The Bristol heat of the international competition for communicating science asks working scientists and technologists to explain something about science in just 3 minutes. Kate spoke about the science of hairstyling and shape memory polymers, and is one of 4 to progress to the Regional final, which brings together talent from across Wales, the Midlands and the Southwest.
Famelab [http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/about/famelab/] is a communications competition where entrants have no slides and only the props they can carry on with them. Participants begin with local heats, then work their way up through region and national to the international final at Cheltenham Science Festival. Taking part in Famelab has kickstarted the careers of many presenters and performers, from musicians to more traditional explosion-based science demonstrations.
Kate Oliver is in the third year of their time at the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials, and is working on 3D printing shape-changing materials. They also co-organise and regularly perform at local chaotic science cabaret, Science Showoff Bristol, [https://scienceshowoff.wordpress.com/] and are taking part in the Science Showoff Talent Factory [ https://showofftalentfactory.wordpress.com/ ]. Kate said:
“Today I spoke about the molecular action that enables hair to hold shapes – it’s called shape memory, and could be very useful in future technologies. Talking about science allows me to indulge my attention-seeking, outward going side – though I like being with my machines in lab too.”
Of 8 entrants into the local heat, 4 went through: in addition to Kate, Alex Lathbridge, Lon Barfield, and Alex McCleod will be joining another 10 at the Regional final, to be held in March. It’s free, and all are welcome to come down, watch, and offer their thoughts.
This post was originally published on the BCFN website, and can be viewed here.
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.
Make sure you start the year as you mean to go on by getting involved in the thriving research community here in Bristol. Here are some of the highlights coming up in 2017 that our postgraduate research students should watch out for:
1. Look after yourself by prioritising your self-care
We bet you didn’t expect to see this as number 1 on the list, but looking after yourself shouldn’t be forgotten. Life as a researcher can take its toll on your mental and physical health. In the depths of research – whether in the lab, the archives, or the field – it’s all too easy to get sucked away from the wider world. Take a quick look at our virtual resource hub for activities, events, information and news about mental health and general wellbeing.
2. Celebrate the start of your research at our special inauguration event in February
If you’ve started your research degree on or after 1 August 2016 then come along to our special Researcher Inauguration event on Monday 6 February, 2017. Receive your official welcome from the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University, Professor Hugh Brady, and introduce yourself to the University’s rich and vibrant research community over a glass of wine and some nibbles. Sign up for your free ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/researcher-inauguration-event-tickets-30551567561
3. Showcase your research at the BDC festival of research: Research without Borders 2017
Our flagship Research without Borders festival provides an interactive space for Bristol postgraduate researchers across all disciplines to come together and showcase their work to a broad audience from within and outside of the University. This year’s festival will include a whole week of interactive showcase events: an evening seminar series, the finals of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition and an afternoon showcase exhibition at Colston Hall on Friday 12 May. More than 100 PGRs shared their work at last year’s exhibition, through research posters, hands-on demonstrations, innovative research displays and lively discussions. Take a look at last year’s event to get a sense of just how special the event was – and help us make this year’s event bigger and better than ever! Keep an eye on the Bristol Doctoral College website to find out how you can sign up.
4. Sign up for personal and professional development training
In an increasingly competitive environment there is a growing demand on postgraduate researchers not just to be qualified experts in their subject area, but to be highly accomplished individuals with the skills and attitude to communicate, innovate and adapt within a continually changing landscape. The Bristol Doctoral College runs a Personal and Professional Development programme with more than 150 workshops, seminars and online resources designed specifically for postgraduate research students. Take a look at the full catalogue and sign up today!
5. Join the Bristol SU Postgraduate Network
The PG Network is a student-led initiative for all postgraduate students (both research and taught) that seeks to develop an active, strong and vibrant postgraduate community here at the University of Bristol. The PG Network organises events in Bristol and provides a real chance for students to work together to shape and develop Bristol postgraduate community life. Get involved and keep up to date by joining the group on Facebook.
6. Learn something new and see where it takes you
Keep your mind active even when you need a break from your research by going to a public lecture, talk or debate about something completely different to your main study area. There are numerous public talks and lectures in Bristol, and many of them are free to attend. The Bristol Festival of Ideas attracts experts from around the world to Bristol with an inspiring programme of debate and discussion throughout the year. The Arnolfini also organises regular talks and the Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed holds a free lunchtime talk every Friday.
