Research without Borders 2017: check out the highlights!

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:

Research without Borders: a blog from last year’s interactive display winner, Henry Webber

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

Research Without Borders Event, University of Bristol/@Bristol

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

Interests in Aid and Development: a talk with Myles Wickstead

Keri McNamara, a third year PGR student in the School of Earth Sciences, spoke to Myles Wickstead following his lecture on a life-long career in aid and development as part of the Cabot Institute lecture series. This blog has been reposted with permission by the Cabot Institute, and the original post can be viewed here.

Ever wondered what a career in aid and development is like? Or how the world’s current development programmes came into being? Look no further than this blog on Myles Wickstead who gave a Cabot Institute lecture and short interview on his reflections and experiences on a colourful career in aid and development.

Among Wickstead’s notable achievements are a position as head of British Development Division in Eastern Africa, coordinating a British Government White Paper on eliminating world poverty and now being an advisor to the charity Hand in Hand International.

An audio recording of Myles lecture can be found above. His talk focussed largely on the inception of the building blocks of international development; the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary fund. He began by turning back time towards the end of the second World War, in which the atmosphere of global reconciliation bred the need for trans-border institutions such as the UN that had the oversight necessary for peace to prevail.

Many years later, the UN decided to introduce development goals with the aim of reducing global poverty within a given time frame. The first of these was the Millennium Development Goals which were drafted in the UN head quarters with little external solicitation. In fact, Wickstead reminisced that environmental goals were almost completely overlooked and only added when a member of the committee ran into the director of the UN environment department on the way to the copier room…

Wickstead went on to add that a large parts of the Millennium goals were generally quite successful although there was still plenty of scope to be more inclusive. He also dwelt on the new Sustainable Development Goals drafted by the UN in 2015 and the Paris climate summit which, Wickstead claims, represent a much more integrated approach to propel international development into the future.

Below is my interview with Myles in which I question him on his talk and ask him about his career in aid and development:

You mentioned a fair bit in your talk about the importance of tying in environment sustainability with aid and development. How do you see that working in practice in a developing country when sustainable practices can be sometimes be quite anti-economic? 

Yes, the two things are brought together in the Global Goals for Sustainable Development agreed in New York in September 2015.  Let’s take an example of a country that’s well-endowed with forest resources. They could get rich quickly by chopping down the trees and selling the wood. You can’t expect those countries to simply say ‘we are not going to chop our forest down’. Firstly you need them to realise that for the long-term sustainability of their country they need to preserve the  forest. But second, because maintaining the forests helps protect us all from climate change they rightly expect some compensation from the international community to do so. There are (albeit imperfect) mechanisms in place for this. Despite this I do, on the whole, think they are being successfully implemented: take Brazil for example.

There are also examples where – often without the consent of the government – indigenous forests are being cut down to make way for palm oil plantations, with devastating consequences not only for the trees but the wildlife.  In these situations, governments need to be encouraged to take firm action against the individuals or  companies concerned, again with support from the international community as and if appropriate.

I work on volcanic hazard in Ethiopia and one of the things I’ve noticed is the more wealthy urban areas are developing fast with an expanding middle class, but the more rural areas are still subject to a lot of extreme poverty. What part should external aid play in helping this wealth filter down?

It’s a very important question and one I touched on when talking about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were in place from 2000-2015.  That period saw extraordinary progress, including halving the proportion of people living in absolute poverty, but many people (for example, those with disabilities or from ethnic minorities) were left out.  It is also the case that urban areas, with generally better infrastructure and more job opportunities, tended to make faster progress.  A lot of people in rural areas were in very much the same position in 2015 as in 1990. Within Ethiopia, a combination of rapid economic growth – supported both by investment and aid  – and good policies mean that the benefits are now being felt more widely.

The role of Chinese investment in infrastructure, particularly roads, has I think been quite a positive one. The Government of Ethiopia has a very clear five year growth and investment plan and they expect their partners to deliver; I remember one case of former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles requiring a Chinese company to rebuild a road they had just built as it was not up to standard; I am sure they were equally exacting of other companies from other countries.  Not all African governments have that kind of determination but on the whole I think Chinese engagement has been a good thing.  And the fact that Africa was largely unaffected by the global recession following the crash of 2008 was not only because it was not as connected to the international financial system as other parts of the world, but also because China and other countries in Asia continued to buy its raw materials.

What influenced your decision to have a career in Aid and development?

I had lived and travelled overseas a little.  My father was a marine biologist and as a technical expert worked for the predecessors of DFID and lived and worked overseas in places like Singapore, Tanzania, and Jamaica.  So I probably got some of the wish to live and work overseas from him – though alas didn’t inherit the science gene, which passed me by!

