Guest Blog from Anthony De Souza: From lab to educator, finding a new direction

Continuing the Girlymicro theme of raising awareness of roles outside the laboratory to Celebrate National Pathology Week 2022 today we have the inspiring Anthony De Souza sharing his journey from bench scientist to Practice Educator. I’ve already written about why I think it’s so important that Healthcare Scientists think of themselves as educators (see blog here) but Ant puts this into practice and talks about how he became a Practice Educator and why these roles are so important.

I was a geeky kid and was pretty obsessed with astronomy, pathology and nature. I was an avid reader and loved to immerse myself in my mother’s nursing textbooks! I mean, I used to peruse the BNF for fun and at church book sales I wanted medical textbooks.

In my teens I pondered whether to become a marine biologist, a science teacher, a dietician or scientist. After looking through four heaving A4 binders of job descriptions in our school careers corner I settled on Biomedical Scientist, more specifically in Microbiology.

It was a career that allowed me to immerse myself in the medical world without being too close to the patient, something which I thought I may struggle with. My first taste of Microbiology at A-Level was a lesson on bacterial culture which involved bacterial streaking. From this point microbiology sparked an interest that I knew would always be there. After completing my IBMS accredited degree I was very lucky to get a trainee band 5 position in my local micro lab closer to home!

As time went on, I developed within Microbiology spanning a ten-year period. I realised that some of the most enjoyable parts of my role were when I taught or trained others, especially if they shared the same excitement I did. In every job I had I always ended up being known as a good teacher, and knew I wanted to get more involved, but being a teacher full time didn’t appeal to me.

As an experienced band six I started to feel frustrated, felt like I had peaked within my current role and needed something to fundamentally change. It was at this point that I seriously considered leaving the NHS and using my transferable skills in a different place. I’ve always felt confident in my abilities to work in different settings and environments with different people, I just needed the opportunity. That’s when I was encouraged to apply for a job as a part time practice educator in our hospital. Up until this point, I had only ever heard of this role in a nursing context.

‘Most things feel impossible till it’s done’ – Nelson Mandela

During the application for this part time role, I had full on imposter syndrome and was talking myself out of applying. One of the biggest self-imposed barriers was feeling like I was leaving behind certainty and proven experience for a role in which I would need to build and grow within. I had gotten to the point where work felt comfortable, my knowledge and skills were developed for my role, and I felt confident in that. The thought of moving to an area outside of my core experience base was pretty terrifying but I knew I had to do it! I decided to apply and was successful in the interview!

Some of the key purposes of the role are outlined below:

  • Work to support learning and education and support specific workstreams, in my case this was Healthcare Science.
  • Create and maintain positive learning environments
  • Facilitating induction, education and continuing professional development
  • Encourage practice development, support service improvement
  • Promote high standards of care and act as a role model for others
  • Work multi-professionally, as needed

After being used to working in a small team within the lab my new role involved an even bigger and more diverse team. This exposed me to a greater appreciation for the work of other health professionals and the hospital as a whole.

At first, I found the job challenging; learning new names, getting to know the team, my place within it, learning new acronyms during meetings and adjusting to the different styles of communication. Some of my work involved supporting healthcare science learners, acting as a point of contact to raise issues, signposting relevant training & education and supporting outreach and engagement activities. As my role grew and developed, I was able to work more multi-professionally, increasing the visibility of our hidden workforce and even teaching nurses about healthcare science.

As a practice educator a PG Cert in Practice Education is essential to learn about educational theories and how this relates to designing learning for the learner. Whilst I may have been acting on natural instinct before gaining this qualification, the education and evidence-based practice approach to back up teaching has been important in the role.

This role could suit a range of individuals but ultimately this would suit someone who wants to make a difference, is passionate about education and training, has the ability to communicate well, work effectively with others and enjoys working both alone and with different teams. The job often involves taking yourself out of your comfort zone and identifying opportunities to share and develop learning.

Whilst I have now left the lab and am working full time as a practice educator, I still do look back fondly on my lab days and Microbiology. I love checking in on the lab and looking at exciting agar plates and learning about exciting cases, and who knows maybe one day I’ll go back for now though I am fully committed to this new direction. Just because I’ve left the lab, doesn’t mean its left me….

Follow Ant on Twitter @ADSMicro to find out more

All opinions on this blog are my own

Scientists as Educators: Why I believe all scientists should invest time in understanding pedagogical principles

Let me start todays post by sharing what on earth pedagogy is as my husband kindly pointed out its not a term that comes in up in most every day conversation. Well according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it means:

So why am I talking about this on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Well I’m chilling on the sofa and recovering from one of the highlights of my year, the Healthcare Science Education Conference (this year #HCSEd22). Needless to say I therefore have pedagogy on the brain as it’s an event that although pretty intense also re-energises and inspires me. There is absolutely nothing like seeing a room full of scientists coming together for change, and in my world when you combine this with mindset shifts linked to education it doesn’t get much better. We had many really amazing speakers and workshop leads that put both the science and art into education, plus the wonderful Ant De Souza chairing. When I have time to mess with the recordings they’ll be up on the Healthcare Science Education YouTube channel if you couldn’t attend the day.

Below are some of the great photos taken by Rabbit Hole Photography

This was the 5th Healthcare Science education conference and it’s been running for 6 years since 2017 (we missed a delivery year because of COVID-19). Over the years we’ve had some pretty diverse themes including:

  • Co-production in Education (2022)
  • Innovation in Education (2021)
  • What is the Role of Collaboration in Education? (2019)
  • The Role of Leadership in Education (2018)
  • Healthcare Science Education: Where are we now and where are we going? (2017)

I think it’s probably pretty obvious therefore that I’m interested in education, especially how Healthcare Scientists educate both themselves and others. It wasn’t always this way though. To be honest when I finished my training and got HCPC registration I had only really experienced education delivered in one way, from the front of a lecture theatre/teaching laboratory. I imagine you’re all thinking but what about CPD? Continuous professional development is important and I obviously have undertaken it, as we all have, but it’s task focussed learning. What I’m talking about is the wider mind set switch and set of skill development that enables us to think about the educational experience as a whole:

  • what kind of learning are we trying to achieve – what are our learning objectives?
  • what kind of educational experience is best to deliver those learning objectives?
  • how much time do we have with our learners – is it a one off session or a repeat?
  • where is the education setting going to take place – are we going to be in a lecture theatre or a more flexible space?
  • where are my learners in the topic? is this an introduction session or are we aiming to achieve changes in practice? deep vs surface learning?
  • how do I assess learning linked to the learning objectives and delivery method?
  • how am I going to get feedback? how am I going to evaluate if I’ve achieved my aims?
  • is there a role for the learners in co-producing the session? learning outcomes/assessment/delivery?

How did I get here?

Between achieving state registration and taking the next formal steps along this pathway I was fortunate enough to undertake a one year leadership course at GOSH called the ‘Gateway to Leadership Programme’. This was a commissioned course with monthly sessions delivered by external providers with additional coaching. The sessions were delivered in a wide variety of ways and whilst I sat in the room learning about leadership I also started to ask myself if this teaching was being delivered in an MDT format with different structures could other teaching be different too? For those outside of Healthcare Science this may seem like a really naïve position, other disciplines in healthcare, such as medicine, have been using problem based learning and other structures for years. I know this now, I’ve done the reading on it and now experienced it, but in 2009 it was just not my experience of any form of formal education.

In response to the learning experiences I had on that course, and the fact that it was my first cross disciplinary learning (outside of my Clinical Microbiology masters) I used the opportunity to quiz others in the room, to speak to my coaches about the differences between 1:1 learning and group learning strategies………………..long and short I was probably a pain the ass. I started to sign up to other courses that were being delivered by the Trust and I found that the hospital had an entire education team, an entire team dedicated to education and learning. This team didn’t deliver the mandatory education, they didn’t just deliver education on specific topics, they used something called pedagogy to put together education and learning opportunities in conjunction with subject matter experts, as education was a field of expertise in itself. It was nothing short of a revelation.

What were the next steps?

The people that I knew in training positions in pathology didn’t have a formal education qualification, most had an interest in training but it was focussed, for the most part, on specific delivery mechanisms such as portfolio completion. Although obviously valuable, this again limited the scope of the education I would be being taught to deliver if I went on similar courses and the rest of the departmental offerings were things like train the trainer courses. I was more interested in really getting to grips with some of the theory as well as the practical aspects. At the time I had a wonderful IPC lead as my boss called Deirdre and she suggested that what I really needed was to do a post graduate certificate in education. She suggested this because it meant that I would be able to support the team and the Trust in running courses in conjunction with universities, as it was a requirement on most of the modules for module leads to hold formal qualifications. At the time I was also pulling together my NIHR Doctoral Fellowship and looking to take the next steps as a Clinical Academic. UCL requires lecturers to have a minimum number of credits linked to a formal education qualification and so it seemed fortuitous to cost into my grant the course so I could undertake a PGCert as part of my PhD.

Was it what I had hoped?

So in 2013 I started a 2 year PGCert in teaching and learning in higher and professional education at the Institute of Education (now part of UCL). I think the nicest way to put it is that it was a shock to the system.

It was like nothing I had ever done, the essays were first person present tense for one thing, it felt like I was back in primary school writing for my teacher. The first 6 months were hard, I was clinging to the educational culture I had always sat in as a scientist and the idea of moving away from being the ‘expert’ in the room to someone who facilitated learning was something that definitely did not happen over night. When it did however it caused me to completely shift my thinking about how we deliver on education and training in healthcare science and the need to move away from thinking of ourselves as people who deliver task based learning to the fact that we are all educators. Therefore learning about how we do it, why we do it certain ways and how those choices impact on the success of the learning is a key thing for all of us as a workforce moving forward.

Coincidentally an article I wrote on this for the Academy of Healthcare Science Leadership Journal came out this week, here is the link to the whole edition it’s got some really interesting stuff (not written by me 🙂 ) https://www.ahcs.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/HCS-Leadership-Journal-Spring-Edition-2022.pdf

Despite the fact that the transitioning into thinking like an educator took me some time I think it was one of the most valuable things that has ever happened to me. So much so that I have since worked with others to get 5 other Healthcare Scientists funding to go through the same process. I also utilised the course to attain Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy which has enabled me to have the credibility to be able to put some of what I’d learnt into practice on a larger scale when I applied to be part of the T-Level Healthcare Science Development panel as an employer representative. It also meant that in 2021 I was fortunate enough to spend time working with a wonderful Lead Practice Educator in IPC called Kate to input into the first paediatric IPC course.

Why does it matter?

It is sometimes easy to forget that as a Healthcare Science workforce we exist as part of a wider system. By taking steps to upskill and acknowledge ourselves as educators we achieve 2 main things:

  • we can do a better job of training not just our own work force, but of supporting the system by sharing our specialist and valuable knowledge
  • we can build links and break down silos by working across disciplines and healthcare professions by working as educators across those boundaries in order to maximise our impact, with all the side benefits that has to us as scientists

The students and others coming through education now will have had a very different experience of education to that I experienced when training, therefore their training needs and expectations are going to be very different to those I had when I joined the NHS. The new curriculums being delivered by the National School of Healthcare Science and Apprenticeship/T-Level groups are bench marked against teaching and education delivered in other specialisms/professions and so standing still is not going to be an option. The more we understand, the better choices we can make, in terms of influencing those choices for our workforce and how we like to work with others. So lets not just join the education revolution but take what steps we can to lead it, for the benefit of ourselves, our workforce and the NHS as a whole. Hopefully I will see you all at #HCSEd23.

All opinions on this blog are my own

If Not You Then Who? Why seizing the opportunities that come your way is so important

We’ve all had the emails arrive with requests. We are looking for a new member of X committee, a training rep for X group or would you like to give a lecture to Y. For many year when these dropped into my inbox I ignored them. They were being sent to everyone and so ‘they’ weren’t actually looking for someone like me. I wasn’t experienced enough knowledgeable enough, connected enough to ever find success in replying to something like this. Then one year I took a chance and replied. I volunteered to become the HSST lead for the Microbiology Professionals Committee of the Association of Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (a LOT of letters I know). They couldn’t reply fast enough with how happy they were I’d replied.

Don’t get me wrong, the ACB weren’t particularly excited that I’d replied……..more they were excited that anyone had. What I’ve learnt since from sending out these emails myself, is that hardly anyone does. The world is full of people who doubt that they would succeed and so don’t put themselves out there and give it a shot. So today I want to talk about all the reasons why, when that email arrives, you should click reply, open the next door in your career and step through it boldly.