7. And finally, make the most of being in Bristol
Bristol has a wealth of cultural treasures and historic places to explore – from museums, art galleries and theatres, pop-up cafes, festivals and world-renowned graffiti. Make sure you make the most of studying in such a vibrant city and take some time out of your research to explore. Keep up to speed with what’s going by keeping an eye on Bristol 247 and Bristol Museums.
Doreen Pastor, a PhD Student in German, travelled to Germany to collect fieldwork this summer. She recounts her trials and rewards, and offers a couple of tips for postgraduate researchers preparing to go out into the field themselves.
I am a part-time student in German Studies researching how visitors engage with ‘challenging’ histories at memorial sites in Germany. This required spending an extended period of time in Germany talking to visitors at the concentration camp memorials Flossenbürg and Ravensbrück, the Holocaust memorial House of the Wannsee Conference and the former Stasi prison Bautzen II.
So, with my clipboard in my hand, I set off to Germany in June 2016. I was incredibly anxious at the airport with all these thoughts going through my head. “Will the survey I prepared work? Or more importantly, will visitors actually talk to me?!” I was also wondering how I would cope with living in Germany for four months, something many of my friends could not understand as Germany is my home country. I moved to the UK eight years ago and although I have been back since, the UK felt much more like home now.
Flossenbürg concentration camp memorial, my first stop, was a tough site. Visitor numbers were low which meant I had to work very hard in order to achieve my sample size. I stood with my clipboard in the rain, in thunderstorms and in scourging heat, often wondering “Why did I decide to do a PhD?”
By the time I completed my research at Ravensbrück (my 2nd case study), a former concentration camp predominantly for women, my own mental health started to be affected. I had completely underestimated the impact of the loneliness during fieldwork combined with spending significant amounts of time at sites which represent one of the darkest chapters in human history. There were times when I was close to giving up, especially when I went to my 3rd site, the House of the Wannsee Conference, where my living arrangements (student residence halls) were awful. Thankfully, Germany’s summer weather had significantly improved by then and I was able to spend the majority of my time outside, so I could cope with the unpleasant living situation for a month.
My final case study was the former Stasi prison, Bautzen II, in the East of Germany. Interestingly, this was a return to home territory for me, as I am originally from East Germany. It was tough to conduct research in a former Stasi prison, as the history is so close to my own family history (my uncle was imprisoned by the Stasi albeit not in Bautzen). However, it was also an incredibly humbling experience as I met a few former prisoners who talked to me about their own experience of having been a political prisoner in the GDR. In fact, one former prisoner said to me “Your PhD is so important, we need to know how we can engage with visitors in the future when we are no longer here.” This comment gave me a much needed dose of motivation after four months of hard work. I completed my research successfully in October, and was even invited back to Ravensbrück for a presentation to the staff team about my visitor research.
Although, looking back, I enjoyed working at these different memorials, it was one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. I had to learn to cope with rejections and the unpredictability of primary research while also keeping up motivation. Therefore, my main two pieces of advice for any PhD student on fieldwork are:
1. Don’t take setbacks personally – unfortunately the nature of primary research is that it includes ups and downs.
2. As tempting as it is to keep on working, schedule regular breaks – these are vital for your physical and mental health.
On the 21st of September 2016, I marked one year at the University of Bristol. People have compared the first year of a PhD programme to the “honeymoon phase” after a wedding. Since I have never been on a honeymoon, I cannot relate to that metaphor. I can however assure you that it has been an amazing academic year with huge learning experiences for me. I like to think that I have become smarter than I was a year ago. You have to take my word for it though. My research proposal has also gone through some changes, a process similar to the metamorphosis of a butterfly. However, it doesn’t look as pretty as a butterfly yet, but I hope it will, in the coming months. The research problem that intrigued me hasn’t changed yet. I am only changing the ways I wish to address the problem. These changes have been necessitated by the need to clarify the focus of my research and fine-tune the research process. During this period, I attended several seminars, workshops and conferences, in addition to my compulsory coursework units. I can attest to the fact that all of these platforms equipped me with vital skills for doing research. Particularly, there was one seminar organized by the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) for Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs), which literally changed my PhD life. It was held sometime in February 2016 and made significant impact on my attitude towards the PhD. They called it the ‘Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Researchers’ seminar with Hugh Kearns.
I will not give away too many details about the seminar, so that I do not ruin the experience for those who might be attending the next one. I will instead talk about the three important lessons I took away from the seminar. The first was to treat the PhD like a job, because it is a job. Prior to that time, I viewed the PhD programme as my ‘last’ schooling endeavor. I had resigned from my ‘job’ to go to ‘school’. That demarcating line meant I could afford some luxuries like procrastination and distractions. As a full-time student, it also meant that I was in full control of how I spent my flexible time. Of course, I was busy with lectures, pre-readings, assessments and preparations for supervision meetings, but most of it happened within a schedule that was subject to my whims. To treat my PhD as a job I had to have regular working hours and specific targets with deadlines. I had to be responsible with how I spent my time and self. I had to be accountable to the PhD because it was my new Boss. It put money in my account and paid my bills literally, courtesy of my scholarship. Would I spend all day browsing the social media around a Boss, in an organization where I was an employee? Would I still be in bed by 9am when that organization’s resumption time is 8am? Would I just decide to stay off work without a legitimate reason like ill-health? I definitely would not. To treat the PhD as a job, my ways had to change — and they did, gradually. Today, I am doing my best to please my Boss and show this Boss that I deserve to be here. Treating my PhD as a job has engendered in me a high sense of responsibility and accountability for what I must do per time.
The second lesson for me was the need to write as I read, and not leave writing to a time in the future. Hugh Kearns problematized the notion of a ‘writing-up’ phase of the PhD and insists that writing must begin from the beginning – as we read articles, run experiments etc. This lesson has benefitted me a lot as it reduces the chances of me having a ‘writer’s block’. As I read articles or books, I review in writing the areas that are relevant to my research. Indeed, I end with MANY drafts but it’s a good thing for me because I also think by writing.
The third lesson for me was Hugh Kearns emphasis on the fact that the PhD is not the pursuit of a Nobel Prize. The aim of my PhD is not to submit a perfect thesis. Rather, it is to finish the PhD and submit the thesis. Therefore, my expectations of what I can and will accomplish within the three years of the programme must be realistic. I am grateful to my supervisors who spent our first meetings insisting that I narrow my research focus to something feasible within the timeframe I had.
I am also grateful to the BDC for organizing the seminar and numerous others that I have attended. I look forward to the new courses that I have booked to attend in the coming months. If I may ask, which seminar or workshop at the University has greatly impacted your PhD life?
The next ‘Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Researchers’ seminar will run on Friday, November 11, from 9:00-12:00 in the Helen Wodehouse Lecture Theatre, 35 Berkeley Square. Register via OnCourse.
This August Abi’odun Oyewole, a PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Education, went to the annual Life beyond the PhD conference at Cumberland Lodge. In this blog post she details her experiences and insights from her time spent at this interdisciplinary, knowledge-sharing and collaborative weekend.
It was an absolutely lovely experience to travel to Cumberland lodge, Windsor for the 2016 Life beyond the PhD conference. I am using this blog to share some of my memorable moments at the conference to encourage whoever may want to attend the conference next year.
1. A celebration of doctoral students
The welcome session struck a note when Owen, the programme director at Cumberland lodge and our host, described the conference as a celebration of doctoral students. According to Owen, doctoral students forget to celebrate themselves and we were about to be celebrated by people who appreciate what we do and how much we have sacrificed to that cause. Did I feel celebrated after three days? I think the amazing scenery, beautiful accommodation, engaging customer service, barbecues and delicious menus, did justice to Owen’s hopes. The day before the programme ended, I was wondering how much I would miss the dreamlike package.
2. Getting vital information on career development
The conference included useful sessions on experiences of applying for a job, and working inside and outside the academia. It was really helpful to hear personal experiences of failure and mistakes and what we can do to avoid some of these experiences. Also, the common factor to all shared experiences was the fact that the speakers achieved their aims after sometime, with effort and dedication. I absolutely enjoyed listening to the dramatic journey of a chief inspector of police who had once studied a PhD in Bio-chemistry. I also enjoyed listening Professor Graham Smith who spoke about expectations for and the realities of working inside academia. His advice is to take some time off work to refresh – all doctoral students must keep this in mind!! The workshop on successful applications by Dr Steve Joy and Katie Hewitt offered valuable insight into the job application process. It was enlightening to understand the standpoint of the recruiters and the qualities they are ‘really’ looking for in a prospective employee.
3. Learning how to communicate research to a different audience
On the second day of the conference we had a session with Dr Geraint Wyn Story, on public speaking or in better terms ‘how to avoid speaking Greek to a non-Greek audience’. I must admit that I wondered if his ‘dramatic’ techniques of getting the message across would help doctoral students. However, there was an amazing difference between the speech given by a few doctoral students at the beginning of the session and at the end of the session. The next day I found myself using some of those dramatic tips to present my research to a group with different disciplines. It was a truly beneficial session.
4. Working on an interdisciplinary project
Okay, I admit that this was my best moment at the conference and for a very obvious reason – my team won. Yayy!!! The background detail to this event was that we were split into groups and told to come up with an interdisciplinary research proposal. Imagine yourself working with researchers from a totally different field. I looked through the abstracts of my teammates the morning before the activity and got a headache. I just couldn’t see how our interests and skills would come together. However, my team mates quickly proved me wrong, it wasn’t about sole accomplishments but what the group could create and contribute to. In less than two hours, we came up with a project, the aims, rationale, research question, and schedule. We also had to present our proposal to other colleagues and the alleged sponsors, to compete for ‘funding’. I would say it was a tough competition but I’m really proud that my team got the chocolate box at the end of it all. We took a picture to celebrate. Haha!
5. Listening to experiences of the viva
On the final day of the conference, we listened to personal experiences of the viva voce and this was quite helpful. The speakers provided a balanced view of good and bad experiences of the examination. It was helpful to note mistakes to avoid at the viva, and understand the viewpoint of the examiners. The speakers also talked about experiences of selecting examiners. I liked the suggestion that we should not reject examiners that we disagree with, they might actually provide a more constructive critique of our research. Dr. Rachel Smillie also advised that we avoid assumptions about the examiners’ feedback.
Final words: Thanks to Cumberland lodge for organising this worthwhile experience and thanks to the Bristol Doctoral College for providing the opportunity to partake in it.
Jane Nebe is a PhD student at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol with funding from the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission in the UK (CSCUK).
On the first day of the year 2016, I woke up very sad and stayed that way throughout the day. I just kept wondering if the PhD programme had been worth resigning my dream job for. I had started my dream job in June 2015, and did not meet the requirement to qualify for a study leave by September 2015. The dilemma for me at the time was not if I wanted to do the PhD, but if I wanted to start the PhD by September 2015. Oh! I forgot to mention that I had received a prestigious scholarship that would fund ALL expenses for the PhD programme and it could not be deferred. Maybe I was just homesick. You see, every 1st January of the New Year was a huge celebration in my family home back in Nigeria. The day usually began with excited greetings of ‘Happy new year’, festive aroma emanating from kitchens in the neighbourhood, happy chattering, and visits to or from friends and family later in the day. On this 1st of January, I was alone. Park Street was quiet and my accommodation extremely quiet. This was not unusual though because some mornings in Bristol are always like that. But this morning, I felt the silence was too loud. In addition to the feelings of aloneness, was the stress of writing two essays for my assessed units that were due for submission in some weeks’ time; as well as the preparation for my next supervision meeting later that month. On that day, the 1st of January 2016, I began to contemplate dropping out of the PhD programme.
Students’ mental health is something that the University of Bristol takes seriously. We should take it seriously too. I was aware that professional counselling was available at the Student Counselling Service, but it was not an option I considered. At the time, seeking professional help meant acknowledging somehow that something was not right with me. That definitely wasn’t my persona, because I am a Superwoman. Or was I not? I remain grateful to my friend and PhD colleague who sensed from our conversations that something wasn’t right and kept listening to me, while encouraging me again and again. Then, I decided to do something different from research, something to be excited about. So, I started swimming lessons at the university’s swimming pool. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while the lessons lasted. I am yet to cross the line between learner and swimmer though. Over the past few months, I have learnt to extend my life experiences in Bristol beyond the triangle enclosed by my house, school and church. It has been very beneficial to my mental health. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I take time-outs. My past exploits include visits to the aquarium and museums, taking a boat ride, walks by the harbour side, joining the gym, travelling, learning to skate, and so on. Just forgetting work and having fun! Afterwards, I return to my research refreshed and reinvigorated, to excel as always. Most importantly, I have decided that if 1st January 2016 ever happens again in the nearest future, I would seek professional help because ‘I ain’t a Superwoman’ after all. So tell me, how do you maintain your mental health?