I went through the civil service fast stream process, and having successfully negotiated that had to make a choice about which Department I wanted to join.  It was then the Ministry of Overseas Development; a few years later became the Overseas Development Administration of the FCO; and in 1997 became a fully-fledged Department of State with its own Cabinet Minister. Interestingly, DFID remains the most popular choice of all government departments for fast-steam applicants.

Is there a defining moment in your career you want to mention? 

I have been extraordinarily lucky in the choices that I have made – or have been made for me – in terms of where I was at particular time. To have had the chance to run a regional office in Africa; to have been on the Board of the World Bank; to have worked closely with Ministers both as a Private Secretary and in coordinating the 1997 White Paper (the first in 24 years); and to be Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union – it was a huge privilege (and very hard work!) to be given these responsibilities.  I ran the Commission for Africa Secretariat in 2004/5, and I suppose one of the great moments was going to present a copy of the Commission’s Report ‘Our Common Interest’ in 2005 to Nelson Mandela.

Someone asked earlier today- how do you keep positive despite the gloomy state of much of the world? My answer would be that the world has made extraordinary progress over the past quarter of a century in pulling people out of poverty, and that we have a real chance of completing the task, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030. Of course there have been setbacks along the way, and there will be more – conflict and environmental challenges to name but two. But with political will, and by maintaining a positive focus, I believe we can aspire to a better world both for ourselves and for future generations.

 

10 Questions with Keri McNamara: from 3MT to RwB, and why you should get involved

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!)

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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

This could be you, if you signed up to take part in this year’s Research without Borders!

Research without Borders: from the exhibitor’s stand, with Heide Busse

On Monday 9 May the Bristol Doctoral College hosted the ‘Research without Borders‘ festival, a showcase of postgraduate research excellence with over 100 student exhibits. Heide Busse, a second-year PhD student in the School of Social and Community Medicine, spoke to us about her experience as an exhibitor. Her research is funded by The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Follow Heide on Twitter @HeideBusse.

On the 9th of May, I swapped office and computer for an afternoon at @tBristol science centre, where I participated in the annual “Research without Borders” event. This event is organised by the University of Bristol and provides PhD students across the university an opportunity to showcase their work to other researchers, funders, university partners and charities with the overall aim to stimulate discussion and spark ideas.

It did sound like a good and fun opportunity to tell others about my research so I thought ‘why not, see how it goes’ – immediately followed by the thought ‘alright, but what actually works to make visitors come and have a chat to me and engage with my exhibition stand’?

Luckily, help was offered by the organising team for the event from Bristol Doctoral College in terms of how to think of interactive ways to present my research – and not to just bring along the last poster that was prepared for a scientific conference. For instance, we developed the idea to ask visitors to vote on an important research question of mine. That way, visitors could engage with my research and I could at the same time see what they thought about one of my research questions!

My PhD research looks more closely at the potential of mentoring as an intervention for young people in secondary schools. There are quite a few formal mentoring programmes offered to pupils but there is hardly any research in this area to suggest whether this actually works in helping to improve young people’s health, wellbeing or educational outcomes. To provide information for different audiences, I also brought a scientific poster along, as well as leaflets about my work and the work of The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence, which funds my PhD.

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Exhibition Stand

On the day itself, over 100 PhD students exhibited their work in lots of different ways, including a few flashy displays and stunning posters about their research. We were given different research themes and I was included in the “population health” research theme – alongside 16 other research themes ranging from “quantum engineering”, “condensed matter physics” to “neuroscience” and “clinical treatments”.

All ready to go just in time before the official event started, I really hoped I wouldn’t be left alone for the rest of the afternoon polishing the pebbles that I had organised for my live voting. Fortunately, that didn’t happen! Time flew and without realising I chatted away for two and half hours to a constant flow of over visitors and other exhibitors – and actually hardly managed to move away to have a look around other people’s exhibitions. In total, I have been told, there were 200 people attending the event.

Visitors told me about their own mentoring experiences when they were younger, spoke about the things that mentors do and asked me questions about my research, such as why I research what I research, the methods that I am using in my research and what relevance I think my research can have for mentoring organisations- all questions that I could imagine could be re-asked in a PhD viva (in which case I guess it’s never too early to prepare!). This really made me think about my research and practice ways in which I can communicate this clearly to people who might be less familiar with the field or with research in general without babbling on for too long!

