Developing your post-doctoral career: The art of communicating your science

Edmore Chamapiwa, Doctoral student at the University of Manchester

The venue for this year’s NIHR Doctoral Research Training was again the prestigious Ashridge Business School which does not only pride itself with excellent training, learning and mentoring facilities but also extracurricular facilities (e.g. sport and entertainment) that make it attractive for a sound work-life balance. The camp meeting started off with registration and lunch for all delegates and the main programme began with a theme-appropriate and tone-setting talk by Dr Giles Yeo titled ‘Communicating your science: lessons from the frontline’.  Although Giles spoke about his experiences in communicating science, a take-home message for me was: “while the public may not understand the scientific details of our research, they are a key audience for our findings because they pay for the research”.

Three talks from delegates followed Giles’ talk before the poster presentations. After the poster session the first day session was concluded by an introduction of main activity of the training camp. In this activity, trainees were tasked, in groups, to produce a research lay summary, press release, communication plan and presentation of research work carried out as part of research programme called  the Making People Healthier research programme (MPHrp). I was a member of Group One and we looked at the published work by James et al., titled ‘Preventing childhood obesity by reducing consumption of carbonated drinks: cluster randomised controlled trial’. We renamed our group ‘IMPaCT’ and we were identified as such throughout the training camp. We quickly selected a team leader who assigned different tasks to team members.


Above: Team IMPaCT
Seated left to right: Thomas Phillips (NIHR CLAHRC South London), Dr Tony Gordon (Mentor), Laween Meran (NIHR Great Ormond Street BRC). Standing left to right: Amy Gillespie (NIHR Maudley BRC), Edmore Chamapiwa (NIHR SPCR), Sheba Jarvis (NIHR Imperial BRC). Missing: Hazel Lote (NIHR Royal Marsden BRC)

Day 2 started off promptly at 9am and it was characterised by group working and workshops and consultations with experts. The workshops and expert consultation sessions were on key sections of a communication plan which every group was supposed to produce by 5pm on that day. The communication plan included a lay summary and the press release. In addition to the communication plan, each group was supposed to submit power-point slides of their research for presentation the following day. The second day was so busy and pressurised as we had to make sure that all appointments with various consultations were attended on time and the NIHR staff was fantastic in making sure we were reminded of all appointments. Our team managed to submit the plan on time. After submission of the day’s output we had our formal dinner where various prizes were presented, by Professor David Jones, to trainees whose work was judged outstanding.

On Day 3, ten teams presented their communication plan to an advisory panel that judged the overall work of each team. Winners were announced and the camp was closed.

The training camp was indeed worthwhile and I would personally encourage trainees in the SPCR network to consider attending as it is an opportunity for one to learn skills in a very interactive manner and within an environment of people of very diverse career backgrounds. The camp also presents an opportunity for trainees to develop networks which are an important ingredient for collaborative research work.

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