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Insight blog: Posts tagged with Science communication

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

Why should you enter the Max Perutz Award?

4 Jun 2013

Max Perutz Science Writing Award is now in its sixteenth year. Here some of the previous winners recall their motivations for entering, provide tips for new entrants and update us on their subsequent careers. This year we’ve also included a 100-word Centenary Challenge and a Centenary Prize for the best title because, yes, you guessed it, it’s our Centenary year. The competition closes on 23 June.


Angharad Davies

Angharad Davies (Image copyright: Angharad Davies)

Angharad Davies, 2003 winner

Why did you enter the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award?

Because I love writing! I had done a lot of creative writing previously, all kinds of things, even a pantomime for my medical school. So when I heard about the Max Perutz Award I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand at science writing.

How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?

The most important thing I learned was that there is a skill in telling the story ‘backwards’. Instead of explaining the research from beginning to end, it’s easiest to engage the reader by starting with the end-point — probably the most interesting and accessible part — and then once the reader is interested, work backwards explaining how you got there. This can be hard when you’re used to working through things in a very methodical and logical manner. [...]

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Sharing science

2 May 2013

Andrew Bastawrous, an eye surgeon at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, won last year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award with an article explaining the importance of his research developing smartphone apps for checking eye health. As we launch this year’s competition, Andrew explains what winning the award did for him, and provides a few tips for budding writers.  

Andrew with his wife Madeleine and son Lucas, and the whole research team

Andrew with his wife Madeleine and son Lucas (left), and the whole research team (Image copyright: Andrew Bastawrous)

Why did you enter the Max Perutz Science Writing Award?

A fellow PhD student at the university sent me the link and suggested I should apply. It made sense to write an article explaining the project in non-scientific terms as I was always being asked by friends and family what it was that I was doing. This was the perfect opportunity to distill my thoughts into a form that could be understood by everyone and that I could direct people to if they were interested. I never expected to end up winning the competition.

How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?

Having to sit down and write something without jargon made me look at my work in a different light. Trying to see something you are deeply involved in from a more distant and very different perspective can be quite challenging, but very refreshing. The question set to us was, “Why does your research matter?” Getting to the heart of that question meant engaging with the emotion that drives the work in the first place.

The whole process has made me appreciate good writers and their ability to present complex information in an engaging way. It has also encouraged me to write about the everyday scientific work I’m doing in Kenya in a manner that can be understood by friends and family. [...]

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In pictures: Mini Scientists in Edinburgh

23 Apr 2013

Six months of planning, 48 volunteers, 40 kilograms of playdough, 22,000 plastic virus spikes, 1,500 petri dishes and tubes, 30 zebrafish, eight kilograms of dried peas, and two giant ears made up the MRC’s Mini Scientists activity at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.  Organised by Hazel Lambert, our Regional Communications Manager in Scotland, the story is best told in pictures.

Thank you to Craig Nicol at the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh for taking the photographs. [...]

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Can a zebrafish change its spots?

18 Apr 2013

When should we start talking to children about the use of animals in research? At the recent Edinburgh International Science Festival, MRC Regional Communications Manager Hazel Lambert added an encounter with two tanks of zebrafish into the Mini Scientists activity. The result? Lots of questions about spots and stripes.

Never underestimate your audience. Especially not when they are seven years old, dressed in a lab coat, with a pen poised over a clip board and ready to make a virus, remodel a city and extract some slimy-looking DNA from even slimier pea-juice.

The MRC’s Mini Scientists activity at the Edinburgh International Science Festival is usually booked out and feedback tells us that the kids, their parents and our dedicated volunteers all love taking part. But, after having run the activity for three years, I felt I wasn’t telling the audience the whole story. [...]

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It’s about time

10 Apr 2013

Strictly Science, a free public exhibition tracing the past, present and potential future of the MRC has taken over a foyer at Imperial College London for 10 days. MRC Senior Press Officer Cathy Beveridge went along to try out the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow labs and found a mixture of marmite, motion capture and musing on the future.

Pictures by Haberdashery (http://www.haberdasherylondon.com/)

Pictures by Haberdashery (http://www.haberdasherylondon.com/)

How can an exhibition encapsulate a century of modern medicine in a way that brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of science for both adults and children? This is the ambitious aim of the Strictly Science exhibition; which not only looks back at 100 years of discoveries as part of the MRC’s Centenary programme, but also aims to use this as a springboard to get people excited about science, and the possibilities of scientific discovery in the next 100 years.

The journey starts in 1913, the year in which the MRC was founded, with a salute to David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister whose 1911 National Insurance Act set the wheels in motion for the establishment of the organisation, primarily to curb the devastating effects of tuberculosis on the population. You can see posters showing how this was lauded as the ‘Dawn of Hope’ — the first time public money had been used for medical research. [...]

