1 comment on “#TwitterTakeover: An Exercise in Brevity”

#TwitterTakeover: An Exercise in Brevity

GUEST POST: James Walker, PhD student (Centre for Doctoral Training in Fuel Cells and their Fuels):

If you ask any PhD student about their research topic, you’re likely to either get a response punctuated with “ums,” and “ahs,” and littered with discipline-specific buzzwords and jargon, or you can perhaps expect a three hour short course in Medieval Hungarian poetry or novel electron microscopy techniques. We aren’t really known for our capacities for distilling down our studies into concise, accessible nuggets of audience-appropriate engagement. Imagine my colleague Aimee’s horror, then, when I told her that I’d volunteered us to do a take-over of the @UoBEngage Twitter account for the day. We’ve been running the @FuelCellsCDT Twitter account for a couple of years now, and have used it to share snippets of our PhD experience, whether reviewing conference presentations or highlighting publications from our group. Realistically, though, we haven’t used Twitter to disseminate our research particularly frequently because, let’s be honest, the “Three Minute Thesis” idea is intimidating enough – how do you even begin to summarise your PhD in 140 characters?

It turns out that being forced to think about and justify the need for each and every letter can be immensely helpful in curating your message. When you have no choice but to be brief, you have every incentive to think really carefully about what you’re trying to communicate, and how best you can get the message across. Although this isn’t a particularly comfortable position to be in – when the word “nanoparticle” takes up 11% of the allowed space, the prospect of trying to explain my synthesis protocol seemed somewhat daunting – I found the perspective developed through the process quite helpful when approaching other public engagement ideas that I was having. Perhaps the next time you’re thinking about an activity you’d like to organise, imagining how you might capture the message in 140 characters might help you distil it down.

In terms of practicalities, we started our takeover by introducing ourselves and providing a broad overview of the research underway in our group. Within the Centre for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research we have plenty of “ins” available – we started with pictures of our fuel cell test vehicles and hydrogen refuelling station. Thereafter we covered some applied practical aspects of our day-to-day work, hoping to demystify the science involved and doing our best to avoid white-coat-mad-scientist scenes. I’ve no doubt that this would be a transferrable approach, although we are lucky that our work is quite hands-on.

I’d thoroughly encourage others to volunteer to have a go at a #TwitterTakeover of their own – it’s a great opportunity to try out new approaches to public engagement and is bound to change the way that you think about your message.

twittertakeover

 A BIG thank you James (and Aimee!) for being our first #TwitterTakeover and for walking us through a day in the life of a PhD researcher in Chemical Engineering. If you are interested in having ago yourself, find out more here and get in touch!

It’s over to you…!

Rachel Kahn’s Big Bang Fair blog

Rachel Kahn, a second year Biomedical Science undergraduate has blogged about her recent experience taking part at The Big Bang Fair 2016. Read her blog report here:

British Science Week – The Big Bang Fair from Sarah’s Adventures in Science

On the 19th of March 2016, I took part in the Big Bang Fair at the NEC in Birmingham as part of ‘Sarah’s Adventures in Science’. The Big Bang Fair aims to encourage and inspire young people to engage and interact with science whilst making the experience fun and enjoyable…

In praise of storytelling – three ways that communication has made me a better scientist

 a Neuroscience Doctoral Candidate, Penn State College of Medicine talks to THE CONVERSATION about how science communication has made her a better scientist. You can read the full article over at THE CONVERSATION, but we have a quick overview below:

“Scientists are often told to reach out to general audiences about their research for the public’s benefit:

We need to establish trust! Taxpayers deserve to understand where their money is going! We need to clear up misconceptions about GMOs and vaccines and climate change!

While these arguments are absolutely true, many scientists find this hard to do. Science communication can become a time-consuming side job. And for many, such a responsibility to the general public can be extremely daunting.

But it’s okay for scientists to practice their communication skills for non-philanthropic reasons, too. Despite my initial college lab experience, telling stories as a science communicator today has made me a much, much better scientist in a few unexpected ways.”

1. I read more and write more. So I read and write better.

While it’s impossible to know everything that’s going on at all times, being a science communicator has helped enormously. Scouting for story ideas or researching for a piece means I’m constantly coming across new findings, new methods and new hypotheses. Being active on social media, particularly Twitter, has introduced me to the diverse work of my journalistic peers, too.

But perhaps the best part is this: writing is significantly easier and infinitely less daunting than it used to be. Sitting down to write is hard, and finding your voice is harder. But the more one writes – whether a short, snarky blog post or a 12-page grant application – the easier and better it gets.