You never know where these things will lead

When I sent that email I had no idea where it would lead. Now I know it was the first in a series of steps that took me from where I started to being considered a leader within my profession. At each step I never could have predicted what the one a couple of steps down further down the road would involve. What I do know is that each one I took, I took with purpose. Sometimes I wanted to give back, sometimes I wanted to increase my skills and sometimes I wanted to gain experience. The choices are your own but also not taking those steps and being purposeful is also a choice.

What I hadn’t realised back then is that people frequently ask people they know to get things done, not necessarily because they are the best person but because they are the person they can identify. This means that visibility and being part of networks is key to getting some of the opportunities that would benefit you and your profession.

In my case, that application to be a HSST rep emboldened me to apply for a bursary to attend my first overseas conference in Denver (see pic). After attending my first SHEA conference I was encouraged to apply to their international ambassador scheme, and became the first UK Ambassador. That then led to them paying for me to attend a conference at Disney in Florida, which was not only amazing, but meant I made the connections to sort out a 2 month sabbatical at Boston Childrens Hospital. This helped my NIHR Clinical Lectureship application. That progression helped give me the confidence and experience to apply to become Trust Lead Healthcare Scientist and to become a Clinical Academic.

Gain experience you won’t get in the day job

There are many reasons why it can be difficult to get the kind of experience that volunteering for professional bodies/guideline groups/any external responsibility can provide:

  • Sometimes its hard to be seen in a different way if we’ve been in post for a while, and therefore it can be hard to get identified for opportunities internally
  • Internal committees may find it difficult to accommodate extra people under existing terms of reference
  • Concepts linked to hierarchy may matter more for exisiting structures versus new groups/committees
  • External groups are often specifically looking to engage new people, garner new views and so it can be easier to align personal desires to be exposed to new experiences with the needs of these groups
  • Experienced provided by external groups may just not be provided internally i.e. experience of being a charity trustee

The activities linked to these groups may provide a lower stakes way to get experience. This can include chairing your first meetings, making decisions linked to the success of small pots of grant funding, inputting into a strategic plan. When doing this as part of our day jobs this can feel high stakes and be daunting. If you can gain experience of similar processes in a lower stakes environment you can participate in the learning without some of the stress and anxiety which might otherwise be present.

Often the experience isn’t limited to the activity itself but the experience of working with new people from different backgrounds. This experience helps make us more rounded professionals as well as supporting us in expanding our networks.

Progression is a series of steps

As I described in ‘not knowing where things will lead’ it is often hard to see where taking a series of these smaller steps will take you to. Frequently engaging in these activities is not about ticking off part of a big life plan but about making small progressions that support the whole. If you are a trainee it can be a really nice way of ticking off competencies, if you are already registered it can bring some variety to your CPD for the year. Meeting new people and making new friends is a benefit in itself.

One of the wonderful things about seeing these encounters as small steps is that you don’t have to feel overwhelmed by the big picture, in fact you don’t have to know what that big picture will look like. I talk a lot about having goals in mind, and I stand by that, but there is also joy in taking small steps into the unknown where you just enjoy and value the step in itself. Where you focus on the learning and the experience of that encounter for what it’s offering you in the moment. Taking multiples of these small steps combine to lead to big changes but the little steps have value in themselves and should be appreciated as such.

Don’t be afraid to be seen

I think on some level we all fear being visible, of sticking our heads above the parapet. It feeds into imposter syndrome and our fear that we aren’t ‘enough’. Fear of failure, of not getting chosen, is embedded in most of us from standing in lines to be picked at school if nothing else. I know and understand these fears. Fear is OK, it’s natural, in some cases in the right amount it can even be helpful. The problem comes when it overwhelms, or when we pay it too much heed and therefore we let it stop us from becoming all that we can. I feel this is especially true if it stops us learning, either from the experience itself or from even engaging in the opportunity to start with.

I often sit in my fear for a bit when I’m trying to move forward. This may sound like a strange phrase or a strange thing to do, but sometimes I need to experience the fear to understand it. I don’t dismiss it as I’ve never been able to make that work, instead I allow myself to feel and to ask myself ‘if this fear is real what is the worst that will happen’. What are the worst case scenarios. Then I ask myself, ‘what does this worst case scenario actually mean for me?’. Is the worst case that someone doesn’t pick me? In which case I’ll be a bit bummed out for a few days but there will be more opportunities. Is the worst case that I will make myself look like a bit of an idiot? To be honest I’ve been there before and whether its for this specific reason or not I am likely to be there again. One thing I’ve learnt it that you and your behaviour/embarrassment has way more longevity in your mind than in others. To be frank you are simply not important enough to most other people for them to remember a stupid comment in 6 months time, and those that you are important enough to probably won’t care. Most of the time when I do this I realise that even in the worst case scenarios the event would have little meaning in my life a few months down the line. Therefore the potential cost is still worth it. I don’t talk myself out of fear, I embrace it and that way it doesn’t control me.

Help your community

Finally, and I think this is so important. Our communities survive because of the fact that we engage as part of them. Guidelines don’t get written if people don’t volunteer to write them, events don’t get organised, outreach doesn’t get undertaken and manuscripts don’t get published. It really is a case of trying to make the sum greater than the parts.

As well as learning experiences in themselves, these opportunities are vital for both our profession and our patients. So much of what we do isn’t ‘paid’ as such, so much of our impact is based on the community choosing to engage and work together towards making things different, and hopefully better than they are today. We reap the benefits from the work of this community whether we volunteer or not, but we benefit so much more if we are part of the process. As each one of us steps forward to support our communities the output benefits, as the contribution comes from a more varied group of people and stands a better chance of therefore representing the society/community it is linked to. So instead of seeing your application as a way to benefit you and feeling stressed or worried about how it is received, see it for what it is, something that will benefit those receiving it and something they will be grateful to open.

Since sending that first email asking to be considered I’ve travelled the world, met amazing people and opened up a world of opportunities I just couldn’t have imagined, just because I hit reply and YES. So give yourself the gift of believing in yourself the way that you believe in others, you deserve it!

All opinions on this blog are my own

Conference Season Is Upon Us: Top tips for anyone who struggles with networking

Firstly apologies, this post was supposed to go up before ECCMID as I was hoping it would help others attending. Work was just too full on and I didn’t have the headspace to get it written. As there are still a lot of events yet to come I’m hoping it will still prove useful however.

We all know how very important networking is, especially at conferences. So much of a career that makes a difference in science is based on who you know and who you collaborate with. The problem is making those connections and getting to know people, especially in the early part of your career, often requires taking the plunge and being the one to open a conversion with someone you’ve never met.

I have an amazing friend called Diane who is a wonder to behold in these setting. She happily goes up to talk to people who she’s never met and just starts talking to them with great enthusiasm. Shes fearless and draws the best out of those she engages with. If you are a Diane you probably need read no further. For me however, there is little worse than that moment when you enter a room at a meeting/event, get your cup of tea and survey the 100s of people before you. In this moment you know that really now is the time, you HAVE to find someone to talk to. How do you choose who? What on earth do you say that means you don’t come across as an idiot? The very thought of it gives me palpitations. So here are some things I’ve learnt that take some of the stress out of networking at conferences.

Find an in

There are some moments and set ups at conferences when it is easier to start a conversation than others. There is always the chance that the person next to you in an interesting session will strike up a conversation to help them process what they’ve heard but in general they will be doing the same as you, ducking into and out of sessions that trigger their fancy, meaning they will be you focused on what comes next not starting a chat.

I find however there are two key moments when people are available for the cold start up conversation.

The first is at food breaks/receptions. During these moments there will be people who are there solo and also looking to develop their networks. I find the best thing to do in these situations is to get there early. There are always a limited number of tables where people can put down drinks, if you can find one and hold a place then people will effectively come to you. If this fails and there are no tables, just being close to the source of the refreshments often does the same job. Food and drink are great removers of hierarchy and being somewhere visible means that those in a similar position to you will be able to see you and hopefully will head your way. Worst case you make some small talk to the group that comes to your table and you can politely extricate yourself if it all feels too weird by saying you’re popping to get another drink.

The other place where people will be desperate to speak to you is during poster sessions. So many people will be waiting at their posters for an hour in the desperate hope that someone will come and show an interest. This is often a great time to make connections/exchange contact details (see NB below) If you scope out the listing you will know you are speaking to people who are interested in the same kind of work as you. This can shortcut some of the small talk you might otherwise need to make. It also enables you to know whether you are making a connection with a peer or whether you are connecting with a potential mentor/future employer.

The other thing to think about prior to these conversations is what you can offer, what is your unique selling point?

  • Knowledge (technique, setting or organism)
  • Access (organism, patients, research equipment)
  • Support (mentorship, peer-peer)
  • Collaboration (shared goals, shared research, shared implementation)

NB one of my biggest tips for all of these situations is to make sure you have some business cards printed – even if you print them yourself – this means that you can have something easy to hand out or pin to posters if you want authors to get in touch

Find your tribe

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I’m a bit of a twitterholic (@girlymicro if we haven’t met). One of the many reasons that I’ve stuck with twitter since I initially signed up is that it has transformed my networking experiences. Twitter has offered me a way to circumvent the cold start up conversation by allowing me to find my tribe.

These days every conference/meeting has a hashtag. By following this hashtag you can find people who are interested in the same things as you, people who are in the same sessions or who even have shared connections. In many ways its an improved version of doing the poster walk.  Not only does this give you a conversational in but also by tweeting yourself linked to the thread before you ever meet in person it allows you to have a low stakes initial introduction.

One of the things I also love about twitter is it enables me to find and arrange to meet up with people who I primarily know online in order to strengthen my networks by getting to know each other better. It also gives me the chance to arrange collaboration events, like podcast recordings, when we just happen to be in the same place for a limited time.  Both of these can obviously be done by email but can be much easier to arrange when at an event when you suddenly have half an hour free. Especially at big conferences you could wander the halls for 4 days and not meet anyone you know, this way you can make the most of every second.

Take a study buddy

I absorb my learning best when I have someone to talk through my thoughts with. I have a couple of trusted study buddies that I will by preference attend events with. These guys help me get the most out of any event by:

  • Encouraging me to be braver – ask those questions I might talk myself out of, talk to that person that I should really try to connect with
  • Providing me with a sounding board for ideas when I’m in the moment
  • Enabling us to divide and conquer – there are often multiple sessions I want to be in at the same time, this way we can split up and meet at whichever session is actually proving most appropriate
  • Knowing me well enough to give me space when I need down time to re-energise
  • Crucially for me they are also there so I can feel safe from a health perspective if I have issues. They’ve helped me manage severe reactions, broken limbs etc and I trust them to get me where I need to be and give healthcare workers the right info if I need care

Mel and Lena have been my colleagues for years and they can not only get me out of a shame spiral if I do something stupid but also, by having them available to have conversations all together with new collaborators, we can make much more rapid progress on projects from the very start.

One of the other great things about going with a great study buddy is that you can also achieve other goals whilst at the conference. You can start to get papers drafted, do that research return or catch up about PhD students. If you do have supervision responsibilities whilst you’re away, as you have trainees with you, you can also share the load in terms of ensuring you have downtime. A lot of my most creative breakthroughs have happened with these guys whilst we’ve been away, surrounded both by new science and the time to reflect on how we could encorporate new thinking into our work.

Do some pre-work

I can get really insecure when going to high stakes meetings, like some of the ones I’ve been to at the House of Commons. I never really feel like I fit in and I have been known to hide in the bathrooms there until 5 minutes prior to an event start so I don’t have to face the ‘meet a stranger’ chit chat. In recent years I’ve learnt the value of doing some pre-work ahead of these meetings. This has taken different forms:

  • Reaching out on social media to see if any of my connections are attending
  • Approaching a professional body, especially if I’m on their guestlist, to find out who else they are sending so I can pre-arrange meeting at the session
  • Researching the event to look at speakers and attendance list (if available) so I can pre plan who I might want to speak to and what I could start a conversation with

In these events part of the value is in expanding your network and so really thinking about why you are going and what you hope to achieve is really worth it. Then you can match your elevator pitch (who you are, what you do and what you can offer) to your goals to help you achieve them.

Become the person others come to speak to

One of the things that has become lovely in recent years is that I’ve realised if you are presenting/organising/chairing people come to speak to you. This removes a whole lot of the stress of networking. As I mentioned above, people will often come to you even when you are presenting posters. Its always worth submitting work therefore to events you are attending, not only to get feedback on get science, but also to support you in developing your networks.