Note left by visitor
Note left by visitor

At the end of the event, I was really curious to see how many people interacted with my research and to look at the results of the live voting. I had asked individuals to vote on the following question: “Do you think mentoring young people in secondary schools has long-term benefits to their health?” and was actually quite surprised to see that 22 out of 25 individuals who voted, voted for “Yes” which indicates that there is something about the word mentoring that makes people think that it is beneficial, which itself is an interesting finding. Not a single person voted “no” and three individuals voted “not sure”.

Pebbles and 'live voting' ballot boxes
Pebbles and ‘live voting’ ballot boxes

The whole afternoon went well and made me realise the importance and benefit of talking to a variety of other people about my research – I guess you never know who you are going to meet and whether questions by visitors might actually turn into research questions one day.

How about signing up to present your research at the upcoming ESRC festival of social science, the MRC festival of medical research, other science festivals, talking about your research in pubs or talking to colleagues in the public engagement offices at your university?

 

10 reasons to exhibit your work at ‘Research without Borders’

RwB croppedNot sure why you might want to showcase your research at ‘Research without Borders’? Here’s 10 good reasons why you might want to get involved:

1. Get out of the lab / library

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http://blog.lib.umn.edu/

We spend so much of our time focusing on doing our research that we sometimes forget that there is a whole world of exciting opportunities for us to take advantage of! Take a break for a few hours and come down to @Bristol to tell others about what you’ve been working on. You’ll be much more relaxed and refreshed when you return to your work – and you might even have a few new ideas to try out!

2. Meet other researchers and connect with the wider Bristol community

UoB instagram account
UoB instagram account

Postgraduate research is so specialised and individual that sometimes you forget that you are part of a community of more than three thousand research students. Come and meet one another, share ideas – you might even make some new friends!

3. Potential employers

This year you won’t just be showcasing your research to other PGRs and the Bristol academic community – we’ll also be inviting key external partners, including academics from other institutions, industrial partners, local community groups and organisations, the Bristol City Council – the list goes on and on. Let us know if there is anyone in particular that you would like us to invite. This is an ideal opportunity for you to network with these high-profile guests. You never know, this could be a foot in the door for your post-PhD career!

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4. Meet the people funding your research

We’ll also be extending an invitation to the charities and research councils who fund your research. This is your opportunity to show them what you have been doing with the money they have invested in you. It’s also a great opportunity for you to speak with funders about any ideas you might have for future research projects. It never hurts to make friends with the people who hold the purse strings!

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Jorge Cham, PhD Comics

5. Talk to interested people about your research

Your supervisors, parents, partner, and friends are probably all getting a bit tired of hearing about your work. This is an ideal opportunity to talk to others who haven’t yet heard all about it. Plus, it’s always a good challenge to try to explain your research in a way that others can understand it. Take advantage of the fact that you’ll have a captive audience on hand.

6. Explore interconnections between your work and others’

You won’t be the only one doing all of the talking – this is a great opportunity for you to find out what other people are working on. You might just realise that there are connections between your work and others. Breaking out of your research bubble is never a bad idea!

7. Generate new ideas and collaborationsBCCS4

Be an academic in action! Meet new people, develop new ideas, learn from one another – that’s what being an academic is all about! This is your opportunity to spark new ideas with people you might not encounter in your day-to-day work.

8. Apply your expertise to real-world problems

Not sure what kind of impact your research could have on global challenges? How about problems affecting the city of Bristol itself? In addition to the research showcase there will also be opportunities for you to contribute your expertise to addressing real-world problems. A series of ‘Grand Challenges’ will be running throughout the day, enabling you to see how your knowledge and experience can help to solve some of world’s biggest problems.

9. Win prestigious prizes 

In the past, we’ve given away iPads, ferry boat rides, restaurant vouchers, Amazon vouchers… you never know what you might win! This year is no exception! We’ll be offering prizes for the 3MT, best poster display and best interactive research display.

www.quickmeme.com
*we’d like to confirm that, sadly, not everyone can win a prize www.quickmeme.com

10. It’ll be fun! 

With interactive maps, graffiti walls and quick-fire talks, this event is going to be jam-packed with fun activities for everyone! Free drinks and food are just the icing on the cake.

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Even the minions are excited for Research without Borders

So what are you waiting for? Sign up and reserve your place now!

Bringing science and art together with the ‘Land of the Summer People’ project

www.thelandofthesummerpeople.org

Ludovica Beltrame – Engineering PhD candidate with the Water Informatics: Science and Engineering (WISE) CDT

The Somerset Levels and Moors are a low lying region prone to frequent flooding due to a range of environmental and human factors. The history of drainage and flooding in the Levels is rich and unique, yet its present condition is unstable and its future uncertain. Winter 2013-14 for example saw extensive floods in the Levels that attracted significant media attention and triggered debate on how such events can be mitigated in the future. The Land of the Summer People Science & Art project brings together engineering PhD students with local artists to increase public awareness and understanding of the Somerset floods. Scientific understanding and traditional engineering tools are combined with the artists’ creativity to prompt discussions about the area’s relationship with floods in a medium designed to be accessible and enjoyable.