2. Simplifying my work makes for better conversations

Here’s a confession that many scientists may relate to, but few may admit: when I attend a talk outside my field, I’m lucky if I understand 50% of what is going on.

The purpose of science communication is to simplify, but not dumb down, your work so that the average non-scientist can understand it. Nowadays, when I design posters or oral presentations, I aim to do the same thing regardless of whether I’m introducing my work to scientists or non-scientists. My research posters, in fact, are almost laughably simple. Well under 200 words, with large, blocky figures, at first glance they may resemble a high school science project – certainly not a typical graduate student’s work at an international conference.

Since applying what I’ve learned from being a science communicator, my conference poster experience has completely changed. I’m frequently bombarded by a non-stop stream of scientists from all different fields, never having more than a free minute or two to sneak a swig of water. The best part is that because they understand what’s on the paper, our discussions can go deeper.

3. Unique opportunities and credibility

Since college, I’ve wanted to attend the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, the largest gathering of neuroscientists worldwide. This year, I got to do just that thanks to a travel stipend through the SfN Science Journalism Student Award – something I couldn’t have done if, obviously, I hadn’t started my quirky little hobby. In a roundabout way, I was able to attend an event I would have never been able to afford, and I returned to the lab with fresh ideas for my own research.

As people begin to recognise me as an “expert” in my field, I’m solicited for quotes and radio interviews. I’ve made a few odd dollars here and there for writing pieces, supplementing my lavish graduate student lifestyle. I even gave a TED talk in July – something I never imagined I’d have the chance to do.

While certainly not all scientists wish to seek out these types of public displays, it’s exciting to discover the countless venues for us to share our work with others.

So, scientists, here’s the bottom line: if you’re hesitant to reach out to the public due to lack of time, ambivalence, or just not knowing where to start, it’s understandable. It takes a fair bit of work, and it’s not easy. But if you want the chance to expand your horizons, improve your writing, enjoy unique opportunities, and engage more people – scientists and non-scientists alike – you might want to give science communication a shot.

In addition to making your work accessible to the general public, you might be surprised by how much your benchwork benefits, too.

Pay-it-Fwd: BIG newsletter article

The Pay-it-Fwd cohort has written a short piece for the January 2016 BIG newsletter describing their experience of the training they received at the ‘How to Train Researchers in Public Engagement’ workshop held in Newcastle in November 2015.

Read the full article here: http://www.big.uk.com/enews34

 

How to Train Researchers Workshop: Reflections from University of Birmingham’s Pay-it-Fwd cohort! 

Caroline Gillett, University of Birmingham 

The University was recently awarded the RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund to create momentum for culture change around PE at the institution. Our bid placed a clear emphasis on training and workshops for our researchers and as part of this I’ve decided to pilot a small-scale project that was a little different. Having already been impressed by the Little Event 2014, when I heard about the How to Train Researchers Workshop in Newcastle I knew I wanted to go, but I wanted to give others the opportunity to come too! This is how the ‘Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement Programme’ was born.

A callout for five researchers enthusiastic about PE was sent out across the University and we received lots of interest, making it a hard task for the University’s Public Engagement with Research Committee (PERC) to select our cohort. However, I am really happy with the researchers we selected as together they span the breadth of our University’s research disciplines from arts and humanities through to social, medical, physical and life sciences.

Also joining us on this venture is colleague and sci-comm maverick Jon Wood whose involvement with the pilot has been real asset thanks to his vast PE experience and can-do attitude. The Pay-it-Forward programme has two stages.:

  • Stage 1: Training – All seven of us got trained at the BIG How to Train Researchers Workshop!
  • Stage 2: Paying-it-Fwd – Our researchers will bring back the activities and training learned to together develop a practical public engagement workshop for UoB staff and students in early 2016, putting the training they have received at the BIG workshop in to real world practice and paying-it-forward to fellow colleagues and students.

Personally, I found the training day incredibly useful and it was a fantastic opportunity to meet other practitioners. More importantly though here’s what our researchers had to say:

Ruth Wareham: “I approached the BIG event with a modicum of trepidation; as someone whose science education ended some time ago, and with a background firmly rooted in the arts and humanities, I wasn’t entirely sure how well I’d fit in with a room full of self-professed ‘STEM Communicators’!  I needn’t have worried – the event was informative, interesting and lots of fun. Perhaps more importantly, all of the activities suggested could be used in a range of disciplinary contexts. The presenters had clearly thought carefully about the sessions and adapted them to suit the experience level and needs of the delegates.”