Even if you are not in a position to submit work then you should think about offering to support the organisation of events. Meetings are frequently looking for individuals who are happy to support the event organisation, both ahead of time and to do things like man the desks during the event itself. This will mean that you get to know other people who are supporting event delivery with you and give you an opportunity to network with delegates and speakers in a supported way. These connections can be transformative in terms of giving you further opportunities down the line.

Know your self and your limits

Most people assume I’m an extrovert when they meet me and I definitely have a lot of those traits. The things is, I can only manage networking for a fixed period of time. I’m good for a couple of meetings but then I need to retreat back into my bathroom office and answer some emails, otherwise I just feel progressively drained. The older I get the more I need my own space. This is usually fine but presents a real problem at places like conferences where I may need to be in full on extrovert mode for 16 hours a day. I find it exhausting.

One of the things that I’ve discovered about networking is that I therefore have to schedule it in a way that works for me. I can’t agree to go to lots of dinners on top of full day events, either from a health or a social resource point of view. I therefore pick the moments that work best for me and don’t over commit. This does mean I sometimes worry about missing out and not making the most of every opportunity but it also means that I put myself and my wellbeing first. It means that I don’t leave a conference unable to engage with work when I get back as I’ve already used up all my resources. Therefore my top piece of advice is to understand that networking is key but find a way to do it that works for you. Pick your key moments and do them well, rather than trying to be all things to all people.

All opinions on this blog are my own

Prioritising the Needs of the Many: Great communicators let the message do the talking

Let me start by saying that I am by no way a ‘great communicator’. I’m OK, I’ve never been the one who wins best presentation prizes or anything like that. I have however had the privilege of seeing some truly amazing communicators speak. I’ve also sat through more hours than I’d care to mention of bad conversations,  bad presentations and bad interviews. What these combined experiences have shown me is that truly great communicators focus on the message and not how they want you to perceive them. They let the listener feel like they own the communication and thereby feel like the message is personal to them. They make the audience feel valued and like they matter by creating a shared experience.

We can’t all be great at this, it’s not where everyones skill set aligns. The greats also seem to me to have a bit of magic that probably can’t be taught. For the rest of us mere mortals however there are things we can do, in terms of thinking and preparation, that may make us a little bit better. So what can we do differently?

It’s not about appearing to be the smartest person in the room

We’ve all been there. We’ve probably all reviewed papers or seen talks where the communicator focused on appearing smart rather than the message. They used complex sentences and words to demonstrate just how much of a scientist they are. In some ways it feels like they have done just about everything they can to make it harder to engage with their message, by making it clear that most of the audience isn’t smart enough to understand what it is they are trying to convey.

In fact the real skill with highly complex topics is being able to present them in a way where they don’t feel complex at all. Being able to break down a complex topic into pieces that when combined make the whole process understandable can only be achieved if you yourself really understand your subject. It’s why Feyman utilised trying to teach something as a way to better understand his learning gaps.

Working out what your message is

Before you start the process of breaking down what you want to teach and going into detail you really need to start with the message.  Too many of us when we are trying to plan a lesson or lecture, or even a paper, don’t put in the pre work to think about what it is that we are actually trying to communicate.  What story are we trying to tell.  We don’t often think of communicating science as telling a story but in reality we are, and there is lots to be gained from thinking of it in terms of these structures.  A story has a key theme or message that it is trying to be communicated to the audience.  Stories also build, they are comprised of sections, even if these are simply: a beginning, a middle and an end.  Before starting to communicate we should therefore think the same way about the topic we are trying to get someone to take away.  We can make sure that everything else we talk about comes back to and enforces this key message. 

The next thing is to then flesh out this message by planning learning objectives.  What are the 3 – 5 things you would hope that someone who has attended will be able to know/achieve after they leave.  These effectively are used to give you your beginning, middle and end.  Your learning objectives for sessions delivered to different audiences may be at a high level the same i.e. raise awareness of the work of a microbiologist. In order to maximise their effectiveness however you will need to tailor them for different audiences to ensure that they can be achieved i.e. talking about AMR will be different for lay pubic audiences versus researchers. This is where the specific and relevant components really come into play.  Everything you put into your session should be based around these learning outcomes in order to support the audience have a clear sense of direction with your overall message.

Remember who your audience are

If your message is going to land then designing your way of communicating it and the learning objectives with them in mind is key.  If you have an audience of 4 year olds then your method of communication is going to be very different to if you are talking to a room full of post graduate PhD students.  If you have a drop in 15 minutes with a large group at a science outreach stand you will need to have a very different method to if you have a small group for an hour as part of a workshop.  You also need to bear in mind whether these audiences are ones you have a relationship with because they’ve met you before, or are they a one off encounter.

When you are writing items like lay summaries for research grants and papers this is especially important.  Most lay summaries should be aimed at an audience with a reading age of 12.  You need to be very conscious of abbreviations and scientific terms that we may all use without even thinking about them.  There are some good websites that can be used to check wording and language, but even more simply you could ask a member of your family (or even ideally a lay focus group) to read through it and see what the message is that they take away vs the one you think they will take away. The same is true for verbal presentations as well. Think about the language you use and whether it invites the audience in or acts as a barrier for engagement.

Try out a metaphor or two

I’m presenting tonight at an AMR event and I have one slide to talk about my work.  The audience is likely to be mixed and I want to talk about the differences between phenotypic, fragment based sequencing and whole genome sequencing, and how different techniques are best in different circumstances. These are challenging concepts to describe in under 5 minutes and so I’ve picked something I think most people will be familiar with for them to hook their knowledge onto…………cake. A good metaphor puts your audience at ease as you are discussing something familiar. You are also able to take shortcuts in explaining some concepts as you are hooking new knowledge onto a pre-existing framework. Hopefully your audience will walk away with your message and if you’re really lucky as someone they will remember.

Take it one step at a time

No one wants to sit in a talk and feel lost or read an article that makes them feel stupid for not understanding it. It makes the person engaging feel bad about themselves. It also makes them disengage which can be distracting for the audience as a whole, depending on how they behave when it happens. I’ve been that person in immunology talks at conferences. I’ve been fully engaged and listening for 15 minutes and then the presenter either takes a step assuming knowledge I don’t have or I blink for a second and miss something and I spend the next 30 minutes with no idea what on earth is going on playing with my phone.

The lesson for me here is twofold. Make sure that every progression step your audience needs is present, you can rarely make assumptions about your audience. If the information is key to understanding the information to come, make sure you give it however briefly. This is where we come back to knowing your message and learning outcomes. By only having the info in your session that is essential to serve those you buy yourself time to spend on the blocks of info needed. The second lesson is to make sure you refer back to previous building blocks of info in your talk. That means that if someone misses something they are given a repeat opportunity to contextualise and understand prior to you moving on. It also means that you are embedding the previous knowledge because the next step builds upon it.

Know when to present yourself vs your CV

Connection between yourself and the audience is always key to getting your message across. There are times when, as much as I wish it wasn’t, that standing in front of an audience as a living version of your CV is required in order to be taken seriously. When establishing your credentials before you start communicating is key to your message being heard. At these moments I’m Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green who leads X and has Y amount of research funding. When you are trying to speak in a lot of other settings however it’s important to remember that credentials can in fact get in the way of the message you are trying to present. Remember it’s about the message and not about you. If I stand in front of audience to talk about science being for everyone and reel off my list of fellowships and leadership roles I have immediately moved myself into a box of ‘other’. Someone not necessarily like them, someone with different professional experience who doesn’t share their experiences and aspirations, someone that it is hard to connect with. When doing sessions like these I’m definitely not my CV, I’m Elaine or Girlymicro.

The best way to get better is to practice

As I’ve said I encounter people all the time who are so much better at all of this than I am and I’m always super attentive when I hear them speak, not just to hear their message but to also learn ways to do it better myself. There are obviously some people out there who are born great at this, but even they needed to learn and improve how they did it. The best way to do that is to practice. Write blogs and get involved in writing papers with others who you think are good at this. Try out thinking about messaging and designing learning objectives, until it becomes easier because you’re used to it. Most importantly practice talking to people, practice one on one conversations with those you supervise, with your colleagues who are in different disciplines and with your friends. See what bits interest them, which bits they respond to. Be brave and book in to do some outreach and volunteer to give that departmental seminar you’ve been dreading. Doing is in essence how we learn, you can only get so far by reading about something. Once you’ve had a go its then important to take the time to reflect in order to learn how to do it better next time.

The other key part of practicing and learning how to communicate better is to make sure that you are building evaluation into your sessions/activities. We often try to guess at what well, what audiences actually heard and what we could improve upon. Guessing is fine to a point but you will never have the backgrounds of everyone you are engaging with. The only way to really know what they are responding to, what worked well and what didn’t is to actually ask them. This is where the measurable part of your learning objectives is important. As scientists we respond well to data, it gives us concrete direction in which to improve. Lets apply that to the way we communicate so that we make the most of every opportunity, every moment, in order to succeed in getting our message across.

All opinions on this blog are my own

Changing Our Pathways: What are T-Levels and why should I care about them?

I’m still in the land of the shingles lesions and so not up to drafting some of the many ideas I have brewing for blog posts, but I thought I’d share something I recently wrote for the Association of Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB) on T-Levels. The ACB are one of my professional bodies and they are doing a great job of trying to raise awareness of different routes into Healthcare Science, these routes won’t just feed into HCS however and so I think we should all know a little more about T-Levels.

What are T-Levels and Why Should I Care About Them?

In 2017 I saw an advert from the Department of Education looking for an employer representative to sit on a panel to develop a new vocational qualification, known as the Technical Level or T-Level, for Healthcare Science.  This came about as part of a wider educational review looking at how to change vocational qualifications so they aligned better with what employers were looking for, and to fit in better with other routes such as apprenticeships and A-Levels.  I was lucky enough to be selected and for the next year a panel of fellow Healthcare Scientists, Educators and Department for Education representatives met monthly to design a new qualification to help budding scientists access the Healthcare Science profession.  Since then we have been working with Further Education teams to roll out the qualification and the T-Level launching for early adopters in September 2021 is the result. 

So What is A T-Level?

T-Levels are equivalent to 3 A-Levels and offer an intermediate choice between traditional academic routes into Healthcare Science i.e. A-Levels followed by undergraduate study and Healthcare Science Apprenticeships, which are 80% workplace based and 20% further education based.  T-Levels are 80% based in a further education institution but have a 20% work placement.  They are broadly split into 3 components:

  1. Technical Qualification = the main, classroom-based element. Students will learn about different areas of Healthcare Science through a curriculum designed by employers and developed by an awarding organisation.
  2. Industry Placement = runs for a minimum of 315 hours (45 days) overall and will give students practical insights into their sector and an opportunity to embed the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom.
  3. English, maths and digital provision = built into the classroom-based element of the T Level, meaning students will be given a solid foundation of transferable skills.

As T-levels are also eligible for UKAS points, when a student completes the T-Level they can either choose to progress to further education, via an undergraduate degree, or can enter a degree level apprenticeship scheme and continue via work place based progression.

Why Should We Care?

One of the problems faced by the Healthcare Science profession is that routes into it are becoming much more structured than they were when I entered 17 years ago.  In many ways this is great and provides a much better quality of training and structured career progression.  The downside of it is that students need to be aware that Healthcare Science exists as an option in order to be choosing the right degree or entry point.  By providing a course like this early to students before university it will enable them to make more informed choices about the courses that are right for them, as well as raising awareness of the profession.  For those students who opt to continue onto the apprenticeship route, it provides employers with a growing pool of students who will be well placed to apply for these roles, who will have knowledge and experience of what it means to be a Healthcare Scientist.

What Does All This Require of Me?

In order to make the new T-Level work we will need to engage with it as a profession.  This will include linking in with further education establishments to offer expertise to support the launch, in order to ensure high quality delivery.  The main thing we need to think about however is whether we can provide sites for the work based placements.  T-Levels will help improve our candidate pool and ensure that we have access to improved recruitment in the long term.  To get that however will require us to ensure that students really do get a good idea of what we do and what a job in this great profession could look like.  We can only deliver on this if they get to meet us.

The ask therefore is to reach out to the communities our Trusts support and see if we can strengthen those ties by supporting not just in our remit of health, but also by supporting education via work placements.  The reward for this is not only financial (you will get a payment per student) but also in terms of staff development.  This is a great opportunity for junior members of staff to gain experience in supervision and managing small projects.  It’s a chance for them to get more experience with training, and especially those who are still in training to get their own competencies signed off.

By 2022 the Health and Science T Level will be available for delivery by all providers that want to and meet the criteria. By 2024 it is expected that the vast majority of providers will be delivering this T Level.  This is a great opportunity for our profession to rise to the challenge and help support the development of the next generation of Healthcare Scientists. More information about T-Levels across subjects can be found here.

