DCU professor calls on researchers to impress at ResearchFest

13 May 2016

Pictured (l-r): ResearchFest organisers Prof Arlene O’Neill, Trinity College Dublin; ; Prof Christine Loscher, DCU; Ann O’Dea, founder, Inspirefest; Prof Linda Doyle, Connect Centre. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

ResearchFest will showcase the diversity of Irish research in plain language – so get your entries in now, says Prof Christine Loscher.

If you are a researcher, you have probably been out at a party and had to explain your work. How did that go? Or if you were that listening partygoer, did you get the gist of what the research is about and why it is important?

Being able to communicate research in a non-technical way is a valuable skill, according to Prof Christine Loscher from Dublin City University, who wants PhD researchers to flex their communication muscles for ResearchFest this summer.

The event, part of the Inspirefest Fringe in Merrion Square, Dublin, will give a platform to eight researchers in Ireland to talk about their research. But they will have only three minutes and – take a deep breath – there will be no slides.

“It will be a challenge for researchers to get up there and explain their work to a ‘lay’ audience, but it is important that they do,” said Loscher, who is part of the organising team. “If researchers can talk about what they do in an accessible way, then more people will understand how it can translate into something really valuable for society.”

Researchers across the board

For ResearchFest, Loscher wants to see PhD researchers (men and women) across the board from science, technology, engineering, maths, humanities and social sciences pitching for a place.

“We would love to get a mix of research areas in there,” she said, pointing out that researchers from different backgrounds are increasingly working together on big challenges and need to be able to understand each other.

“When researchers from traditionally different disciplines work together, really amazing things can happen – but part of that is researchers being able to explain their work and understand others,” said Loscher, who directs the Health Technologies Research and Enterprise Hub at DCU.

She has seen that need to communicate across traditional boundaries firsthand in her own research in DCU’s School of Biotechnology, which explores how food affects our immune systems.

“We now know that food not only affects our weight and conditions like obesity and diabetes, we are starting to understand how specific food ingredients affect immune cells, and this can have an impact on our health from infancy right through to older age,” explained Loscher, who sits on the scientific advisory committee of Kerry Foods. “So we are looking at ways that food ingredients can modulate the immune system and keep a healthy balance across the lifespan.”

Party piece

ResearchFest is open to PhD-level researchers in Ireland, and to apply you simply make a three-minute video explaining your work – be as creative as you like. Eight researchers will go forward for communications training with SNP Communications and will present at Inspirefest Fringe on 30 June. There will also be prizes.

Loscher encourages researchers to get their thinking caps on and come up with interesting ways to get their messages across to a general audience: “Think about how you might answer that question at the party about what you do and what the point of it is. If you can do that, then you are on the right track.”

Send your three-minute video – or links to the video – to researchfest@siliconrepublic.com with ResearchFest in the subject line. Closing date for entries is 12pm (IST) on 24 May. Finalists will be announced on 7 June.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Book your tickets now.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication