James Blackwell: ‘How genetic testing was used to solve a 30-year-old cold case’

4 Apr 2019

James Blackwell. Image: British Council

NUI Galway’s James Blackwell has switched his FameLab topic a few times as he learns more and more about the art of science communication.

After completing a bachelor’s degree in physics last year, James Blackwell is now a PhD candidate as part of the NUI Galway medical physics research cluster, with competitive funding from the Irish Research Council.

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

One of my supervisors, Prof Michel Destrade, was a FameLab finalist. He thought it was a great experience and helped improve his public speaking and encouraged me to enter as well.

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

My presentation is about genetic testing – how it works, how it was used to solve a 30-year-old cold case and some of the risks behind it.

I’ve been preparing by writing the script and practising in front of anyone who will listen to me, whether it be friends, colleagues or other students.

What was your journey to the final?

I came through the Galway regional heat and I’m delighted to have reached the national final. I got the opportunity to take part in a science communication masterclass with the other finalists and got to meet some really interesting people. I’m looking at a completely different theme for the final and the masterclass has definitely helped shape the talk.

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

This experience has shown me how bad we generally are as communicators compared to the professionals. I never realised how much of a difference body language and tone made to a talk. It’s especially important for us as scientists to be able to explain our research clearly and concisely, not just to a general audience but also our fellow colleagues.

If we can communicate clearly, we will also be able to get the chance to get feedback and ideas from other people and improve our own research.

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