All opinions on this blog are my own

Healthcare Science Education 2021: Innovation in Education

Yesterday the NCL Education Partnership hosted our 4th annual (bar COVID-19 related 2020) Healthcare Science Education conference (#HCSEd). These meetings came about as way to encourage and support Healthcare Scientists to recognise themselves as educators, in the widest possible context, not linked to specific training schemes or disciplines. It’s something we continue to be passionate about and if you’d like to get involved in future events please drop either myself, Ant De Souza or Vicki Heath a message.

This years theme was innovation in education and ended up including a lot about how we innovate, not just in terms of the technology, but in terms of our approaches in working with trainees, teams, workforce and the public.

The day was chaired by the Vicky Nash who is an established leader within medical education and is a great supporter of the Healthcare Science workforce. (NB apologies for my poor photography skills, all the good ones are from Rabbit Hole Photography and when the other ones come through. I will swap them out)

Nicola Baldwin, playwright and screen writer, kicked off our first talk on ‘Public perceptions of Healthcare Scientists during the pandemic’

Her talk was about her experience both as a member of the public and someone who works with Healthcare Scientists about how that perception has changed over the course of the pandemic and what some of the drivers for that change has been.

She told the story of how at the start people were engaged and interested, they felt part of the narrative and then they began to get lost as part of the conversation. We (Healthcare Scientists) lost our place in the story in the same way that the general public lost their ability to engage in the conversation as it became politicised and increasingly focussed on strategy and technicalities.

As someone who has previously written for Holby City she discussed that one of the reasons Healthcare Scientists are not represented on TV in the same way that doctors and nurses frequently are, is that doctors and nurses are presented as flawed human beings. They get the tests and they ignore them or they react to crash calls for good or ill, and frequently lack the information they need to make decisions. They are effectively glorified members of the public and therefore fulfil that role within the narrative of connecting with the view. In medical drama the guest stories i.e. patients, are only there to challenge the flaws or impact on the regulars i.e. the cast. In reality Healthcare Scientists do not visibly battle but work hard to remove their flaws from the equation, and therefore leave their emotions at the door. They live in a data driven world where patients do not always get better and we all die. Because of this Healthcare Scientists do not obfuscate and do not hope for the best, but make evidence based decisions and work in a world of these facts and may therefore make less attractive heroes for fictionalised drama. In the real world the longer the pandemic has gone on the more that scientists have been seen as messengers of doom as they deliver fact, not necessarily a message of deliverance.

So how do we move towards speaking the same language and engage?

The challenge outside of the Healthcare Science profession is that the pandemic has laid bare a lack of scientific literacy and connection between scientists and the public domain and has therefore left reservoirs of fear. Our most basic measures of literacy are to read and obey basic instructions. Above this level educationalists have said is the ability to read and engage with newspapers and other sources. Above even this is the ability to compare, digest and analyse in order to support meaningful engagement. The same thing is needed in terms of scientific literacy and engagement. Connections between science and the public are needed to enable people to navigate the space and literacy is required to support analysis and evaluation of the information is available. Sometimes the connection between the Healthcare Scientist workforce and the general public is limited by a culture emphasises teamwork and there is a lack of individual promotion. In many ways this is great but it is important to be out there and therefore some form of promotion is needed.

Public perceptions have been changeable and volatile, opportunities to explain that from early in the pandemic were missed and that has resulted in public scepticism. To change this engagement of Healthcare Scientists is key to ensure that scientific literacy and the best way to do this is to not be afraid to promote and make connections. You and your stories can change the world!

Dr Steve Cross, science communicator, talked about ‘Science and science communicators’

Following on really nicely from Nicola with her call to arms in terms of the need to start and be part of the conversation, Steve talks about the practical aspects and challenges of engaging as a science communicator.

The big challenge for UK science communication infrastructure is that is consumed by 13% of the population which mostly consists of white, wealthy, males, who are 35 – 50. This doesn’t reflect our population, patients or future workforce so how do we communicate outside of the 13%? Some of this stems from the official science communication structures, such as the media, believing that ‘The public love debates about genomics’.

As nobody has to engage you have to make it engaging? How do you make something that actually works rather than ticking a box?

So how do we go about thinking how we undertake engagement activity? A good place to start is using Design Theory.

  • Empathise with the audience – remember ‘the public does not exist’ they are vastly different. Think about who you are trying to reach and why
  • Define the problem – put in work to really understand what you are trying to address, what are the barriers, who are your stakeholders, what are the reasons why things haven’t work before and what have people already tried
  • Have ideas – have lots of ideas, sensible ideas, crazy ideas, out of the box ideas
  • Prototype – come up with lots of approaches to those ideas and try them out, be prepared to try loads of them and throw them away in order to refine the prototype
  • Test and evaluate – once you have a prototype make sure you continue to test and ensure you evaluate and improve

Dr Rowan Myron, associate professor of healthcare management, gave our keynote on ‘Qualitative data collection’

Rowan started out talking about the pros and cons of quantitative vs qualitative data: qualitative may not be generalisable but gives rich data set exploring how and why, whereas quantitative may enable extrapolation but may be less deep and doesn’t normally explore motivations.

Traditionally Healthcare Scientists are considered to be Positivists, believing that data should give answers and therefore leaning towards quantitative data collection. Professionals that work with qualitative data are often considered to have more of a constructivist approach, where each piece of learning develops from the last and therefore permits exploration of how and why that development occurs.

It is also possible to have a mixed methods approach where some aspects of the work lend themselves to a quantitative approach, with other project components lending themselves to a qualitative collection method i.e. where you may use surveys to explore underlying attitudes but relate it to comparative quantitative bench marks.

The best approach for facilitating these conversations can vary from free – semi structured – structured and the style of facilitation matters. Directive interventions may be appropriate in some clinical meetings but is less likely to be successful in terms of gaining information and insights in a qualitative research setting.

Being in the room can sometimes change what people tell you – as a qualitative researcher you can get some of the best responses when you turn the data recorder off and so how you record and capture some of that which doesn’t fit into your framework, however it is important to consider the ethics of this. It is also key to ensure that you are recording accurately and not interpreting, and therefore checking in with participants to ensure that recordings are accurate is key.

Using some of these techniques can also help in non-research settings, such as team meetings and 1:1 in order to improve communication quality

BAME Scientist Trainee Network gave a really important session on ‘Diversity in access to education’

The session was really impactful for me and I believe having these kinds of sessions and conversations is key if we are going to address some of the issues raised.

For those coming into the healthcare system as staff members, white applicants for posts across the NHS are 1.5x more likely to be appointed from shortlisting than non white applicants. In order to change the system that permits this we need to start with education and therefore understand the biases of the system that recruits into it. This challenge was shown to also be reflected in the STP appointment scheme, where the average success rate was ~5% but for Black/Black British – African applicants the success rate was ~1%.

When in post 1/3 of BAME staff report having been harassed or bullied at work either by patients or their colleagues.

For those coming into the NHS and healthcare systems as patients healthcare inequalities exist and are often based on myths that emerged from 18th century studies linked to slavery, such as black people feel less pain as they have less nerve endings. Within the NHS black women are 5x more likely to die in child birth and black patients at half as likely to receive pain medication.

Not only are the issues backed up by research and other evidence but there is also data to show that promoting equality, diversity and inclusion does not just benefit BAME groups, and therefore benefits the workforce and patient population as a whole.

So what can we do to support our BAME colleagues?

The following suggestions were taken as part of a qualitative research study from BAME and white Healthcare Scientists, rooted in their lived experiences (as we learnt from Rowen, this permits the exploring of why and how questions).

Advice for leaders:

  • Unconscious bias training – manager and leaders have the biggest influence and it was felt could have the biggest impact on as inclusive environment, and that active allyship was key
  • Diverse influence panels – decreases the collective effects of unconscious bias
  • Monitoring for training opportunities – ensuring equality , measure and monitor metrics and review access
  • Mentorship, including reverse mentorship
  • Diverse teams
  • Zero tolerance of inappropriate language, awareness of micro aggressions
  • Equal opportunities for showcasing skills – ensuring that extra curricular activities or additional responsibilities were accessible to everyone, not based on connection to a manager
  • Practical advice to address specific needs i.e prayer room location, halal food options, joining staff inclusion networks

Advice for non-leaders:

  • Read WRES reports workplace race equality standards
  • Actively learn about others perspectives
  • Check in with colleagues when incidents witnessed
  • Advocate for others
  • Target outreach to schools in disadvantaged areas
  • Review clinical practices and ask whether they are contributing to health inequalities

No matter what your role you have the ability to take steps to counter the data shown and so this is a call to action and take steps as individuals, teams and organisations to address these issues.

Dr Jane Freeman and Dr Kerrie Davies, NIHR clinical lecturers and clinical scientists, ‘Communicating differently’

To finish off the morning with a bang Jane and Kerrie called on us to really think who are we, and not just our scientific credentials……. what is our talent, not just our ability to plate 200 samples and hour…….and to think who are the audience we’re trying to reach? What is the message your trying to get across? How can you make it memorable? One size does not fit all??

Communication is about connecting with people and that involves taking risks, doing the unconventional, bringing whole self to work………..not just Dr XXXX but all of you. As I have said in a previous blog I do my best science over a cup of tea and Jane and Kerrie emphasized that talking is key, with conversations being the starting point to any success piece of work.

Actions however speak louder than words and so below is my (rather shoddy) recording of one way that Jane and Kerry show that actions speak louder than words. Enjoy the Small Faeces discussing ‘Quality’!

For the afternoon session we moved onto the workshops. There were three streams to choose from:

Stream One – Innovation in outreach by Victoria Heath and James Harkin, followed by Royal Literary Fund – Rooftop writers by Nicola Baldwin

Stream Two – Top tips for delivering educational activities online by Justin Poisson, followed by Evaluation of digital education by Ian Davies and Matt Coombes-Boxall

A starting reflection on the transition to digital delivery from face to face learning. A move from reactive remote learning to blended learning. Sessions were put together to lecturers and students. ‘Moving your lectures online’. Online induction resources’, ‘Talking into the void’.

The session then talked about learning technologists, and translating practice to the educational environment. Opportunities were given for staff to showcase how they moved their online to a digital format.

Retention research has highlighted that regular feedback was important and that to support this the community of inquiry model was encouraged as something to think about when delivering sessions.

There was also a demo different learning software’s that could to help with engagement: Flip grid, Wakelett, Mural

Stream Three – Maintaining your education during a pandemic by the London Healthcare Scientist Trainee Network, followed by Influencing upwards by Cherie Beckett

I was lucky enough to be supporting the stream three session which was kicked off by the LHCSTN who ran a really interactive session getting everyone in the room to explore and score (1 – 10) whether the pandemic had impacted on 7 key areas, either as a trainee or a trainer:

  • Redeployment/role changes
  • Exposure to practical clinical skills
  • Rotations and placements
  • Research projects
  • Staying connected
  • Virtual learning
  • Wellbeing

We then talked through the learning and different ways those in the room has dealt with the high scoring impacts they had experienced.

Cherie then followed on with an equally interactive session exploring everything from how we introduce ourselves i.e. ‘just a trainee’ or using banding, to how to expand your influence. The group spent time identifying barriers to influencing up and reflecting on whether some of those were self imposed. Then we moved onto to talking about how to navigate around those barriers or coping strategies for the internal ones.

The final session of the day was the plenary given by Vivienne Parry, Science writer and broadcaster (and all around Healthcare Scientist champion)

Viv finished the day in inspiring style by reminding us all of why what we do matters, the impact that we have but also re-iterated the message of the day – that we have to be seen! We need to talk to people like we do to our families and explain what we do and why it’s important. Not speak like we do to our colleagues, not like we are speaking to a Guardian science reporter, but like we do when we are outside work. That is how we talk in a way that is heard and received. We are too important to be invisible and now is our time to shine!

NB – these are the meaning of the sessions as I received them as a member of the audience, hearing through my own lens, these are not verbatim notes, although I’ve tried to be as accurate as I can. All opinions on this blog are therefore my own

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Top tips I’ve learnt over 20 years of event organising

Its 6am and I’m back into the groove work wise post holiday. That means, for me, that I need to get prepared to run 2 one day conferences in a week in the first week of October. In many ways this is a foolish endeavour, but due to SARS CoV2, delays and the impending clinical business of winter it seemed the only way. As these events loom therefore I will be calling upon 20 years of organising events, both big and small, in order to try to make them a success.

I haven’t always worked as a scientist, I know, shocking! For a very small window between my BSc in zoology and starting an MRes in Biophysics I worked for Birmingham City Council in a couple of roles. One of those was as an event planner. I cannot tell you how brilliant that job was, some days I can’t believe I left, but deep down science was always my calling.

When organising an event there are some decisions you need to make early on. The big one being whether you are going to organise it yourself or outsource it to someone else, be that a company, venue or individual.

The decision about whether to outsource or not depends on a number of factors:

Manpower – organising events is time consuming and for very large events I.e. large conferences, you are unlikely to have the capacity to do this by yourself. I usually draw the line at events of over 350 to organise with a small voluntary working group, but it depends on the event and how much cat hearding is required

Infrastructure – do you have access to IT and other support to permit registrations, have a Web presence etc. In some ways this is less of an issue these days with platforms such as Eventbrite but they will take a cut of any charged ticket. You will also need to have things like a bank account that funds can be paid into, which can be problematic depending on who you are organising for with budget codes etc. If you don’t have the ability to register attendees you may have to find a partner organisation.

Finance – Obvious I know but events cost money. Some of the ones I’ve organised (especially the ones I’m running in October) make a considerable loss as they are about giving back, sharing knowledge, and developing networks etc. Some non work events I’ve helped run have been focused on breaking even with profits donated to Charity. There are others that have needed to make money in order to justify their existence. How much money you have to spend or need to make will dictate how much outsourcing is appropriate/possible and is more common for events that need to make money or at least break even, as these tend to link to scale.

Marketing – Do you have preexisting networks or links for you to be able to use to reach potential attendees? Twitter networks? Professional body mailing lists? If not then you may need external support or advice on how to get your event info to reach the people who might be most interested in it. Again, this is usually more important if you are trying to run a for profit where you needs 1000s to attend. It is certainly less of a concern if you’re organising a hen do.

Designing your brief

Start with your why. Who are you organising this event for? What are you trying to achieve? Are there learning or other outcomes, such as the bride having fun, that you need to achieve? Whichever way you decide to go in terms of organisation you will need to have a clear brief in your mind linked to these questions and others in order to decide what you want your event to be. You’ll need this for yourself if you are making your own decisions, but you will need it to even get a quote for an external events company. Spend some time doing your thinking here and you will save yourself a lot of drama later on.

You need to decide:

  • How many people i.e. small family event for 8 or large conference for 5000, plus everything in between
  • Catered or not. Short meetings may not need full catering, if you are organising an event with food what might the dietary requirements look like, how long will you be giving for breaks as this will impact on what type of food you can provide, is it a formal event as food will need to match this etc
  • Is onsite accommodation required? This is more common for multi day events, or scenarios where people will be coming from further afield i.e. weddings, or international meetings
  • What feel are you trying to achieve: formal, informal, networking focused
  • What level of technical support do you need: audio-visual, ticketing etc
  • Always bear in mind accessibility requirements, especially if you are organising a public event. This doesn’t just mean in term of physical access to spaces but to the content that will be provided. I run small loss making events so I can’t address this the way I’d like but you should be aware of the limitations of what you can provide
  • Who are your target audience? Where are they based? What links do you have with them? How will your achieve your objectives with them i.e. lectures, group work, open circulation?
  • How will you evaluate the event and what does success look like?

Your brief will dictate:

Room type and number required I.e. are you going to have breakout sessions or lectures or both

What kind of seating you want i.e. for lectures you might want lecture type seating, if you are having a networking event then cabaret might be more appropriate, or if the focus is on a larger single group working together then board room might work best.

Food choices, the more formal the event the more formal the food. It would seem really odd to have silver service in the middle of a conference day for instance.

Venue is everything

If you find the right venue to fit your brief (either yourself or via a planner) everything else becomes much easier. As we are a small team we tend to go for venues that can offer a package of support i.e. they come with furniture, audio visual options, flip charts and other paraphernalia and most importantly (as catering is super important to participant experience) good and plentiful food options. Your choices will vary dependent on whether you have greater resource either in money or time than we do. Knowing your ask means that you can find the right fit for you.

Find your team

If you are going to go it alone in terms of organisation then you need to find your team. This is true whether you are organising a group outing for friends or a work event. The kind of team will depend on the people who are doing the event planning. Some events benefit from creative disagreement to ensure inclusion. For the most part I like to work drama free as organising these events with limited resource is stressful enough. I therefore try to find people to work with who are interested in collaboration and are focussed on task completion. This works well for the type of events I’m currently involved with, but there are definitely events where innovation of process during the planning is part of the learning (such as nosocomial) and these require more risk taking and creativity.

Some scenarios also mean that there is less choice about who forms part of the the group. It is therefore crucial that whatever group you end up working with it is important that you have an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of everyone so that you can maximise the efficiency of the group and minimise frustration. There are things I’m really good at, I can hold a vision in my mind and have ideas. I need someone in the group therefore who grounds me and keeps me to task and deadline. It also helps if everyone has the same passion for the work as you do, or at least are equally committed. Uneven distribution of workload is one of the things that inevitably leads to stress in these settings.

Evaluation

One final and yet super important thing is to plan as part of the process how you are going to evaluate both the event and it’s impact. Learning is key. Did you participant love/hate the venue? It will impact on whether you will use it again. Did the delivery set up facilitate the learning needs? Did the agenda fulfil the brief? You are bound to do this more than once, even if not for the same event. Learning what went well and what could be improved is important in order to get better at this. Also understand that you will never please everyone, don’t take criticism to heart, you have put yourself out there and done something. Use comments as learning not as judgement.

That said if you want to join me at either of our upcoming events you can judge me against this post and see how well I/we stack up

Environment Network 2021: Designing and building for infection prevention – 8th October, London

Healthcare Science Education 2021: The role of innovation in education – 4th October, London (free)

All opinions on this blog are my own

Guest Blog Dr Claire Walker: From academia to the bench, and back again. An immunologists journey.

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, 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. 

From the Bench

More than a few years back I took my good friend Kip Heath for a drink and told her that I’d decided to undertake a post graduate certificate in clinical and professional education. Her response was something along the lines of, whilst choking on her drink and laughing at me, ‘but you hate education and training, you only like research, who on earth got you to agree to this one?’ And based on my backstory she wasn’t totally wrong. I’d always felt that healthcare scientists fell into one of two groups when it came to training and education. The first had the best possible training, adored their mentors, and want to share their wealth of knowledge. The second group viewed training as a rite of passage, had every corner knocked off on the way up and want everyone to suffer for their art just as they have. Historically, I had fallen firmly into the second camp. My gruelling but formative experience had, in my humble opinion, made me an excellent and extremely driven clinical scientist who didn’t need any spoon feeding or hand holding thank you very much.

So, who had got me to agree to this? The one and only GirlyMicro. GirlyMicro has the delightful quality of not always recognising what a huge deal she is in the world of pathology, so when she stopped me in a corridor at work and said, ‘I’ve picked up some funding for a PgCert, is education your bag? Fancy applying?’. I, of course, responded with ‘yes please, thank you for noticing me and I will jump through literally any hoop to make this happen’. Then left the conversation, head in hands wondering exactly what I had let myself in for.

Drinking the Kool Aid

So off I went to study education theory and practice. To begin with I told myself this was all about improving my section of the laboratory. Each senior scientist in a department runs their own bench; a set of scientific tests staffed by a selection of junior staff members and trainees. I ran the research and development bench. In my opinion, this is the most exciting work done in a clinical laboratory but I have to confess my trainees at that time rarely shared my enthusiasm. But that couldn’t have possibly had anything to do with my diffident approach to training, could it?

With each lecture, I found myself struggling to justify my approach (or lack thereof) and why I had resisted this for so long? Why wouldn’t I want to learn techniques to disseminate information well, why couldn’t I improve my communication skills, and why was I so resistant to helping our students become the very best healthcare scientists they could be? With the benefits of hindsight, I had bought in to a toxic culture based on exceptionalism and prestige. Why was I expecting every junior member of staff to learn exactly the same way I had? Could I not see that there were far less painful routes to success available to them? And that we might lose fewer trainees if I paid a little attention to this? I put theory into practice, and within months my bench was full of happy and appreciated staff members. I found myself reflecting daily on just how important educating our next generation of healthcare scientists was, and why this needs to be done properly. Why we shouldn’t be putting our trainees through some trial by fire if we expect our profession to survive the oncoming storm of privatisation, pandemics, and real time pay cuts, to name but a few challenges. It transpires that by nurturing our talented students we only improve all our positions. 

And Back to Academia

A fortuitous turn of events in my personal life put me in a position move from my senior scientist gig to a senior lecturing gig. Not the best year for it thanks to the pandemic. But surrounded by inspiring new colleagues I have jumped feet first into educating our next generation of registered healthcare scientists on a fabulous accredited Biomedical Science course, even if I do say so myself. 

As healthcare scientists, we are forever dipping in and out of education be it through engaging in our undergraduate degrees, Masters courses, PhDs, specialist portfolios, equivalence portfolios and fellowship exams (to name but a few!). Let’s take the time to share our knowledge. GirlyMicro has been telling me for years that we must lift others to lift ourselves. What do you know? Turns out she was right all along. 

TLDR. Those who can, teach. 

A note to my friend Kip – Who’s laughing now? Congratulations on your PgCert in Health Professions Education awarded with Merit this year! Welcome to the cult. 

Roll Up Roll Up: Join us for a host of events running on the 3/4/5 June as part of the Rise of the Resistance Festival

It all started with a conversation Help us keep that conversation going and enjoy some great events along the way!

Rise Of The Resistance is a digital festival of creative responses to Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), on 3 – 5 June 2021.. Curated by NOSOCOMIAL, an award-winning collaboration of Healthcare Scientists and theatre makers which hosts performances, panels and events.

We have events designed for:

  • Children and families.
  • Those interested mainly in the science.
  • Those mainly interested in the creative pieces.
  • A grown up audience (due to language content i.e. swearing).

A link to the Eventbrite for all bookings is here

Healthcare Scientists are 5% of the NHS workforce in the UK, responsible for 80% of diagnoses. Rise Of The Resistance celebrates the impact of Healthcare Science. It seeks to reinforce relationships between Healthcare Scientists, patients, families and the public, believing that better communication and understanding are vital for managing future threats to global health such as AMR.

NOSOCOMIAL comprises around 25 scientists and artists. We won the 2019 CSO Partnering Patients and Citizens Award, and 2020 Antibiotic Guardian award for Public Engagement. Rise Of The Resistance is our first festival.

Events For Children and Families

SOCK THE PUPPET – aimed at families and children aged 7 and under

Fri, 4 June 2021 – 10:30 – 11:30

A story for children about Socks, Science, Superbugs and Making Friends, narrated by Stephanie Houtman

Meet Sock the Puppet. Sock is excited to go and sing for the children in Hospital with Ms Clown. Sock loves the Hospital. It is always clean and tidy.

The children love Sock’s singing. All the children hug Sock.

When Sock catches all the bugs that make the children poorly, Sock has an adventure to the cleanest, tidiest place in the whole Hospital: The Laboratory.

Can you help Sock find a way back to Ms Clown and the children?

Join us at Rise Of The Resistance for the story of Sock, narrated by Stephanie Houtman (Peppa Pig Live), directed by Saskia Marland, with a special appearance by Sock.

After you book tickets, you will receive a worksheet to make your own Sock at home, designed by artist and maker Abi Bown.

Created by the team behind Nosocomial and Remember, Remember! – playwright Nicola Baldwin, and Healthcare Scientists Vicki Heath and Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green BEM, of Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Sock The Puppet will also be available as a podcast.

With thanks to Eibhlin Jones, Laura Walsh, Amy Sutton and Tara Kearney.

Book here


REMEMBER, REMEMBER – aimed at families and children up to GCSE age

Sat, 5 June 2021 – 11:00 – 12:00

Join our time-travelling zoom Healthcare Science in a detective drama about the “True” story of the Gunpowder Plot. For ages 5+ to 105+

A Zoom storytelling science drama.

REMEMBER, REMEMBER! is a pre-recorded Zoom drama. You will receive a link to watch the online premiere.

Activity books, and script, will also be sent out so people can take part at home.

London, 2021. Healthcare Scientists Lily, Rosa, and Frank receive a mysterious message for ‘HELPE’ on one of the machines in their hospital laboratory.

London, 1605. Plague stalks the land, leading to unrest… and a plot to blow up the King and Parliament. Guy Fawkes is arrested and the race begins to track the rest of Gunpowder Plotters.

