Spreading the word

Dr Karin Straathof, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer, UCL Institute of Child Health

During the Winter Science Meeting our task was not only to present our work to fellow clinician scientists but also to members of the public. For this I had prepared a picture showing the idea of re-programming a patient’s own immune cells to make them recognize and destroy cancer cells.  I explained that currently surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the main ways of treating childhood cancer. However, for certain cancers including those in the brain this treatment is only successful in some children. Moreover, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have severe side effects. Utilising immune cells to treat cancer is a radical new form of treatment which much more specifically targets tumour cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed. Having already seen success with this type of treatment in leukemia we are now developing this for other types of childhood cancer. I greatly enjoy talking about my work and I think my drive and enthusiasm to make this happen really shows.

I was delighted when I found out I had won the communication price and even more so when I learned this was not only a certificate but a one-to-one workshop with Simon Cain. Simon is a well-known trainer and coach in communication and presentation skills who has worked with employees in universities, European commission and ITV. At the start of the workshop I gave a presentation about my work which was filmed. This was quite nerve-racking but proved incredibly useful. I received very detailed feedback on how I delivered the presentation with specific suggestions how to improve clarity of my message, how to build up the presentation and how to capture the audience. Simon illustrated this with examples of how you can give the same message in different ways with different effect and impact. I then had some time to modify my presentation and implement what I had learned and then deliver it again. I was amazed how small changes can really enhance your presentation.

One of the top tips was to ‘black out’ the power point slides and just focus all the attention on yourself when you are making a crucial point. Also, ensuring you explain how your work is relevant to the audience – how does this impact on my life or those around me – ensures you have engaged listeners. I found these techniques work well both in scientific presentations as well as interactions with a lay audience.

Being able to communicate well with non-experts in your field is incredibly important: most grant awarding committees have lay members and a non-expert summary is a crucial part of your funding application. Moreover, as members of the public are generous with their time and money to raise the essential funds for research the importance of informing them of the outcome of your work is a given. This November I will be one of a team of researchers at the UCL Institute of Child Health showcasing our work at the London Science Festival. We will show how our work translates into new diagnostics and treatments that truly have an impact on children’s health. And of course we hope to make many young people interested in a career in medical research.


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