STP reflections | Public engagement

Over the past 2 years on the STP and past 2 weeks particularly, I’ve done lots of outreach and engagement activities with students/parent/teachers from all sorts of backgrounds. On June 25th I attended the South West Big Bang Fair, July 1st I attended a talk on encouraging young scientists to join the profession at the South West HCS conference and 3rd July I gave a talk at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust work observation week about careers in healthcare science.

I think it’s fair to say that all of these experiences gave me a different aspect on the best approaches to talking to different people about science and engaging with them about careers. So, I thought I could share some of the key points I’ve learned.

  1. Keep it simple: kids have a short attention span and low tolerance for listening to things they don’t understand. Especially in an environment where there’s lots of stuff going on. On more than one occasion I was talking to kids at the big bang fair who had one eye on me and one eye on the sweets on the table behind me. It was hard to think of one take-home message for such a wide age range, but this is a really important thing to try to do. Because no-one is going to be able to take in all the information you want to get across. I started by asking what jobs they knew of in a hospital and got the standard response of “doctors”, “nurses” etc. etc. After giving them my healthcare science spiel, before any of them left I asked: “the next time someone asks you what kind of jobs there are in a hospital, what’s the first answer you’re going to give?”. If I got a response of “scientist!” I knew I’d got my message across.
  2. Tell a story: Everyone loves a story. I’m a prime example- it takes me weeks (ok fine, months) to read a non-fiction book, but give me a juicy storyline and some interesting characters-I can finish that in days. People find it much more engaging if you can get the information across in the form of a story. For example, rather than saying: “patients come to the clinic to have their blood taken, which is then taken to the lab for the DNA to be extracted”, try: “Charlie is a patient with a rare genetic condition. After having a blood sample taken by Dr Robins, the blood is transported to the lab where the lab technicians extract the DNA”. Sounds a little more engaging?
  3. Have a wow fact: One thing I’ve found is that on top of having a take-home message, kids (and most people, in fact) are likely to remember something cool/exciting/funny/gross- especially if it can be explained in one sentence. If they can remember that fact, there’s a chance they’ll remember who told them it and what they do. 
  4. Be passionate and have fun: I find that audiences tend to reflect the object of their attention. If a speaker sounds bored and uninterested, so are the audience. If they’re excited and enthusiastic, the audience is too. And at least if you’re enjoying yourself, it’s a good experience for you, and if all else fails, if you’re talking passionately about something they’ll probably feel too bad to walk away whilst you’re in the middle of a sentence! 
  5. Fake it ‘til you make it: Confident speakers are always the most engaging. But, people rarely start out with loads of confidence, it’s built over time and experience. Don’t beat yourself up for not feeling more confident about outreach and speaking with the public- you’ll get there. You just have to act confident, and eventually, you’ll realise you’re not acting anymore. Sometimes I find this actually happens throughout a talk- I start off nervous and even a little shaky, but as I get into it I find my flow and my voice a bit more and I realise I’m not as nervous.
  6. Finally, don’t patronise people: I read something online that I really liked recently: to treat people like they’re smarter than you, just less informed on this specific topic. Often when speaking to groups of people, or even 1:1, it’s hard to get a feel for their level of understanding. Ask lots of questions and explain things in a way that doesn’t belittle the knowledge the audience do/do not have. 

These are just some things I’ve picked up over the past 2 years and thought I could share them as some food for thought for your next outreach/public engagement activity. If anyone else has any top tips or thoughts on public engagement feel free to get in touch or leave a comment!

International conference checklist

International conferences are exciting, interesting and educational platforms for sharing the latest scientific developments in your field. The chances are, every specialism of healthcare science will have a European society representing the field and ergo, an annual conference occurring in (hopefully) some far-flung corner of the continent. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the European Society of Human Genetics annual conference this year in Gothenburg, Sweden. As my first international conference, I went in with very few expectations and learnt a lot- both in science and about the logistics and experience of attending a conference abroad. So, for this weeks’ post, I thought I could share some of the things I learned and things I might do differently next time.

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STP Specialisms | Health Informatics

What is Health Informatics?

Health Informatics falls within the remit of clinical bioinformatics. This specialism, however, can sometimes seem difficult to differentiate from physical science and bioinformatics.  The reality is there is a lot of overlap between these programs.  Where Physical Science focuses on the effective acquisition of healthcare data, and Bioinformatics focuses on the use of genomic data to inform on the best treatment options, Health Informatics considers how to capture, communicate and use data to support health care professionals.

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3 (and a bit) lessons on prepping for your OSFAs


Hello there lovely STP friends. I imagine you’re all feeling very stressed about your OSFAs right now, as they loom menacingly on the horizon. If you’re fairly chilled out about them, congratulations! I don’t really have anything else I can offer you in this post, so probably best for you to stop reading and go and spend your time a bit more wisely.

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Big bang @ Weston

One of the great things about the STP is the opportunity to take part in public engagement and STEM activities. One of the highlights of the year is when “Big Bang” season comes around. For those of you who don’t know, the Big Bang Fairs happen across the country and are an opportunity for students and the public to find out about all the different careers in STEM industries. They aim to be really interactive and hands-on and are an amazing opportunity to promote healthcare science to young people, parents and teachers. Recently, Exeter-based genomic counselling trainee, Harriet Copeland, organised a South West contingent of trainees to attend the Big Bang Fair in Weston-Super-Mare, and below is her account of what they got up to. If anyone else has any stories from a Big Bang fair they’ve attended please get in touch!

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You got an offer. What now?

So the wait is over. You finally got an offer for the Scientist Training Programme!


All the hard work has paid off and you are a few months away from joining our very exclusive club of Healthcare Scientists. I bet you are excited, and so are we. Excited to welcome you to our Trusts and help you start your healthcare journey.

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Specialisms | Critical Care Science

Critical Care Science in the Wider Context
Critical Care Science (CCS) is one of the smaller STP specialisms but deals with one of the most complex patient populations. Critical care patients range from elective cardiac surgery patients to major trauma and acute/chronic medical conditions. Critical care refers to specialised care for patients with life-threatening conditions; typically compromising of one or more organs that are failing. This level of care may be delivered in A+E, Intensive Care, High Dependency or specialist wards, e.g. long term ventilation. While a lot of the STP specialisms focus on a particular organ system or on a particular grouping of investigative techniques, the skills of CCS cover a holistic approach to clinical care, incorporating all areas of medicine and technology.

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Thoughts on the OSFAs

The South West healthcare science trainee network (SWHCSTN, for short- rolls off the tongue right?) held a OSFA workshop last month. As the OSFAs are imminently approaching for 3rd years (sorry- not that you need reminding), I thought I would put pen to paper and share some thoughts from the day. I am a second year, I haven’t sat the mock OSFAs and I also do not have a secret source from the school letting me in on any trade secrets, unfortunately. What I’m offering is some reflections from the day and just in general from speaking to people who’ve taken the OSFAs and lived to tell the tale.

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The Role of Regional Trainee Networks

Haroon Chughtai (3rd year Clinical Bioinformatics – Physical Sciences STP, Clinical Bioinformatics – Physical Sciences & Health Informatics Trainee Representative, Co-Chair London Healthcare Science Trainee Network)

We heard earlier from Sarah Green about the role of trainee representatives in the STP, and how these included those from specialisms as well as regional networks. Whilst it is very true that a lot of the work of the regional trainee networks involves representation at local and national levels, there is also a lot more to it.

As the end of my training hurtles relentlessly towards me, I’m taking a moment away from MSc project and competencies to reflect on why I think that regional trainee networks are vital, and why every trainee should be involved with them in some way.

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STP Specialisms | The Scottish Edition

I am Sarah Williams, a final year trainee in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde on the Scottish Medical Physics training scheme, specialising in Imaging with Ionising Radiation. I am also the current Chair for the Scottish Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering Trainee Network. I often meet prospective trainees and those that have never heard about our training scheme, so in this blog, I wanted to answer our most frequently asked questions about the training schemes and our trainee network!

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