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All you can publish

19 Mar 2013

Graham's paper in PeerJ

Graham’s paper in PeerJ

Professor Graham Collingridge, an MRC-funded researcher at the University of Bristol, recently published a research paper in the first batch of publications from the innovative new open access journal PeerJ. Here he explains what attracted him to this mode of publishing, and why he’d rather see precious resources spent on research. 

Like many researchers, I like the concept of open access publishing. I’ve been publishing my work on an open access basis, in line with the MRC’s guidance on open access, for years. But I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the costs associated with abiding by the guidance in today’s publishing world.

I recently published a paper in an Elsevier journal, which I believe would have been made fully open access after one year. However, the MRC policy requires that all MRC-funded work is openly accessible after six months, so to make up the shortfall, I needed to pay a fee of €5,000 to the journal. What is frustrating is that I’m sure that most of the people who want to access my paper can do so via their institutional subscriptions to Elsevier journals, so I paid €5,000 for just a small number of people to be able to access my paper for this six-month time window. [...]

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Lindsay Hogg: Giving power to patients

6 Feb 2013

Lindsay Hogg

Lindsay Hogg

Lindsay Hogg, a science communicator turned public health researcher at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU) in Glasgow, is out to give people the means to assess health evidence for themselves. Katherine Nightingale talked to Lindsay about developing a toolkit to do this, and what it’s like to cross the divide into research.

We’ve all seen the newspaper headlines. “Banish high blood pressure with beetroot”, or “People who eat cheese never get diabetes”. These might be fanciful examples, but they reflect an important issue — how are people supposed to tell whether what newspapers say about health is accurate?

One way might be to look at the original research paper for themselves. But knowing what to look for once you’ve got it in your hands is another matter. This is where Lindsay Hogg’s toolkit will come in.

“More and more patients and the public are doing their own research about health. People are reading stories in newspapers, they’re looking online and they’re accessing primary research material, particularly people with a health condition who are looking for ways to manage it,” she says. [...]

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A conference for the modern age

16 Nov 2012

Suzi Gage

Suzi Gage

Suzi Gage is an MRC-funded PhD student at the University of Bristol who uses data from the Children of the 90s study to look at the links between cannabis, psychosis and depression. Here she tells us about the benefits of getting together with other researchers at the SpotOn London conference last weekend.

Along with around 200 others, I spent Sunday and Monday in the basement of the Wellcome Collection discussing science policy, outreach and online tools. I was there because I’d organised a session on academic fraud along with my colleague Dr Pete Etchells. But, being more used to academic conferences, I was also really intrigued about what an event bringing together science communicators, policy types and researchers could offer.

The conference was split into three streams, but swapping between them was encouraged, and I think I managed to attend at least something from each. I was particularly impressed with the ambition of the meeting; session organisers were encouraged to create online material in advance, and to have outputs at the end. This wasn’t just for sitting and absorbing, this was for ACTION. Indeed, one workshop I dropped in on was called ‘what do you need to start a revolution?’. Inspiring? Very much so! [...]

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The inflamed brain: why my research matters

13 Nov 2012

Hannah Buggey

Hannah Buggey

In her shortlisted article for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, Hannah Buggey from the University of Manchester takes us through her research combating inflammation in the brain after a stroke. 

Picture yourself in the shower. Now imagine that familiar feeling when the water starts to build up around your feet, and you’re racing to finish washing out shampoo before water spills over the edge of the shower tray. This clogged up drain is similar to what happens during a stroke.

In your plumbing, a hairball sticks together with bits of soap and becomes lodged in the U-bend. In stroke, a clot often forms from a build-up of fatty plaques in our blood vessels — the ones we’re always being told can be avoided by eating cholesterol-lowering margarine. This clot can break away and travel through your blood into your brain where the vessels have lots of twists and ‘U-bends’.

When a clot gets stuck here, the areas of the brain the blood is feeding are cut off from their supply of oxygen and nutrients. In the same way that you need to act fast to stop the shower water spilling over the edge, you need to act fast after a stroke. Brain cells can’t cope without oxygen, and during a stroke two million of them die every minute. [...]

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Something’s got to give

6 Nov 2012

Vicky Young (Copyright: Vicky Young)

Vicky Young (Copyright: Vicky Young)

In her shortlisted article for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, Vicky Young explains her research into endometriosis and why a protein that seems to make organ linings ‘stickier’ could be the key to treating this painful and debilitating condition, treatments for which have changed little since the days of Marilyn Monroe.

“What good is it being Marilyn Monroe? Why can’t I just be an ordinary woman? A woman who can have a family … I’d settle for just one baby. My own baby.”

As the quintessential sex symbol of modern time, Marilyn Monroe oozed femininity and appeared to be the ideal women, but behind closed doors she spent most of her life in chronic pain, became addicted to pain-killers, and suffered from difficulties in conceiving and at least two miscarriages. [...]

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