My plan for today was to publish an article about π, to celebrate the International Pi Day (check out my last year’s post). Unfortunately we all woke up to hear very sad news: Stephen Hawking has died.
Only yesterday I and my office mate J. had an interesting conversation about the importance of social skills in academia. We came to the conclusion that while the stereotypical maths or physics professor is, for lack of a better word, a weirdo, such scientists are more likely than not to lose the battle for academic jobs. Research is all about collaboration and nobody wants to have rude or antisocial colleagues.
Watching cat videos can give you a Nobel Prize.
Well, Ig Nobel, to be precise, but still sounds impressive. That’s what I learned thanks to our Graduate School.
I just came back from the Ig Nobel Award Tour Show 2018 hosted annually by Imperial. Ig Nobels are awarded every year at Harvard University by actual Nobel laureates. The only criterion is: the research first makes us laugh, and than think.
Having attended the show last year, I suffered from a stomach pain after laughing too much. The “goat man”, Ig Nobel prize winner in Biology who decided to become a goat for a few days, still makes me giggle.
The mission of my life is to show people surprising ways of using maths. However, today I’ll make an exception: I’ll talk about an example of maths abuse.
Surely you’ve heard that tomorrow we have the Blue Monday, apparently the most depressing day of the year. Even restaurants and shops all over the UK become almost charities by offering great deals (I can’t believe I just linked you to the Mirror!) to make this day a bit brighter for us, customers – I’m sure they do it solely out of goodness of their hearts, without any profit…You might also have heard that it was scientifically proven and that this date is found using a mathematical formula.
Best part of doing a PhD? Conferences! When you finally manage to do some meaningful research, it’s time to present it to a wider audience. In other words, pack your suitcases and bon voyage! I know that attending conferences might be a bit overwhelming in the beginning, so here are a few tips to make the most of them.
- Find a good conference. If you’re as lucky as I am and have a great supervisor, she or he will suggest interesting events to you. Otherwise you’ll need to do the work yourself. However, at Imperial we’re flooded with e-mails advertising scientific events, there’s also Google and your colleagues who can give you some advice.
Some people were just born public speakers. Others are terrible at it, they suffer from stage fright and should just avoid talking to crowds altogether.
That way of thinking is very convenient but, unfortunately (or fortunately), not supported by facts.
Most of us have attended some presentations or watched TED talks that left us with a feeling: “Wow, this guy knows how to get the audience’s attention! I’m so jealous, I wish I was like him/her”. What if I told you that this guy isn’t “a natural”, but has been working very hard to sound so? What if I told you that you can give talks that people would enjoy listening to?
March arrives and it’s time for the annual Natural History Museum (NHM) Student Conference! I am on the student committee and so help with the organisation. There’s a lot to do organising a conference but we learnt from last year and with new members on the team it seemed a lot less stressful this year! Despite the stress and extra work being part of a committee and helping organising a conference is a great opportunity to learn useful skills and make contacts, so I highly recommend getting involved with one if you can.
Talks are compulsory for 3rd year PhD students like me so although I had spoken at the two previous years’ conferences (I need the practice :\ ) I was yet again up on stage. It was quite fun actually as last year I talked about developing my citizen science project Earthworm Watch which was just about to launch, now it has been running a year so I was able to give the first results from the project.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the Houses of Parliament- more specifically a building linked to the Houses of Parliament called Portcullis house. (It really is physically linked by an underground walkway for MPs.) The reason I was there was for an event called the Voice of the Future organised by the Royal Society of Biology.
I say ‘event’ because it was a strange set up. The whole thing was meant to be like a select committee– it took place in the actual rooms where select committees are held. Lots of scientific organisations sent young representatives to ask questions of an array of different politicians.
So, I’ve just got back from Cheltenham Science Festival. It was a really fun and hectic week!
Like most volunteering experiences, a lot of the work we were doing was basic slave labour—cleaning venues between talks, getting water for speakers, clicking people in and out of venues, making tea, carrying messages etc etc. Even while doing these routine tasks however, we were surrounded by such great communicators and lovely people, from the speakers in the talks we attended to the stall holders in the drop-in zones, and the other volunteers.
There was a wonderful atmosphere of inspiration and urgency in many of the talks—most of the speakers were funny and excellent at communicating, but even the ones who seemed initially slightly dumbfounded by the large audiences, had such a depth of knowledge and passion for their subject area that their talks were really brilliant.
I’m volunteering at Cheltenham Science Festival this week and have just got back to the YMCA where we are staying after a long day of unloading chairs and tables and sofas and fridges off lorries and distributing them around the venues. I am not a very strong person (!) so this has been a tiring day, but absolutely worth it, because the venues look incredible now, and one of the things I got to help lift was a giant dinosaur head!
Cheltenham Festival looks like it is going to be a great experience– if anyone is interested in science communication I would thoroughly recommend applying next year.
The medical research that is reported on in the news is generally rubbish—there is rarely any mention (and certainly never any critique) of what kind of research the stories are based on or how they fit into the overall picture of health research. Important studies (meta-analyses and negative results) are not reported in favour of easy stories that proclaim ‘red meat is bad’ or ‘this vitamin is good’ and are soon replaced by other stories claiming the exact opposite.
But you probably knew that. This blog isn’t about these things—and it isn’t even about the contents of an essay I recently finished looking at the rhetoric of how health and medical research is reported.