Working at this project was an unprecedented experience. Not only it was a chance to explain something that we do to a wider public, but also an opportunity to learn something ourselves that we do not usually learn from data and numerical analyses.

The topic my group chose to focus on is the future of flooding in the Somerset Levels and Moors. The starting point was our scientific knowledge about the topography of the area, the current action plan, and climate and land use change potentially impacting flooding in the future. From here, guided by the artist we were working with, we went through a process thinking about how we could convey this information. How do we communicate to the future? How do we communicate to the present to shape the future? There was the need of some research and experimentation, but in a new different way compared to what we are used to. This time it was all about thinking about how to engage with the public, what techniques to use, what materials to employ.

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We came up with the idea of making a flood survival kit, containing several items bringing together ideas about causes and impacts of flooding in the area, as well as symbolic tools for adapting to floods. The plan was to give our kits to people walking on the street and start conversations about flooding, aiming at raising awareness on the topic and stimulating interest and responses. The performance took place in Taunton on March 17th. At first, it was exciting and scary at the same time: howto approach people? Will they be keen on talking with us? What will they expect? What will they tell us? However, very soon we felt much more comfortable and giving our kits not only provided us with the chance to talk about our project, but also opened the opportunity for establishing deeper connections with people, sharing stories and memories. Studying the physical processes of floods or the topography of the area does not make you aware of the experience of flooding and the effects the local communities have to cope with. Most of the people we met and talked to had actually experienced flooding or knew someone who had experienced it and it was interesting engaging and listening to their stories.

For us engineers, finding an alternative way to talk about flooding was challenging. However, using art to communicate with people turned out to be a nice way of generating interesting discussions and adopting a different perspective helped us understanding aspects of what we study and work on that data cannot teach us.

Bringing science and art together with the ‘Land of the Summer People’ project

www.thelandofthesummerpeople.org

Laurence Hawker – Engineering PhD candidate with the Water Informatics: Science and Engineering (WISE) CDT

The Somerset Levels and Moors are a low lying region prone to frequent flooding due to a range of environmental and human factors. The history of drainage and flooding in the Levels is rich and unique, yet its present condition is unstable and its future uncertain. Winter 2013-14 for example saw extensive floods in the Levels that attracted significant media attention and triggered debate on how such events can be mitigated in the future. The Land of the Summer People Science & Art project brings together engineering PhD students with local artists to increase public awareness and understanding of the Somerset floods. Scientific understanding and traditional engineering tools are combined with the artists’ creativity to prompt discussions about the area’s relationship with floods in a medium designed to be accessible and enjoyable.

After months of work, the day of the exhibition finally came. With a sense of curiosity mixed with a dose of trepidation, we met at the Exeter community centre to set up. As we were uploading the works and strategically positioning in the room, I was struck by the diversity of works – from drawings that exuded characteristics of medieval maps to mobile numbers engraved on stones that replied with informative quotes. Yet they all had a common theme in their interactivity showing how this common space between art and engineering can be used to convey a message. It was also interesting to note that despite the works being completed, the presentation and organisation within the room was carefully considered in order to not only look aesthetically pleasing but to also effectively communicate our work.

Comments expressed during the exhibition were encouraging with healthy interaction between the public and exhibitors. On the most part, the visitors seemed to understand the messages being conveyed, which was certainly aided by the artistic element. Visitor feedback was positive and certainly builds a solid foundation for future projects which is thankfully being planned. Apart from being informative, the exhibition created a friendly, relaxed atmosphere in which the presented concepts could be discussed.

On a personal note: whilst all of us are a part of our particular departments we are also part of a wider university and even society as a whole. Thus, sometimes we need to dismantle our boundaries and prejudices to other disciplines and areas to take in their ideas so more people can understand our research. Ultimately, if no one can understand our work it is futile. Thus, even though projects like the Land of the Summer People are not all always available, it is still easy to read papers or attend lectures from other disciplines, and I would highly encourage anyone to do this. Even from my limited experience of coming from a geography background into engineering, I can safely say that I have taken a lot from both disciplines. This doesn’t make me any better than someone who has stuck to one discipline, but it has opened my eyes to different practices and language that are used. You never know what you might learn!