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.

Continue reading “International conference checklist”

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!

Continue reading “Big bang @ Weston”

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.

Continue reading “Thoughts on the OSFAs”

The Topol Review

The Topol review was a piece of work commissioned to Eric Topol by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care at the time, Jeremy Hunt. The intention was for it to be a review of how the changing technology landscape now and in the future is going to shape healthcare and how the NHS needs to respond in order to keep up, and be able to thrive from those advances.

Continue reading “The Topol Review”

STP interviews | Preparation

I cannot stress enough how important preparation for these interviews is. Everyone talks about how competitive the STP is, so if you want to be in with a chance of getting one of those coveted places, then preparation is key. The National School has some pretty good resources that cover the format of the STP interviews, but I know what you really want to know is “what the hell are they gonna ask me?!”. And I bet your google searches are coming up blank- I know this because I was there 2 years ago; frantically scanning the internet to find any hint or example of the questions I might face in any of the 4 stations. Well, I’ve heard that the questions asked at the interviews are pretty similar year on year so specifics are kept notoriously hush hush. I’m sorry to tell you that I’m not about to change that. Mostly because 50% of the interview is specialism specific so I wouldn’t even have a clue for anything other than bioinformatics. But – before you stop reading and vow never to visit this blog again – what I will do is give you some tips on what I think are the best ways to prepare for each station that I hope will help.

Continue reading “STP interviews | Preparation”

CSO conference at a glance

Hello and welcome back to the 3rd post in our healthcare science week series! As I’m sure many of you know, it was the Chief Scientific Officer’s 2019 conference last week. Unfortunately, no one at STP perspectives was able to attend. However, we’ve been lucky enough to receive some feedback about the conference from someone who not only attended, but took part in a panel session as well. This piece, written by Ang Davies, a Senior Lecturer and Programme Director at the University of Manchester, gives an overview of some of the themes of the conference as well as some really valuable learning points that she took away- that I think as trainees we should pay particular attention to!

Continue reading “CSO conference at a glance”

Healthcare Science Week 2019

It’s healthcare science week 2019! A celebration of all the amazing work healthcare scientists do throughout the year to improve patient care and outcomes. For healthcare science week this year, I was appointed by our lead healthcare scientist to coordinate the activities of the trust to celebrate the week. This appointment came through being the trainee representative in the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust healthcare science network. The network was created with the aim of establishing a corporate profile for healthcare science, to represent the workforce with one voice and facilitate celebration, innovation, collaboration and communication across specialisms.

Continue reading “Healthcare Science Week 2019”