This is coined from the ‘Ain’t I a Woman?” speech that is attributed to Sojourner Truth (1797–1883), who was born into slavery in New York.
Rachel Harris is a postgraduate researcher in Neuroscience in the School of Clinical Sciences. She helped coordinate the Bath & Bristol Science Film Festival, and organised the Bristol Neuroscience Festival, and is an active supporter of the city’s Neuroscience-related activities. As part of our Tried & Tested campaign, she spoke to us about the benefits of organising a PhD symposium and what her experiences doing so have taught her. Check out more of her musings on her blog, and follow her on twitter at @NeuroRach.
Last year I helped organise the first GW4 Early Career Neuroscientist Day. I didn’t have any experience organising an academic event but I was keen to help bring together neuroscience PhDs and postdocs from a range of disciplines and universities.
There were many roles available, from selecting and contacting speakers to choosing a venue and drumming up sponsorship. I took up a role on the scientific committee along with a team comprising of members from the other GW4 Universities (Bath, Cardiff and Exeter). A huge number of abstracts were submitted and it was really interesting see what stood out from the pack when we were selecting talks. It’s definitely something I think about when I come to write abstracts now.
The team for this symposium were all really committed and we communicated by combination of emails, calls and face to face meetings. The programme was developed over several months and it was rewarding to hear about progress from other members of the committee and see the event come together.
On the day the committee helped prepare the venue and greet attendees and speakers. Members of the scientific committee also hosted scientific symposia which included introducing speakers, managing questions, and dealing with any technical issues!
I’d recommend getting involved in organising a symposium. It’s a great way to meet other people from within your university as well in other institutions. It didn’t take up a huge amount of my time, but I still felt like I’d helped shape a successful day.
As a result of working on this event I now manage Bristol Neuroscience social media and helped out with the Bristol Neuroscience Festival, so you never know where things will lead. I’m also looking forward to this year’s symposium as I know the effort that goes in to making it work.
GW4 Early Career Neuroscientists’ Day is looking for volunteers to help coordinate the 2016/17 event in Cardiff. Email you expression of interest to Catherine Brown (email@example.com) by July 18th.
With a degree under your belt, while trying to navigate the postgraduate degree, looking into future careers and deciding whether to stay in academia or not seems particularly daunting. Three years ago, the Careers Beyond Biomedical Research (CBBR) seminar was created by a student, Laura Carney, to provide a platform for students to explore possible career options outside of academic research. Having had the opportunity to go to the seminars last year, we were all inspired to help when it came round to having a new committee.
With the help from the previous committee members, Anna Smith and Leila Thuma, we were quickly on our way. Prof Paul Martin was able to help us financially by getting in contact with the Wellcome Trust to ensure smooth running of the seminar series. Prof. George Banting and the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences very graciously also provided us with additional funding. Upon contact, Prof Patty Kuwabara and the heads of schools kindly offered their help to advertise the series to all the students across several faculties.
Organising the CBBR seminar was an amazing experience for all of us, as we had the full liberty to organise and curate the entire programme. As a team we were able to work together and push ourselves to come up with alternate career areas that would enable students to stay connected to science and still be able to use their degrees. This was also an eye-opening experience for us as we were amazed at the wide ranging opportunities available and how within even one field, this could be wide and varied. For this reason, we decided to invite several speakers who followed different career paths within a certain topic, which also gave us the opportunity to meet extremely interesting people from a wide range of careers.
Contacting speakers was often challenging, in particular having the courage to contact bigger names within the field. However, the positive and enthusiastic responses we got from the speakers added to our confidence. Most people were very happy to talk about their careers and help postgrads with their own. Most speakers had themselves come from a science background and therefore, understood the struggles students faced when thinking about the future.
We were truly impressed with the range of people who were interested in our events, from undergraduates to staff and from within Biomedical Sciences to Engineering and Chemistry. We felt we had given an opportunity to all the students to explore more career options, which was particularly evident during the smaller group sessions after the talks, where students got to talk with the speakers, ask questions and make contacts. Speaking to students after was always rewarding as many came out with new career ideas or how to go about following their dream one.
Organising CBBR has been a wonderful challenge which we hope helped the many hundreds of students who attended the events. The feedback, that the talks “reassured” or even “inspired” students to explore various career options, truly indicates to us that this was a worthwhile experience, which we hope will continue in the future.
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.
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!
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”.
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?