Remember, Remember tells the amazing story of how three Healthcare scientists set out to foil the Gunpowder Plot, with the help of nine year old Princess Elizabeth, a malfunctioning MALDI-TOF machine and the weird and wonderful mysteries of Microbiology, Haematology, Biochemistry, Immunology, hand-washing, and… time travel.

And they need your help.

with

LILY / SIR JASPER – Jennifer Daley

ROSA / TOWER GUARD – Becky Simon

FRANK / GUY FAWKES – Jonny Wright

PRINCESS ELIZABETH – Tara Kearney

Produced by NOSOCOMIAL

By playwright Nicola Baldwin and Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green, Lead Healthcare Scientist at GOSH. Activity Packs created with Anthony Manuel DeSouza, with input from Fionnuala Wilkins at GOSH school, and Amy Sutton of GOSH Youth Forum.

Thanks to Hannah Jones, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Abi Bown.

Originally produced for Pathology Week 2019, supported by HSEWG and The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) as an online drama for children and families in hospital isolation due to illness, revived in 2020, and made available thanks to the Society for Applied Microbiology, as the whole country went into isolation..

We hope it will provide an informative and entertaining way to learn about viruses and bacteria, and that you enjoy watching it at home.

Book here


IF I DON’T PLAY I WON’T UNDERSTAND. Plus PPI panel -an interactive drama experience for the whole family

Sat, 5 June 2021 – 14:00 – 15:00

Welcome to the “Bacterial Leisure Centre”! We are the best fitness centre for bacteria in the microbiome to train for bacterial success!

Our Leisure Centre is located in the heart of the breathtaking Microbiome Resort, set in a 2,700 square feet of the Gut. The Centre is provided with anatomy room, gym, quorum sensing zone, reproduction area, and many other 1st class facilities.

Our team of experienced trainers will coach and guide you in this adventure of becoming bacteria, and they will make sure you will have an unforgettable experience.

What do you need to do?

Sign up to a free virtual taster session on Saturday the 5th of June @2pm.

Be prepared to renounce your humanity for the duration of the taster session.

As part of our fitness activity, we will ask you to play games and move your body.

No previous fitness experience is required, but be ready for a lot of fun and games activity.

“If I don’t play I won’t understand” is an interactive digital game performance, combining transmedia storytelling and fictional reality with games and movement activities.

Inspired by choose-your-own-adventure books, audiences are invited to sign up to a virtual “Bacterial Leisure Centre” where they renounce their humanity to train to become bacterias.

After a welcoming virtual tour of the Centre, the audience can choose their own adventure by deciding which training room they want to enter. Once in the room, the audience will meet a specialized trainer that will train them to become bacterias by using games and participatory activities.

“If I don’t play I won’t understand” is designed and directed by Monika Gravagno, the AD of Facciocose Physical Theatre company.

This will be a participatory physical theatre/workshop to explore communication and expression from a microbial perspective.

Followed by a panel discussion: How To Engage An Audience With ‘Difficult’ Science

After the workshop, stay for a panel discussion and Q&A with the makers and invited guests, to explore the outer limits of public engagement; the mutual benefits of PPI to artists and scientists in framing research questions, and creating new forms of work.

Book here

For Those Interested in Talking Science Supported by Drama

SPIRALLING & How Do We Begin The Conversation?

Fri, 4 June 2021, 14:00 – 15:00

In a time when views are drastically polarised, could questions potentially bring us together and not drive us further apart?

Screening of SPIRALLING by Jimena Larraguivel, followed by a panel discussion with Dr James Hatcher, Dr Melisa Canales, Professor Brendan Gilmore, Sue Lee: on PPI, clinical trials, and how do we begin the conversation on AMR?

“The idea behind this short film emerged in response to the overwhelming amount of information available on social media, which has undoubtedly had an impact in the way I navigate motherhood and take decisions in the best interest of my children. In a time where cancel culture seems to be the norm, it’s daunting asking questions. However, in a time where views are drastically polarised, aren’t questions what could potentially bring us together and not further apart?”

Book here


INTO THE BREACH & Bugs v. Behaviour

Fri, 4 June 2021 – 16:00 – 17:00

The doctors want to be sure that I’m not using. Fair play, I get it, course, I do. But I’ve been with heroin since I was 17. It’s up here.

Screening of INTO THE BREACH by David Milner, followed by a panel discussion with Dr Jane Freeman, Angela Mwape, Ruth Thomsen and Francis Yongblah on bugs, behaviour, their impact on on AMR, and what we really mean by ‘hard to reach patients’.

“Hostel dweller COLIN reflects on his past life and uncertain future while negotiating the reality of London’s streets. Colin’s in limbo, awaiting an operation; his body must be drug-free for surgery, but addiction has been the one constant in his life.”

Adapted from a short story by David Milner.

Book here


ME AND HER & Human and Animal Impact of Infection

Sat, 5 June 2021 – 15:30 – 16:30

How do we cope with the total disruption of infection? What’s the prognosis for the things we take for granted in our lives?

Screening of ME AND HER by Rebecca Simon, followed by a panel discussion with Professor Mark Fielder, Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green and Professor Nicola Williams, on the impact on, and of, human and animal behaviour in AMR, and the need to focus on One Health.

Home is where the heart is, where we feel most like ourselves. After almost seven months living in a ten by twelve foot hospital room with her sick daughter, Zoe escapes to home. To feel like herself again and that she still exists outside of that hospital room, outside of being a mum. But home doesn’t feel like home anymore, there’s been a shift, things are not as she would have them. She feels displaced and lost.

ME AND HER is a short film exploring the experiences of parents, carers and their families whose lives are profoundly altered by long term hospital stays. When suffering through a difficult and challenging time in their life, how do parents who are carers cope with the total disruption of their lives? What’s the prognosis for their careers, relationships and sense of identity?

Created and performed by Rebecca Simon

Produced by NOSOCOMIAL

Book here

For Those Who Want Some Drama About Science

The Piece That Started It All – NOSOCOMIAL & Collaboration within Public Engagement

Fri, 4 June 2021 – 20:00 – 21:00

Verbatim drama premiere. There is nothing weird or wonderful you can imagine in human experience I haven’t seen. I’m a Researcher in Humans

When I say I’m a healthcare scientist, they ask “do you work with animals?”When I tell them I work in a hospital, they say “are you a nurse?”There is nothing weird or wonderful you can imagine in human experience I haven’t seen. I’m a Researcher in Humans.

Screening of NOSOCOMIAL followed by panel discussion on Collaboration within Public Engagement with Dr Lena Ciric, Saskia Marland and Monika Gravagno.

Jo is not well. Something strange is happening. As a scientist, she can resolve this. Unless the world is infected. Unless it’s everywhere….

Kitty, Helena and Paul work through the night. An hour can make all the difference. Part thriller, part puzzle, the science of life and death.

Join us for the online premiere of our short film.

JO – Jimena Larraguivel

HELENA – Becky Simon

KITTY – Nicola Sanderson

PAUL – Peter Clements

Healthcare Scientists are 5% of the NHS workforce, responsible for 80% of diagnoses.

Forensic pathologists are a staple of TV crime drama and Healthcare Science has dominated news headlines during months of pandemic, yet the role of Healthcare Scientists themselves remains largely unknown. You don’t see us on Holby. Science is too ‘difficult’ without explanation. Yet working in basement labs,working with patients, working with families over years, the HCS experience is varied, vital, and their personal stories are remarkable.

Nosocomial began as a collaboration between playwright Nicola Baldwin and Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green, Lead Healthcare Scientist at Great Ormond Street Hospital. In summer 2018, over 30 Healthcare Scientists from various hospitals took time out of their schedules to join writing workshops, which later grew to involve artists and actors, to tell their stories.

Performed at Camden Peoples’ Theatre and site-specific events in NHS buildings, museums, and other public spaces. Winner of 2019 CSO Partnering Patients and Citizens award, and 2020 Antibiotic Guardian award for Public Engagement, this is the online premiere of our new short film, updated for 2021.

The Nosocomial project has been made possible thanks to SfAM and HIS public engagement grants.

Book here


PANDEMIC PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS – 80,000 SUSPECTS!

Sat, 5 June 2021 – 20:00 – 21:30

Inspired by classic 1963 thriller by Val Guest (from book by Elleston Trevor) about scientists battling a smallpox outbreak

A Healthcare Scientist’s already-shaky marriage is tested to an even greater extent when he has to contend with a smallpox epidemic.

Inspired by the classic 1963 British black and white medical thriller adapted and directed by Val Guest (from the book Pillars Of Midnight by Elleston Trevor) about Healthcare Scientists battling a smallpox outbreak

For one night only, this live zoom script reading will pay homage to the iconic black and white movie experience.

Please dress appropriately, and return with us to a bygone era of Saturday night cinema-going, reimagined for the digital age, via the medium of Zoom in your own sitting room.

A unique experiment in co-creation involving a virtual company of actors, artists, scientists, researchers, and you, the audience.

It’s New Year’s eve. You get a call to go into the lab.

A patient is showing signs of a mystery illness

They just want you to run a few tests….

What could possibly go wrong?

Book here

And Now Something for the Adults

KLEBSIELLA showcase plus Q&A with creative team

Fri, 4 June 2021 – 19:00 – 20:00

Microbial shapeshifter. Compulsive stealer of DNA. Who is she? Why does she do it? In a crisis of identity Klebsiella seeks psychotherapy…

Screening of KLEBSIELLA by Peter Clements, a new performance in development, followed by a panel discussion with costume designer Pam Tait and Healthcare Scientist Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green: on performance, playfulness and the need for novel approaches to engaging with AMR.

“A portrait of Klebsiella through a psychoanalytic session.

Klebsiella is the shapeshifter of the microbial world. A compulsive stealer of DNA. Who is she? Why does she do these things? In a crisis of identity , Klebsiella seeks psychotherapy to get to the bottom of what’s bugging her.

Vivienne Westwood meets Diana Vreeland meets Bouffant clown meets Riot Grrrrrrl meets Pat Butcher.

Klebsiella and Analyst meet to determine if Klebsiella is suitable for in depth psychoanalysis. Klebsiella resolves that she’s impossible to cure. She’s determined to find the love of her life, even if it means leaving a trail of destruction behind her.”

Book here


Science Showoff’s STAND-UP FOR SCIENCE

Sat, 5 June 2021. 18:00 – 19:30

Comedy and Cabaret from the ‘best minds in science’…. A partnership with the popular Science Showoff comedy night hosted by Steve Cross.

Healthcare Scientists become comedians for one night only.

Tonight they’ll put aside their microscopes, computers, samples and equipment for one night to tell you jokes about their work.

The show will be hosted by comedy veteran Steve Cross, who has MCed hundreds of comedy shows of all kinds across the world, and who has trained these brave brainiacs to take to the stage. I say stage, they’ll be on a videolink from their own homes.

The gig will be made available to to ticket holders via a live stream from all of the performers’ houses. Ticket holders will be emailed details of the stream on the day of the show.

The show is on 5th of June and starts at 6pm prompt.

Book here


NEVER EXPLAIN take on THE RESISTANCE

Thursday 3 June 20.00 – No booking needed, live on the YouTube link below

To kick off Rise of the Resistance Festival in style, join us for a live panel show combining comedy and science

Live stream here

Why I Went Through the Equivalence Process and Why I think it’s Important as a Lead Healthcare Scientist to Lead By Example

Yesterday I posted for Healthcare Science Week 2021 with some tips about applying to start your career as a scientist. Today I wanted to post something linked to career progression as a Healthcare Scientist. So todays post is about going through the equivalence process with the Academy of Healthcare Science (AHCS). I know that this one may be a bit contentious, I know this because when I announced I’d been through the process on Twitter I got some push back and interesting discussion. That said I still think it’s important and so I want to take you through not only how I went about it but my thought process as to why.

The equivalence process enables individuals who have gone through different progression routes to achieve progression similar to the end points reached by the structured routes offered by the National School of Healthcare Science (Scientific Training Programme (STP) and Higher Specialist Scientific Training Programme (HSST)). Equivalence can be undertaken for either programme and requires you to demonstrate that you have covered both the breadth of scope and qualifications contained in the curriculum that is involved in the structured centrally delivered programme. Once you’ve gone through the equivalence process you can then register on the AHCS register, in the same way as a programme graduate.

For people like myself who attained a PhD and FRCPath by examination prior to the introduction to these structured programmes there is no requirement for us to demonstrate equivalence to the HSST. For many people in a similar position to myself they are also already in Consultant posts, and so the participation in this process is perceived as costly, with little added value.

