it every time I had a spare 3 minutes. I practiced in front of the mirror, in front of friends, I even videoed myself on my phone to see how I sounded to others, and to see if I was doing anything stupid with my hands (still not sure I’d sorted that by the final…). I probably practiced it about 50 times more than necessary, but it gave me confidence, which, I have learned, is all important in something like this.
Actually doing the talk
Eventually the semi-finals came about and I finally got to perform what I had been practicing so much for the past month. Despite all this practice, I spent the 10 minutes before my turn wondering why I had not gone over the talk ‘just one more time’ – so much so that I completely missed the previous couple of speakers. But when it came down to it, I realised that actually doing the talk wasn’t nearly as bad as sitting and thinking about it. I immediately forgot all the worries and worst-case scenarios I had constructed for myself and just spoke about what I knew, and what I had practiced. And honestly, I really enjoyed it. Of course, by the time the finals came in May, as part of the Research without Borders showcase day in Colston Hall, I had completely forgotten this lesson, and once again spent the 10 minutes beforehand wishing for that one more chance to practice…
Thoughts, feelings, and lessons learned
I’ve learned that condensing a PhD-sized amount of work into 3 minutes is, if nothing else, a great way of making sure you know exactly what it is you’re doing. Now I realise that sounds like a stupid thing to say. But when you spend so many hours, days and weeks with your head buried in your PhD work, and have little contact with the outside world, as often happens during a PhD, it’s easy to lose touch with the bigger picture. You forget that not everyone knows a lot about Alzheimer’s disease, or the role of the hippocampus in the consolidation of memories. It helps to focus your work, and when you’re having a bad week it is sometimes helpful to be able to remind yourself as to why your work matters.
I urge everyone to have a go at the 3MT and taking part in Research without Borders. You get a snapshot of all the research at the university that you might never even have realised is happening; from ageing kidneys and forest ecosystems, to noise-reducing materials in aeroplanes and the evolution of invertebrate vision, to name but a few. Lifting your head above the water every now and again to see what is going on around you is a habit we should all get into – and what better way, than these two fantastic celebrations of research at the University of Bristol.
You can listen to Alfie talking more about his research, alongside other 3MT finalists, on this Speakezee podcast.
Alfie’s presentation will be judged at a Vitae hosted (virtual) national semi-final next month. Six finalists will then be selected to perform live at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference during the gala dinner on Monday 11 September 2017. We’ve got our fingers crossed, Alfie!
It’s over a month since our Research without Borders festival of postgraduate research took place across the Univeristy of Bristol and Colston Hall – so these highlights are a good reminder of what fun we had, how much we learned, and how hard our postgraduate research students are working each day of the week!
Pick up on the buzzing atmosphere from our showcase afternoon finale and hear from participants about why they got involved and what they learned:
As our 100 postgraduate researchers involved in this year’s Research without Borders festival prepare their exhibitions, discussions and presentations, we took a trip down memory lane to last year’s showcase and talked to the winner of the prize for Interactive Display, Henry Webber, an Archaeology and Anthropology PhD candidate.
Last year I applied to display my research at the Research Without Borders festival. I wanted to use the process as an exercise for thinking about my ideas, and how to present and communicate these ideas to a mixture of people from colleagues to academics, to the general public and other industries.
My research involves connecting archaeology with agriculture. It is about learning what impacts humans have had on the landscape, the material remains left in the soil, and how these may be impacting state of the art farming techniques and agricultural knowledge in the 21st century.
Some of the main aspects that I wanted to convey were the material aspects of my research, the focus on soils and how they are central to both archaeology (for the study of the human past) and agriculture (for the future of society). In addition, I wanted to showcase how agricultural techniques are changing with the evolution of remote sensing data, and software and hardware development. With an increased focus on high resolution data and precise methodologies, such as GPS steering of tractors and variable rate fertiliser application, requiring ever more detailed knowledge of soil variation, the impacts that humans have had on soils are becoming increasingly more important.
