Fiona Malone: ‘I prepared by saying my presentation out loud a million and one times’

4 Apr 2019

Dr Fiona Malone. Image: British Council

No stranger to science communication success, Dr Fiona Malone tells us how FameLab has challenged her to think outside the box in explaining her research.

Dr Fiona Malone is a research fellow in the Medical Engineering and Technology Gateway (MET) at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).

No stranger to competitive science communication, she was the 2015 National Winner of Thesis in 3 and has also represented GMIT at other science communication events such as Inspirefest’s Researchfest in 2016 and Soapbox Science in 2017.

In September 2017, she joined the GMIT lecturing staff as a mathematics lecturer for the engineering and science departments, then completed her PhD in biomedical engineering and graduated in November 2018.

Malone is currently working as part of the MET team on an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Partnership as a medical device R&D research fellow. “I love chatting about STEM and if I’m not writing about my research and academic experiences for RTÉ Brainstorm, I’m joking about them on stage at Bright Club Galway,” she said.

How did you hear about FameLab and what made you enter?

I heard about FameLab through 2016 winner Niamh Kavanagh. We met at Thesis in 3 back in 2015 and stayed in touch ever since through the wonders of social media. Niamh is such an amazing speaker and communicator, you can but only learn things from her.

I love a challenge too and FameLab seemed like the place to improve my science communication skills and put them to the test!

What’s your presentation about and how did you prepare for it?

My presentation is about my work on designing and fabricating biological simulators for medical device testing and why this is important. I am currently working on a robot that mimics swallowing so medical device companies can test devices that are designed to treat dysphagia, a common swallowing disorder.

I prepared for my presentation by saying it out loud a million and one times to my wonderfully patient boyfriend, Doron, who I think at this stage could probably recite it from memory for you. He’d probably do a better job, too!

What was your journey to the final?

I went to an information evening about FameLab back in February and then signed up to take part in the Galway heat later that month. Everyone was so lovely and extremely talented so I was very lucky to win that heat and reach the national final.

In the heat, I spoke about my PhD research on atrial fibrillation, a common irregular heartbeat that increases a patient’s risk of stroke. I explained how the results of my physiological simulation system, which mimics a stroke occurring, will go on to support a prediction algorithm for stroke patients.

My talk for the nationals is about my postdoc research in MET, which is a bit different. I guess I’m still talking about physiological simulators and my experiments but just a different part of the body this time.

I am both super-excited and super-nervous about reaching the final but after the masterclass training in Dublin I feel more excited than nervous. If I keep telling myself I might start to believe it!

How valuable is this experience in teaching you how to communicate?

This experience of FameLab – from the heats to the training to reaching the national finals – has been such a whirlwind and I am ever so grateful for this utterly invaluable experience. It has really taught me to think outside the box when explaining my research, whether I’m speaking in a lecture to 100 students or just chatting with friends in a pub.

It has also shown me a whole new platform for my research and my career. Now that my eyes are open to this, I want to keep improving my skills and seeing where this FameLab journey can take me.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.