I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I participated in the Three Minute Thesis competition. According to tradition, the winner judges the contestants in the following year, so on Wednesday I had the honour to sit next to prominent science communicators and watch excellent young scientists explaining their research in… three minutes.
This year the Graduate School replaced the Three Minute Thesis competition by the 4Cs Science Communication Competition. Although the idea is similar, there are some differences:
- Not only PhD, but also MRes students could participate.
- While Three Minute Thesis contestants could use only one static slides, this year almost everything was allowed: Power Point presentations, props and whatever else they were able to carry on stage.
There are many aspects of the science communication course at Imperial that make it so enjoyable, but perhaps the freedom we are given is the most rewarding part. In our assessments we are given an element of free choice in what we centre our arguments around, which allows for a great deal of creativity and expression. One of the most daunting free choices I’ve had to make in the last few months has been the topic for my dissertation.
The parameters were simply ‘choose anything that is related to science communication’. Having studied this area for the last 8 months I can confidently say that there is a lot that could be explored.
At such a busy time of year, scrolling through the news doesn’t always seem to make things better. A 2018 study reported that over half of Americans find that the news causes them stress, anxiety, fatigue and sleep loss. Although it is important to stay informed, particularly on news stories that require urgent and collective action, sometimes a bit of good news is what we need.
This inspired Emily Coxhead to create ‘The Happy Newspaper’, an online and print publication to ‘share positive news and wonderful people’. Her newspapers are released quarterly and can be delivered or picked up in several locations across the UK.
The transition from studying a degree in Maths and Physics to a Masters in Science Communication was a much welcomed change for me. Not only was I fed up of the multitude of exams in my undergraduate course, but I was also craving the chance to be more creative. Thankfully the last six months studying science communication have not disappointed.
Kick-starting the creativity
In the spring term I chose to study a module called Narrative, which dissected the techniques that authors use to produce compelling texts. The assignment for this module gave us a chance to produce a short story of our own, incorporating the theory we had spent the last few weeks learning about.
In a previous blog post I managed to summarise my first term at Imperial with the song lyrics of ABBA. As the Easter holidays begin, I have attempted to use the words of the legendary band, Queen, to reflect on what has been an incredibly busy second term.
We Are The Champions
Dance Company has continued to be a huge presence in my life at Imperial. In February we travelled across the country to compete in two university dance competitions for which 8 teams have been preparing hard for. Dance Company truly were the champions as we ended up winning a total of 13 awards across the two competitions in Southampton and Liverpool.
In a quiet corner of the Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication, on the third floor of the Sherfield Building, lies The Janus Bookmarks. But what even are The Janus Bookmarks?
Rewind almost five months ago. Our first session of the course was in full swing and we were tasked with writing a list of words we associate with science. We began with the words familiar to us from scientific practice: experiment, process, evidence, research… But as soon as we had exhausted these words and their synonyms, we discovered new words: funding, insecurity, power, hierarchical…It became clear to us that we had delved deeper into what we felt scientific culture was like.
Can you believe the time for New Year’s resolutions has come again? Maybe this year you can add to the traditional “I’ll eat healthily”, “I’ll stop smoking” and “I’ll hit the gym regularly” a new one: “I’ll look at statistics carefully”. You can start with these five simple tips.
- Reported averages might be meaningless
An arithmetic mean (sum of all values divided by the number of values), often reported as the average, in fact doesn’t say much about the average value.
Imagine you’re describing humans to extraterrestrial visitors. How many legs does an average person have? Slightly less than two.
Studying for a masters degree in science communication is a very different experience to studying for my undergraduate degree in maths and physics. Perhaps the greatest difference is in the amount of reading I now do. In addition to the weekly readings set for each module, which are mainly academic articles, you are strongly encouraged to immerse yourself in literature of every kind. This can range from popular science books to biographies, journal articles to science journalism, books about feminism to books about philosophy. Lots of books you’ll need for the course are available in the campus libraries and most journal articles can be readily accessed online through the library search.
You picked Imperial to become a scientist, engineer or a medical doctor. What do these careers have in common? You’ll need to write a lot: scientific papers, grant applications, lecture notes, popular science articles. Unfortunately, university curricula lack writing courses, so we end up with thousands of unreadable scientific papers. In my research I’ve chosen some mathematical methods just because the authors made them easy to understand; nobody has time or energy to look for interesting science hiding behind word clutter.
I’m a mathematician, not a writer, and my writing is far from perfect. Let me share five tips to improve your writing so that you can learn on my mistakes.
Years of research squeezed into three minutes? That was the task I and eighteen other participants of Imperial College Three Minute Thesis competition had to face on Tuesday 24th April 2018.
The rules are very simple. Contestants get exactly three minutes to describe their research to general audience, using only one static slide. Sounds easy, but trust me, it’s extremely difficult. How do you introduce your narrow topic, explain what your research involves and persuade the audience that they should care in the first place?
All nineteen of us managed to do that. I learned a lot about a variety of research areas, from planting forests in Brazil, to optimal mixing of coffee and milk, to gravitational waves.