To try to engage people in my display and demonstrate these ideas, I brought in real soil and turf blocks to replicate a field with a crop. I then stripped off the topsoil and recreated a miniature archaeological site with darker colours of soil representing high organic matter and nutrient levels such as phosphorus, which is often found in conjunction with archaeological sites. I used toy tractors from my childhood to demonstrate the actions and spatial connection that farmers have with archaeology and to explain some of the contentions that currently exist between farmers and archaeologists. Next to this I had printed images of my case study datasets and a projector with several videos showing high-tech precision spraying, laser weeding and autonomous vehicles. I also brought some actual geophysical equipment (Ground Penetrating Radar) for people to use. With Ground Penetrating Radar, it is possible to see objects below the surface, and in the display hall we could tell where pipes, electric cables, and solid floor supports were from the way they reflect radar energy. This sort of technique is also however, commonly used to discover buried archaeology.
After I found out that I had won the prize for best interactive display, I was delighted! I had certainly got a lot out of the event already from just the networking and discussions with people, but the prize was an additional bonus. The prize consisted of money to put towards training of my choice, which I decided to use to improve and continue my professional development in being qualified in agronomic advice.
I had already completed a course in fertiliser and agronomy advice as part of the PhD, but this extra funding helped me to continue to be professionally accredited and knowledgeable about current agronomic
advice, issues, and legislation. This has great benefit for my research as, when talking to farmers, I can contextualise my research in ‘real life’ farming practices in the UK today. It has also helped me to engage with farmers and develop positive relationships around which my research can become much more reflexive. Finally, this training provides me with a qualification that will be useful in any future career path relating to food and farming and allow me to have a broader perspective.
The Research without Borders festival was certainly a great event and I am glad to see it continuing this year. It was worthwhile from many perspectives for me and I would encourage you to get involved to meet new people, try out new ideas and explore displaying your own research!
The showcase exhibition returns to Colston Hall frmo 2 to 5pm on 12 May in this year’s Research without Borders festival. Sign up for tickets via Eventbrite.
In case you hadn’t heard yet, sign ups are open for Research without Borders 2017, our flagship festival of postgraduate research where we put your work front and centre. This year’s festival is bigger and better than ever, including an evening discussion series, a showcase exhibition at Colston Hall, and the finals of the 3MT competition. Why should you get involved? We spoke to Keri McNamara, who took part in last year’s festival and presented in the 3MT finals (catch her video on our YouTube channel!), to offer you an insider’s perspective on what’s great, what’s challenging and why it’s important to take part.
Which faculty are you in? Can you tell me a bit about your research? Maybe, instead of three minutes, you could tell us in three words…?
I’m in the school of Earth Sciences in the Faculty of Science. To describe my research in three words: Volcanoes, Ash, Ethiopia.
Why did you decided to sign up last year – what persuaded you, or what were you hoping to get from taking part?
I had heard about it from a friend in the year above and it thought it would be a good opportunity to practise my public speaking. I’ve always found presenting rather daunting but felt that the more I pushed myself to do it the easier it got. This just seemed like a fun opportunity. I also enjoy outreach so seemed like a good way to combine both.
What was the hardest, or scariest part of the 3MT? Is it what you expected it to be before you went onstage, or did that change?
I think the scariest bit is sitting waiting for your turn. Once I opened my mouth to speak I felt much calmer and more confident. Towards the end I even started to enjoy myself (something I never thought I’d be able to say about public speaking!)
How did you prepare?
I love writing so I found the easiest thing was to write it out first like I was writing an article and perfect it on paper. I then basically learnt it like a script and then made minor tweaks so it flowed better. I know a lot of people prefer to improvise but I felt much more confident learning what I was going to say.
What is your funnest memory from taking part last year?
I think during the first heat- everyone taking part was so friendly and it was fun to get to know people from completely different parts of the university studying a huge range of topics. It made it a very relaxed environment- not threatening or intimidating at all.
And what made you get involved with Research without Borders?
I liked the fact it was multidisciplinary with opportunities to meet people from other research areas as well as people from industry.
What was the funnest bit?
Making a display to go along with my poster- it was a bit more interesting than preparing for a traditional conference.
Any pearls of wisdom to share for people considering taking part in this year’s 3MT?
I would recommend spending more time at the beginning sketching out the ‘story’ of what you’re going to say to make sure the content flows well in a strong framework. Also practise as much as you can be bothered to right before; being prepared was the only thing that saved me from being too nervous. Also definitely take part– even if (or especially if!) public speaking scares you. It’s a great way to improve!
Has the 3MT been helpful to you in anyway? Why should students to get involved?
It has helped no end with my confidence in public speaking. In my PhD I have to give quite a lot of talks and I think it was a real turning point for me. I went from just rushing to get to the end of a presentation to actually thinking about what I was saying and being conscious of how I was presenting. I also put it on my CV as an example of public speaking and outreach skills.
What about Research without Borders? Did it change how you think or view your research/PhD?
I’m not sure it helped me in one particular way but it was really great to talk to people working in other areas to challenge me to get ‘outside the bubble’ of my research areas and think about the bigger picture.
Fancy showcasing or presenting in this year’s Research without Borders? Sign up by 28 February! Want to take part in the 3MT competition? It’s as simple as this application form.
So you’re thinking of doing the 3MT – well, stop fretting about strutting your stuff on stage in front of people and just do it! Applications for the 3MT 2017 are now open, so you should throw caution to the wind and go for it! It’s a wonderful time with some of the warmest and most attentive audiences you are ever likely to present to, and you meet the most interesting people along the way!. Here are some of the things that I’ve thought a little bit about since taking part last year, and would like to pass on to any other aspiring postgraduate research communicators:
1. Limit the jargon
We use jargon in our fields of research because it is precise, concise, and highly descriptive. When participating in a competition that values those things you can use jargon but make sure you can explain it with a short rider, caveat, or example!
2.Start with the big picture — and end with it too
Your area of work is likely to be highly specialised, which means your average layperson isn’t going to have a clue as to why you’re so interested in what you do, or why it matters. Contextualise. Pose a big question that you’ll try to answer in your 3 minutes. Wrap up with that question too, so you can answer with what you’ve learnt so far during your research.
3. Use humour to your advantage
Research isn’t all peaches and cream and has certainly, for me, had its moments of humour and/or despair – but maybe this isn’t your experience! Audiences love hearing about some of the struggles of research, as it humanises you and makes your work relatable. It’s also a good reminder that research is about the generation and discovery of new knowledge, which doesn’t happen without a few hiccups or missteps along the way. A backdrop of healthy self-awareness and critique goes a long way.
4. Don’t try to pack too much in
You only have 3 minutes. I know that’s obvious — but seriously, it’s not that long. Don’t try and do your entire thesis! Stick to only one project, or one concept that you are exploring. Pick one thing and do that thing well. If you can give someone a new perspective on something, or new knowledge about just one tiny aspect of your work, then you’ll have done a good job.
5.Practice makes perfect
Practice! To your colleagues, to your mates, to your family, to yourself in the bathroom mirror. How you stand, how you project your voice, and how you time your vocal cues -, these are all crucial to coming across confidently, clearly, and effectively. The only way to do this is to become comfortable with the material you prepare, to trust that it will fit within 3 minutes, and then to practice, practice, practice.
The 3MT is a bit of a whirlwind: the experience is one that carries you along at a terrific pace. Before you know it you can be stood on a stage performing to the general public, but remember – you are human, they are humans. Take a deep breath and speak – it’s only for 3 minutes. It goes without saying that to get the benefits of taking part, you need to apply. Just do it! You won’t regret it.
Applications for the 3MT 2017 are open until midday on March 15th: apply now! For information, key dates, and to learn more about our previous 3MT competitions, visit our website.