Guest Blog by Dr Claire Walker: Did you hear the one about the Consultant Microbiologist who Hosted a Digital Festival?

Whilst Girlymicro is away trying to find some of this work life balance people keep talking about, the charming and wonderful Claire has stepped into the breach to keep you informed and amused. Isn’t she lovely!?

Blog By Dr Claire Walker

Paid-up member of the Dream Team since 2013 (as discussed in a previous post, in her personal life most people call Girlymicro Dream), token immunologist and occasional defector from the Immunology Mafia. Registered Clinical Scientist in Immunology with a background in genetics (PhD), microbiology and immunology (MSc), biological sciences (mBiolSci) and indecisiveness (everything else). Now a Senior Lecturer in Immunology at University of Lincoln.

Did you hear the one about the Consultant Microbiologist who Hosted a Digital Festival

of Science collaborating with Artists, Musicians and even Comedians?

She was a Woman of Many Cultures

That’s right! I am, of course, talking about The Rise of the Resistance festival, the greatest scientific communications event since Jonathon Van Tam’s daily Covid briefing. Someone please buy that man a clicker (JVT, if you’re reading this, hit me up I have a spare for you).

More seriously, if the constant stream of scientific content in the media over the last 15 months has taught me anything it is that scientists are not always the best communicators. We have to ask ourselves why this essential skill is being overlooked by our profession.  Is it because our subject matter is so complex? Or is it because we’ve never taken the time to learn, practice and apply these skills?

I’ve spent more than a decade developing a detailed understanding of how clinical testing works but only shared my findings with other healthcare professionals, and rarely outside my own discipline. The importance of clinical testing is now taking centre stage and, because of the pandemic, I am finding myself butting heads with every armchair expert who believes they know more about my specialty than me. I’ve been frustrated by this, but now I think it’s my own fault. I’ve spent too much time hiding in the lab and not enough time shouting from the rooftops about just how vital, influential and downright amazing our healthcare scientists are. It’s time for me to put down the pipette and pick up a microphone.

Pathologists as Comedians – are we Having A Laugh?

I decided to jump on the first opportunity to come my way. And that was the offer to participate in Stand-up for Science, a live comedy gig as the closing act of the Rise of the Resistance festival. My first thought was that stand-up comedy is about a million miles from my comfort zone. However, I was fortunate to receive the excellent training of professional scientific comedian Dr Steve X Cross. With this new knowledge and the support of my fellow scientific comedians, Dr Cloutman-Green and Kip Heath, I wrote my set.

The training taught me that worlds of science and comedy are not so far removed as you might think. My job as both a scientist and an educator is to find the best method of communicating complex ideas to a varied audience, and I spend much of my time giving presentations to large, mostly awake, crowds. 

Fortunately, the gig itself was all delivered from the comfort of my home office. For those of you who didn’t manage to watch live (including my lovely husband who was juggling the children) I’ve attached the link here. I felt that the gig itself was brilliant, a wonderful experience to meet funny and passionate individuals from across the pathology disciplines. We covered everything; from classic urologist finger up the bum humour, to carefully constructed gags about our doctorates, to fishing samples out of a bin at the Brit Awards.

There are a lot of great stories for healthcare scientists to tell, and rarely have I had a day in the clinical lab without finding something to laugh about. Much like learning how to design an experiment, or program the flow cytometer, communication is an essential skill for healthcare scientists. And why should it be dry and boring? Why not throw in a joke or two? We aren’t going to win friends or influence people by mansplaining our work or dismissing it as too complex for the lay person to understand.

Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility as scientists to get out of the lab and make ourselves heard. Getting the right test for the right person at the right time, the mantra of the clinical scientist, is essential. Spreading understanding of clinical testing and of vaccination will save lives. Today.

TLDR: Scientists, even microbiologists, are people too. And some of us are downright hilarious.

All opinions on this blog are my own

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