Elizabeth Randall: “I came to the BIG workshop with no experience of training researchers in public engagement…I felt somewhat lacking in confidence at the start of the day but after talking to a number of people about what makes a good trainer I now feel well-equipped to design and deliver a workshop to researchers at my university.

Sophie Cox: “At the start of the training session I put myself at the bottom of the cohort when asked our levels of confidence to train others in public engagement. By lunch I’d taken some steps forward and at the end of the day I’d leapfrogged my way to the top and was bursting with enthusiasm to get started with bringing loads of inspiring ideas back to the University” 

Katherine Eales: “As a doctoral researcher I am still at an early stage in my career and so it was great to get the opportunity to network with such a diverse range of experienced PE communicators. I also am thankful for the Pay-it-Forward scheme as I got to meet and work with some great and diverse researchers from UoB whom I wouldn’t necessarily have got to engage with! I am really looking forward to using the skills I gained at the BIG workshop to develop and deliver our introductory workshop to a wide range of graduate and early career researchers!

So there you have it! To find out how we get on in Stage 2 check out our blog and follow us on Twitter @UOBengage. Big thanks to BIG, all those who shared tips and tricks at the event and the others we met there.

Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement cohort announced!

Thanks to everyone who expressed an interest in participating in our Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement pilot. We received lots of interest but sadly we could only pick five of you to take part this time around. PERC were really impressed by all the candidates that got in touch and we are already thinking about how we can involve everyone who got in touch in future activity, so don’t be disappointed if you didn’t make it this time! Other opportunities will be revealed soon…

Congratulations to the five researchers who will be paying-it-forward with public engagement!

Meet our cohort:

sophie cox

Dr Sophie Cox

Hello! My name is Sophie and I’m a Research Fellow in the School of Chemical Engineering. I currently work on an interdisciplinary Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded project exploring the introduction and added value that additive layer manufacturing can bring to the medical sector.

Having completed my undergraduate and PhD in Engineering I moved to the University of Birmingham in 2014, bringing my passion for public engagement with me. Since, I have become a STEM Ambassador and through their network I have connected with a number of local schools to deliver hands-on and career based activities.

In the past, I have worked as a mentor for the International Gateway for Gifted Youth, an online global educational social network designed to help young people reach their full potential. For a number of years I also helped establish and organise the first royal academy engineering summer school at the University of Warwick. This scheme involved lots of really fun hands on activities that I hoped helped to inspire the next generation of engineers!

I’m really excited to have been selected for the Pay-it-Forward scheme and can’t wait to get started!

elizabeth randall

Elizabeth Randall

I’m Elizabeth and I’m a PhD student in the PSIBS doctoral training centre here at UoB. My project involves developing new chemical imaging methods for use in pharmaceutical research.

After completing my undergraduate degree in chemistry I decided to continue my studies in the interdisciplinary field of biomedical imaging. It’s a very exciting area and one that is easy to talk to people about – most people know about MRI and CT scanners in hospitals.

I became a STEM ambassador 3 years ago and have since taken part in events like ‘meet the scientist’ at the Birmingham ThinkTank. I also supervised 2 secondary school pupils on a week-long project which introduced them to the work at our lab, let them carry out a small research project and gave them an idea of what it would be like to work as a research scientist. Showing younger people what science is really about is my favourite part of public engagement – and perhaps also dispelling some misconceptions along the way.

Finding alternative ways to explain things is of particular interest to me. As a spare-time artist and writer I have produced artwork for exhibitions about scientific research and written articles for university and national publications including the ‘Access to Understanding’ organisation.

I’m looking forward to getting involved with the Pay-it-Forward scheme and hope to contribute some different ideas!

shardia

Shardia Briscoe-Palmer 

Hello, my name is Shardia. I am a second year PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham. I am currently researching in the field of Gender and Development focusing on Masculinity, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS related Stigma and Discrimination. My other areas for research include Gender & Development, HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination, Disability studies, sexual health and young people.

I am currently writing an article for the European Journal of Political Science (EJPS) on ‘Challenges facing minority PhD Politics students: women, BME groups and disabled people. I am a member for the Political Science Association’s Equality and Diversity committee. Being part of this group led me on to becoming a research assistant for the BME Ambassador project at the University of Birmingham were at present I co-ordinate the peer mentor scheme. #mentoringisgreat

Along side my studies I am employed by the Terrence Higgins Trust, a national HIV and Sexual Health charity, where I works as sex and relationship education (SRE) co-ordinator in the Midlands.  I recruits, train and support young people in to becoming Peer Ambassadors in Sexual Health (yes I get to talk about sex all day). I am currently planning a Young People’s Sexual Health Conference which will be held in February 2016.