So why do I think it is important for me as a senior leader and Lead Healthcare Scientist to go through this process and put my money where my mouth is:

  • I want to understand the process so that I can support my workforce when they are submitting for the equivalence process themselves.
  • I want to lead by example. These structured programmes are what my future workforce are going to be going through. I owe it them to understand the breadth requirements of the curriculum so that I can be a better advisor.
  • I want to demonstrate the value of the register. Although HSST equivalence is not currently required it is likely to become an increasing requirement in posts that are being created (I’ve seen one recently). In order to maximise flexibility for my workforce to apply for posts in the future I think it’s important to get on the register early and show why it might be important for their futures.
  • STP equivalence is much more embedded and within my workforce I’m working hard with the team to raise awareness and support for this route. It would feel hypocritical of me (as Lead Healthcare Scientist) to be pushing the importance of considering undertaking this process and not have been prepared to engage with it myself.
  • As well as being a Lead Healthcare Scientist I am also a Healthcare Scientist Training Advocate for National Institute of Health Research. As part of the development of training plans for doctoral and clinical lectureship fellowships then the role of equivalence plays an important part for those who will go through the non-standard route that I undertook. By having been through the process I can help in guiding applicants in what items their clinical training programme will need to contain.
  • Finally, I did this for me. I wanted to show that I am competitive for posts, that I have the skills required. I am not in a consultant post and will therefore potentially be competing for posts against people now exiting the training programme. I found the process of putting together the information and reflecting about my career against a set of standardised benchmarks incredibly useful. It is so useful to identify gaps that you may not have recognised, or reassuring that you have covered everything and you are good to go.

So What Is the Process for Applying for Equivalence

My experience is of putting together the Stage 1 application pack, which consists of the following:

 A completed Stage 1 Summary Mapping Template – this is basically linking your structure CV to the standards to show that you have met them all
 Job description and person specification
 A structured curriculum vitae (CV) – this is 1500 words that outlines your qualifications, job role, experience and anything else you need to demonstrate you meet the standards
 Two appropriate professional references
 Qualification certificates
 I also added some additional information to the end of my structured CV that included: a publication list and grant funding received, as well as a list of committee and guidance groups I am a member of

It took me a while to look at the standards and reflect on content, but I have to admit the bit that took me longest was finding all the documentation (certificates, driving license etc) in order to scan them in and submit them. The other bit that took time was getting the references as we all know how busy everyone is.

The whole application is online and you upload each part and you have it. It gives you a progress bar so you know how close you are to completion. I didn’t know anyone else who had completed it and at that point there were in fact no microbiologists on the HSS register to talk to about it, so I just put things together based on intuition and what I would like to see if I were assessing. Mostly this was about leading the reader and making the information easy to find, as well as making sure that in the mapping document it was clear that all the competencies had been covered. I’ve included mine below, not because I’m claiming it is the most amazing document ever, but so that you don’t have to start from scratch like I did in terms of your thinking.

Once I had submitted I waited. I was fortunate enough to get an Outcome 1 (see above) feedback as shown below:

After which I paid my £50 and became the first microbiologist on the ACHS HSS register.

Overall the process was pretty simple and straight forward. The thing that took the longest was the thinking ahead of putting it together. I found it useful to have a list of the competencies and then listed all the different things that I could use as evidence against them. I could then focus my thinking and my CPD review on areas where I didn’t have so many items mapped.

Equivalence will not be for everyone, but as the profession of Healthcare Science enters a much needed phase where training and careers become more structured then it will be needed. I hope that by having gone through this process I have gained the skills and knowledge to support others, as well demonstrating leadership in an area that I feel is important. So I would encourage you to review: Is its right for you? Is it right for your workforce? and What’s stopping you?

All opinions on this blog are my own

Planned Events for Healthcare Science Week 2021: Join us if you’re three or ninety three

girlymicro

Healthcarescienceweekis an annual celebration to raise awareness of the many careers inhealthcarescience. It provideshealthcarescienceprofessionals with an opportunity to promote their profession and inspire the scientific workforce of the future.

More than that however, it provides us with the opportunity to talk about what we do or issues that matter to us with members of the public, our friends, colleagues in other healthcare professions and our families.

This year Healthcare Science Week runs from March 6th until 14th March. The Healthcare Science Education team at GOSH and our collaborators Nicola Baldwin and Dr Steve Cross have three awesome events planned across the week, with something for all ages and backgrounds.

Pub-Less Healthcare Science Pub Quiz! (Wednesday 10th March – 19:00 – 21:00)

The Pub-Less Healthcare Science Pub Quiz! Join professional silly science personSteve Crossfor a special quiz full of jokes…

View original post 386 more words

My Best Science Comes from a Cup of Tea: My top tip for Healthcare Science Week

Welcome to Healthcare Science Week 2021! Depending on how I feel and how busy this week is I’m hoping to post a few times and to make up for not posting much recently as I’ve been unwell. Also, as I’ve been not well I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the importance tea has in my life. My husband is a sweet heart who makes me many a cup and it is my place of comfort and salvation when the world gets too much. It is also a place of reflection and helps me do my best thinking. So this post is devoted to one of my favourite things in the world and something that helps me be the best scientist I can be…………..a lovely cup of tea. (NB for me this is ideally a cup of Darjeeling or Lady Grey served black. You can I am sure substitute it with your favourite, or blasphemy, even exchange it for coffee).

Tea and Planning

Most of science is not actually in the doing, most of the best of science is actually in the planning. If you get that right then everything else will follow. If not you can spend a lot of money getting a lot of data that is in fact not much good to anyone and definitely doesn’t answer the questions you were asking. When I was starting out, and sometimes even now when a deadline overwhelms me, I thought it was better to be doing. To be in lab getting ‘somewhere’. Needless to say I spent a lot of time getting ‘somewhere’ but that wasn’t where I needed to end up. Tea cannot be drunk in the lab. Sometimes making a cup of tea therefore is a really good way to break the cycle of doing and force yourself to have time to step back and plan. It is one of the reasons I have exceptionally large cups as they give me the time to get into the right headspace and adjust my thinking before I reach the end. It also helps that I drink my tea black so that it also has cooling time. By the time I’ve cooled and finished my mind is usually in the place it needs to be and I’m in planning mode not panicked doing mode.

Tea and Networking

I believe it is no secret to anyone that reads this blog that I appreciate a piece of tea and cake. This is partly because I like to host as it gives me a structured way to talk to other people. It is also because I believe that when we are sitting and eating/drinking with other people it removes hierarchy, especially if that can be done outside of the usually work environment.

This next but may shock you, but I HATE networking. I’m pretty good in 1:1 situations where I know the other person, but I’m rubbish at faces and I’m even worse at remembering prior conversations. It’s definitely not the fault of the person I’m speaking too, it’s just my memory doesn’t work that way. My memory is super context specific. I therefore find the horror of speaking to people who know who I am, who I have spoken to before and me not remembering, one that I regularly encounter. I also hate networking as I actually have no small talk. I spend a LOT of my time working and my geeky hobbies are not ones that many people will engage with on first meeting and so I struggle. It’s one of the reasons I started on Twitter almost 20 years ago. Twitter meet ups at conference meant I had already done the small talk and we already had shared context and so I didn’t have that panic inducing moment where I tried to find something sensible to stay (NB this is still a top tip of mine if you’re starting out going to meetings).

Tea makes me relax. At conferences I can always talk about the food and the tea. It also means that I worry less if I’m talking to a Noble prize winner or someone of international renown. They need to eat and drink just like I do. Also, if you find someone hanging around the tea area with no one to talk to they are probably in the same boat as you and will be super relieved that you are the one that made the conversation opener so that they didn’t have to.

Tea and Sympathy

For all you amazing young scientists starting out please don’t take this one too much to heart, but use it a short cut to help your mental well being. Science is 80% failure. You will fail at grants, you will fail when you submit papers, you will have bad supervisor meetings and elevator pitches and most of all you will have failed experiments. Sometimes in the case of lab work these failures can go on for months or years and be super costly, both in terms of money but also in terms of your mental health. What you need to know now is that this is normal. The most amazing scientists you meet will have sat there in a puddle of tears with mountains of self doubts and fear that nothing would ever succeed again. No one ever sat me down and told me this. For a long time I felt I was alone in the failure. Then over time my colleagues became friends and we finely got to the point where we could voice our fears and disappointments. Only then did I realise that I wasn’t alone. That these failures were crucial points where I learnt and developed and that instead of fearing them I should embrace them.

So my advice now, for all those I supervise and support, is to spend time early developing a few key relationships. Then when you are experiencing the failures you too can have someone who will listen and tell you that it’s normal and support your mental wellbeing as well as helping you get back on track. You will also learn from being the person who supports others when it’s your time to pull out the tea, biscuits and box of tissues.

Tea and Reflection

Moving on from tea with others I wanted to reinforce the importance of tea with yourself. This touches on the Tea and Planning section above but is wider than that. As scientists with are often process driven and tend to be rather task orientated. That means we are great at getting things done but poor at working out why we are doing them. Working as a scientist these days is super complex. Not only are you dealing with regular failure, but you are dealing with complex political environments and career pathways that are anything but clear. When we fail to give ourselves time to reflect and check in with ourselves we can end up going down rabbit holes that don’t get us where we want to go. It also means that our relationships suffer. As you gain students, direct reports and more leadership responsibility it it really important to think about why certain conversations went the way they did. To reflect on things like your leadership style and which situations it’s working in and which it isn’t. As trainees it’s worth taking time to think about why you didn’t get the supervision support you were looking for, did you pick a bad time, did you not manage to articulate what was needed etc. Only by working on ourselves can we really move forward, and this is the one thing we often don’t take the time to consciously do.

Tea and a Pep Talk

So you might say to me ‘what is the different between tea and a pep talk and tea and sympathy’. I would respond that they are actually very different things and both have their place. Tea and sympathy isn’t about trying to ‘fix’ things, it’s about centering yourself when things are going wrong and not feeling along. Tea and a pep talk is more like a coaching experience, It’s about someone giving you constructive support to help you navigate a challenge. It requires a bit of work from both parties in order to try and progress the issue and although it should also enable you to come out feeling better, it should also enable you to come out with a plan of action. You may not be needing a pep talk because you’re upset but because you have a barrier to traverse, a conversation to have, or a direct to pick. You may also want your pep talk to be from someone different to your tea and sympathy as it may be that you want to access knowledge or experience. It is often a conversation that is not so reliant on trust as your tea and sympathy chat may be and you will want to bear that in mind when picking who to have these conversations with. Having tea in these conversations often means you can change their location to outside the working environment (if needed) but also set them up to not be rushed and have the time needed to reach the destination required.

Tea and The Late Night Session

I’d like to say that I have this work life balance thing cracked, but I suspect that my family, friends and colleagues would say that probably isn’t the case. Even if I has I think there is no way of getting around the fact that if you work in science there are going to be some late nights. Sometimes that’s because you are doing a growth curve that is going going to take you 20 hours, sometimes it’s because you have a full working day and then need to do some work for a dissertation and sometimes it’s because of some form of urgent need that means you need to start something for a patient at 6 when you were due to leave at 5.

I used to try and just push through these sessions. I used to think that finishing as early as possible was the best way to balance it with everything else. What I learnt is that when I pushed through I made mistakes. I learnt that for me even when pushing to get things done I need to schedule short ‘walk away’ periods where I could have a cup if tea and move in order to think, especially if I was at work beyond 8 o’clock. Otherwise I made silly mistakes, For the sake of transparency sometimes these wake up ‘walk away’ sessions involved me dancing across the lab with tubes in hand to Lady Gaga, but mostly they involved a cup of tea and ideally a biscuit as I wouldn’t have eaten. My practice is to give myself a 5 minute break to make the tea, go back and do another 20 minutes whilst it cools and then to have a 15 minute zen moment whilst I drink it. I’m sure you will have your own method, but developing one with save you errors and stop you having to repeat these late night efforts.

Now, with this written I’m off to have a cup of tea. Remember my top tea related tips:

  • Find your tea and sympathy peer
  • Take time to reflect
  • Planning will save you time
  • Know how to push yourself and strategies to avoid mistakes
  • Don’t be afraid of networking but think how to make it work for you

All opinions on this blog are my own

I Passed my PhD 6 Years Ago This Week: What Tips do I Have for Those Who Are in the Process?

On my Facebook page, it popped up that I had passed my PhD viva 6 years ago this week. I undertook my PhD in a slightly unusual way, as I did it as part of the National Institute for Health Research Doctoral Fellowship scheme. This meant that I undertook a PhD 50% of the time as part of my day job in Infection Prevention and Control. It also meant that I didn’t start my PhD until I was 30 and, although I was linked to an academic department, I was not really embedded within one. I was pretty much in a team of one. This has its advantages but it also meant that I didn’t really have the peer support of being in a department with lots of PhD students. It also meant that it was hard to benchmark whether I was doing OK. For people who are also undertaking a PhD without lots of peer support, or are thinking of doing one, I thought I would use this blog post to talk about some of the things I wish I had known.

Project Manage Yourself

A PhD is the biggest single project that most people will ever manage on their own as a continuous piece of work. It feels like a huge undertaking and it can often feel overwhelming. Like any project, therefore, it benefits from being split into more manageably-sized chunks. This can feel difficult when you don’t yet have a feel for where you need to end up. It’s often helpful to think of it in three main themes and to set targets for each of them:

  • Project milestones i.e. literature review, initial data collection, key project themes.
  • Personal objectives i.e. developing communication skills, developing teaching skills, adapting to academic and scientific culture.
  • Professional objectives i.e. building networks, learning techniques.

Use these objectives and milestones to create a working document. Know that it is a working document and that everything will shift and change. This shouldn’t be a millstone: it should be something where you tick off the components you’ve achieved so that in the dark days, when you forget what progress you have made, you have something that reminds you of how far you have come. It can also be a really useful tool to help you re-focus when you have a lot of options or things available to you. Use it to prioritise and to decide whether your choices are moving you towards your goals.

Actively Manage Your Relationship with Your Supervisor

Not everyone has a great relationship with their supervisor: some people have supervisors who will take them for cake and a pick-me-up, others have a supervisor who they don’t see for months at a time or who may appear overly critical. Whatever your relationship with your supervisor, there are some things worth considering early on in your PhD:

  • Understand the context – Unfortunately for you, most PhD supervisors do not have supervision as their main job. In healthcare, this is mostly their clinical work; even in academia it’s often the need to apply for funding for their group and publications for their progression. If you can understand the drivers on your supervisor’s time then you will be better able to work with them.
  • Be clear about your needs – I would always advise developing a learning agreement with your supervisor very early on in your relationship/project. Everyone learns in different ways and your supervisor is not a mind reader. By developing a learning agreement, you and your supervisor can work out what works best for you both. Do you want regular contact, or does micromanagement drive you mad? What’s the best way to communicate? Email? Face to face? Phone? How often will you sit down and have a project review meeting? What information will they expect you to have? Do their aims for you align with your goals?
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – Understand that a PhD is an apprenticeship in research: you don’t need all the answers. It may turn our that your supervisor may not be the best person to answer all of your questions, some of them may be too technical, or they may not be available enough to assist. Despite that, they should still be your first port of call and should be able to signpost you to assistance if they can’t provide it themselves.

Find Your Tribe and Learn to Speak their Language

The last bullet point brings me onto this point. For many many reasons you will need more than your supervisor to get you through a PhD. You may be like I was and pretty much alone, or you may be surrounded by other PhDs. Whatever your circumstances you will need to find support. You won’t be able to ask your supervisor every time you need to order lab books or where the pipette tips are stored – sadly, they are unlikely to know.

Getting out and attending lab meetings, or other teaching, can be a great way to not only meet people but also to develop the subject specific language you’ll need to succeed. If, like I was, you’re alone, then your funders will hopefully be able to signpost you to other people on similar schemes, and don’t forget about your postgraduate tutor (you should have one) who may be able to make connections for you across departments/buildings. If you are doing a PhD and are part of a professional group (or even if not), social media is often your friend. There are lots of good twitter accounts that can be a valuable source of information.

Do Your Homework

Every University has different processes and management expectations. It is worth understanding early on what these are and what you need to do about them. Is there an electronic log? How many lectures etc. outside of your PhD do you need to attend? What evidence do you need to collate? Do you need supervisors to sign off for specific things? My supervisors didn’t know any of these things and it proved crucial for me to not only be aware of them but to understand how to traverse them. This is especially true if you also have an external funder to satisfy and returns that are expected.

Take the time to learn your cultural norms and consider what authorship order is normal for the subject area. How often are you expected to present? How can you involve public engagement in your work? Are you expected to apply for further funding and to whom?

Learn Your Process

Not everyone works the same way. My amazing colleague, Melisa, will tell you that we often do our best work when just talking through ideas over lunch. This means that my lab book often has many serviettes stuck into it, waiting to be written up. Many people carry notebooks (Mel does) but, for me, this has just ended up the way it works: I can then write it up neatly and in a structured way – that additional process helps me.

Talking of lab books, make sure you have them and that you keep them. Have a structured way of recording information so that you make sure you have everything down and don’t miss crucial details which were blatantly obvious at the time. I can promise you that when you come to look at them three years down the line you will have no idea what that obvious information was. I also colour code mine for different types of work (viruses = purple headers, bacteria = green etc.) because it helps when you’re flicking through years of books towards the end.

It’s also worth knowing what your writing process involves. For a long time I beat myself up for not being able to get on and write straight away. I would berate myself for prevarication as I would tend to cook, run or even, god forbid, clean rather than start to type. Then, after about three days, I would sit down and I would write something like a paper in full. It took me forever to realise this was my process. I would spend time percolating things over, deciding my story, thinking about structure, even if I wasn’t specifically thinking I was processing in the back of my mind. It was all still work and made my writing more efficient and so I have learned to accept that writing is not JUST sitting in front of a computer screen. It’s everything that leads up to those words.

I also want to quickly note here that my process is not going to be the same as yours. You will find your own, but be aware of it and learn to be comfortable with it.

Finally, Give Yourself a Break

All projects are different, and not all subjects are the same. Although I talked earlier about benchmarking you really do need to bear this in mind. Use benchmarking to help you, not break you. You are on your own journey and it will be different from everyone else’s. Also be aware that there are some things that seem to happen to everyone, like the second year slump. No one told me about this and I struggled for ages thinking it was really abnormal. I finally confessed and was told that it happens to just about everyone. The second year slump is where you are far enough into your PhD to have a good feeling for where you need to end up and of the work involved, but you are too far from the end to have really started ticking off the achievement boxes and it all stills feels far away and overwhelming. The second year slump can happen at different times to different people, especially if you’re part-time, but this is just one example of knowing that this is a learning process and sometimes you just have to go with it.

All opinions in this blog are my own

Science Communication: Reflections from an Ivory Tower

This week I was going to post about Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) as, in many ways, it has been quite a momentous week in my professional life and it all ties into AMR. I may still… but I wanted to raise something that has been playing on my mind this week in light of the social media reactions I’ve seen to the new COVID-19 (don’t call it a lockdown) tiers.

Let me say now that this isn’t a political post, purely one linked to reflections that have been triggered for me that are linked to some of the pitfalls of traditional communication, medicine and dissemination.

On Wednesday, I saw this tweet. The scientist in me responded with, ‘well of course’ and ‘surely people understand the ramifications for everyone if we don’t find working containment measures’.

Twitter post related to the new YouGov poll

When I see posts like this, I usually scroll through the comments. I think it’s important to read what people are posting and see what the challenge is like, as it’s all too easy to see the world through the eyes of those in your bubble. Those people in similar situations to us, with similar views to us, who then use stats like this to reinforce the positions we already hold.

Then, as part of the comments, I saw this:

My first reaction to this post was to blow out my cheeks and sigh. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” and all that. That’s an economic problem that should be addressed, not an infection issue: think of the number of people who will die etc.

Then I stopped and realised there is truth to this

I do live in an Ivory Tower

Now that’s not to say that I am rich, and it’s not to say that my response to the the poll is wrong. It is to say that we must reflect and admit the truth to ourselves. I can pay my mortgage. My job is not at risk (although my husband’s may well be). I can buy food and cover my bills. That gives me a privileged position where I can engage with and make decisions about how I feel about the science, the justification, and the way they are implemented. I don’t have to react from a place of worry and fear. That privilege means that I can digest information from a place of logic and not emotion. That privilege also means that I can lose perspective about how others may receive the same information and I certainly have to be aware of that privilege when it comes to judgement.

However the key word in the above paragraph is “receive”. This is where I come to the real point of my post. One of the problems with the current situation is the feeling of disempowerment of being the recipient of information and not the co-creator of response. This has been a problem in the health setting for pretty much as long as it’s existed, but its only in recent years that it’s been recognised as such.

Too many times in medicine we implement from a position of expertise and authority without engaging the lived experience and knowledge of others. I’m a passionate believer in the power of true co-production, where we work in partnership to create something that neither group could deliver on their own. I work in a hospital where we see patients who may be one of only 20 in the world with their condition. It is naïve and arrogant of me to believe that I will understand more about their experience of living with their disease. I can input, support and advise on the basis of biology and my experience. It will never be truly effective without considering theirs.

So my thought on this Friday evening is actually more of a plea. We all have our Ivory Tower, our bubble, our version of the truth. If you work in healthcare it’s important to give yourself time to reflect on what that means for your practice. Are you doing everything you can to move from being the authority in the room to being the person who is prepared to truly listen and co-create the best possible outcome for the patient in front of you?

Are we ready to enter a new period in healthcare where it is much more about the patient in front of us than it is about our years of training and education?

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

All opinions most definitely my own

Adventures in Science Communication – Stand-up comedy edition

I’m not funny. Well, I’m not “laugh out loud” funny. I’ve never been the kind of person who has told jokes and, unlike many in an American genre TV programme, I would never have won the ‘Class Clown’ award. So how on earth did I end up spending three hours this week in a stand-up comedy training session?

There’s obviously the answer that a lot of the 11 people on the call would give: i.e. we need continuous professional development (CPD) points and, as Healthcare Scientists in the time of COVID-19, that’s not as easy. For anyone that doesn’t work in our profession, we have to show that we engage in a set number of hours of active learning and updating our practice. This helps us stay safe but also encourages a growth mindset where we learn new skills.

Secondly, the funding for the sessions is from a public engagement grant that my brilliant deputy was awarded by the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM). My deputy is super brave and was invited to do a show last year, having never done any stand-up comedy. As part of my role as leader, I felt it was incredibly important to actively participate in something that she had put energy into and believed would make us better communicators. Also, I’m a Trustee for SfAM and they do great work in supporting scientists in stepping out of their boxes and trying something new to communicate differently. I really buy into this and so, despite being slightly terrified, it was the right thing to do.

Step out of your box and give it a go

The session was delivered by Dr Steve Cross who is a consultant in public engagement and education. He started off the session by saying that he enjoys teaching nerds to be funny. Well, as a self confessed mega-nerd, this was a good start from where I was sitting. The session was a real mix of scientific backgrounds: from social science, infection specialists, pathologists, physiologists, through to medical physicists. This is one of the great things about sessions like these: networking is a great and often unexpected benefit and you get to spend hours with scientists you would never encounter otherwise and learn about their worlds.

Never underestimate the power of stories

We started out by discussing what we thought was funny. I had failed to do my homework and so hadn’t brought a clip with me (I know, an automatic F!) But the better prepared participants showed YouTube clips that made them laugh and discussed why. In an attempt to raise my grade from an F to a D, the clip below (belatedly) is something that makes me chuckle.

From watching the different clips I began to reflect on the power of stories. One of the reasons that Nicola Baldwin (the playwright I work with) and I utilise drama is because we believe in the power of drama to communicate, break down barriers and alter behaviour. It was fascinating to think about how comedy can be used to:

  • See things from a new direction
  • Explore differing opinions in a confrontation-free way
  • To confront and explore upsetting/worrying topics avoiding direct triggers
  • Enable the voicing of secret thoughts that are very common but we fear discussing openly
  • Talk about common experiences as if they are new in order to gain fresh insight
  • Subvert expectations
  • Inspire or start conversations

A lot of these points can be extrapolated to the reason Nicola and I use drama. The power of comedy is the portability and equal access nature of it. It doesn’t require huge amounts of resources to prepare a set, it doesn’t require a lot of resources to deliver a set, and it can be delivered flexibly across zoom or in person.

Steve ran us through a bunch of very easy to access and non terrifying exercises. Many of these involved us taking a story or event and reflecting on it in order to delve deeper into emotions connected with it. We then discussed how these stories and linked emotions could be used to make people laugh. Obviously there’s way more to it, but Steve is the king and we are running more of these sessions if you’d like to give it a go and participate yourself.

My main reflections from the session were:

  • Undertaking this kind of training can enable you to see situations differently and explore ways of seeing them from another’s point of view
  • Learning to break situations down and actively think about how to communicate them is a transferrable skill which is really useful in your professional practice
  • Understanding how stories can be used to create empathy and engage audiences isn’t just important for comedy. This technique can be used to support you bringing your whole self to work and break down communication barriers

All opinions in this blog are my own