I am the Co-Founder of GEMS (Gender Empowerment Movement); a community interest company who conducts workshop, events, research and consultations to engage and empower young people in the community on issues such as domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, girls and gangs, self-esteem, human rights & democracy, etc.

I am really looking forward to getting involved in this initiative and can not wait to start planning and most importantly engaging the public.

katherine eales

Katherine Eales

Hello! I’m Kat and I am currently in my second year of my PhD in the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at UoB. My research is primarily in cancer research and investigates into the role of a signalling pathway within the progression of type of brain tumour.

After completing a Biochemistry degree and research assistant post in Neuroscience, I moved to Birmingham in 2013 to start a 4 year MRes/PhD course.  After completing the MRes year I decided that the area of cancer research is my heart lies as it such a valuable research area and one in which the public is so engaged with.

I believe that public engagement is such an important part of being a scientist in gaining public awareness of our research and building a great relationship with the general public. I became a STEM ambassador when I started my PhD and have so far participated in engagement activities such as being a judge for the NSEC competition at the Big Bang Fair West Midlands and also various events with Cancer Research UK such as hands on creative activities making ‘cell badges’ and ‘meet the expert’ at Birmingham ThinkTank. I love engaging with young people about science and will hopefully help to inspire the next generation of scientists!

I am really looking forward to participating in the Pay-it-Forward scheme and can’t wait to bring back some exciting engagement ideas and activities to share with fellow UoB researchers!

ruth

Ruth Wareham 

Ruth is a doctoral researcher in philosophy of education. Her main research focus is the legitimacy of faith-schools but, as a former primary school teacher, her interests extend to a variety of subjects relating to the philosophical nature of education.

Ruth completed her BA and MPhil in philosophy at Birmingham (1999-2004) before going on to train for a PGCE on Nottingham University’s SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training) in Outstanding Primary Schools. She returned to the University to undertake a PhD and left teaching for a career in Higher Education in 2011.

Ruth currently works in a number of roles at the University of Birmingham, including Student Experience Officer for the School of Philosophy, Theology & Religion, Postgraduate Teaching Assistant in the School of Education and Research Network Administrator for the Beauty Demands Project (Department of Philosophy).

Through her varied experience of working in HE and mainstream compulsory education, Ruth has been involved with a wide range of public engagement projects and initiatives. These include: running philosophy workshops in schools on behalf of The Philosophy Foundation and The Royal Institute of Philosophy; working with the University’s outreach team and with the College of Arts & Law to participate in and organise Discovery Days, Taster Sessions and 6th Form Study Afternoons; running events as part of the University’s Arts & Sciences Festival and Community Day; and using social media platforms (such as Twitter and blogs) to increase engagement with the research of staff and students.

One of Ruth’s current projects is hoping to address public engagement in the arts and humanities and she is very much looking forward to seeing how her involvement with the Pay-It-Forward programme can help to address issues in disciplines other than science.

PhD Student shortlisted for the Max Perutz Prize

Max Perutz LogoCongratulations to Dan Craig a PhD Student in the Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research (CMAR), who is the author of one of Fourteen ‘outstanding’ articles (“Fighting flesh poverty: an apple a day?”) that have been shortlisted for this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award, the MRC’s annual writing competition.

The winner, who will receive a £1,500 prize, will be announced at the awards ceremony on 22 October at the Royal Institution, London. Their article will also be promoted on the BBC News website.

The Max Perutz Award, which is in its 18th year asks MRC-funded PhD students to write up to 800 words about their research and why it matters in a way that would interest a non-scientific audience.  Since the competition started in 1998, hundreds of researchers have submitted entries and taken their first steps in science communication.

Dan is mid-way through his MRC-funded PhD ‘Determining the muscle anabolic and anti-catabolic potential of Ursolic Acid in Ageing’ and is supervised by Dr Andrew Philp (University of Birmingham) and Dr Phil Atherton (University of Nottingham).

Museomix 2014 at the Derby Silk Mill

Between 7-9th November, I found myself at Museomix 2014 at the Derby Silk Mill.  In this crowded room were makers, fabricators, coders, animators, content experts, museum people – lots of different kinds of people who are about to be mashed together to make a new museum exhibit from something old.  For me personally, the Silk Mill is a wonderful place to do it because there are many STEM links already there, particularly engineering, and the fact that the mill is the first factory in the world.  The museum prides itself about being about STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths.