Elsevier’s Early Career Researcher UK Awards 2018

Catherine is a PhD researcher in the Centre for Research in Ageing and Cognitive Health (REACH) at the University of Exeter. Her PhD research examines how people with dementia use social media. In 2016, Catherine graduated from the University of Bath with a BSc (Hons) degree in psychology. She is a cyberpsychologist interested in online communities and health research. She is also interested in internet-mediated research ethics, digital methods, and body image. Catherine is also the Vice-Chair of PsyPAG, a national organisation for postgraduate psychologists.

On Thursday 4th October, I attended Elsevier’s Early Career Researcher UK Awards ceremony at the Royal Society. I attended this event because I had been shortlisted for Elsevier’s Researchers’ Choice Communication Award. Elsevier’s Early Career Researcher Awards recognise and reward outstanding early career researchers who make a significant contribution to their field of research. I felt extremely honoured and nervous to attend this event as I was the only PhD student who was shortlisted for the science communication award. My nerves soon subsided after I met everyone, who are all friendly, like-minded people with a passion for research. Attending the event gave me the opportunity to meet a number of early-career researchers, professors, and people working for Elsevier who were able to advise me on my career. Meeting these inspirational people reinvigorated my love of research and boosted my confidence to pursue a career in this field.

What is Science communication?

Science communication is a fantastic way of enhancing public awareness of science and provides us with the opportunity to engage with and consider different perspectives (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2017). Scientific findings should be available to all and by communicating the findings of our research, we can ensure our findings aren’t limited to a journal which is only accessible to fellow academics. There are many different ways of engaging in science communication such as using social media, engaging with journalists, giving public talks, and using the arts.

Why was I nominated?

I was shortlisted for the award because of my research which examined the culture of bonespiration – an online trend that encourages social media account holders to achieve extremely thin bodies (Open access paper available via https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-017-0170-2). Following a number of radio interviews and discussions with journalists, my research received international media attention. I also worked with Devon-based artist Phillippa Mills to produce an exhibition which was influenced by my research. This was a great way of relaunching my work. It was incredible to see my research translated into art where so many people could look at the issue I highlighted from a different perspective.

Dr Caroline Ardrey, Dr Joanne Jordan, and I were shortlisted for the award. Dr Caroline Ardrey is a a lecturer in Modern Languages at the University of Birmingham. Caroline is currently in the process of putting together a new project which uses Social Network Analysis techniques from statistics and the social sciences to analyse the creative networks of Paris in the 1860s and 1870s. Through a range of events, including the launch of an augmented reality smartphone app which simulates engagement with archival materials, and a series of hackathons for school pupils, this project seeks to make research findings accessible to a wider audience.

The winner of the Researchers’ Choice Communication award was Dr Joanne Jordan. Dr Joanne Jordan’s project ‘The Lived Experience of Climate Change’ is based on research looking at urban climate resilience and how land tenure affects adaptation to climate change in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The project engaged residents of an informal settlement in the research findings, and built awareness and action on their everyday accounts of living with climate change through an interactive theatre performance. Subsequent theatre performances, documentary films, educational programmes, and public events were then used to engage a much wider set of international and national audiences. Joanne has brought her work to over 235,000 people including study participants, policy makers, practitioners, academics, students and the public.

Attending this event was a fantastic opportunity and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I would like to extend my congratulations to Caroline and Joanne. Even though I didn’t win the award I am extremely grateful to have been shortlisted. I hope this blog post will encourage postgraduates to not shy away from science communication!

References: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Communicating science effectively: a research agenda. National Academies Press.

Written By: Catherine Talbot, PhD Researcher in College of Medicine and Health. You can find out more about Catherine and her Research by following her on twitter @Catherinetalb

The Joy of Posters! Designing a poster that your audience will want to read

Caroline Nye is a social science researcher at the University of Exeter, having completed her PhD in rural sociology at the Centre for Rural Policy Research. She holds an MA (hons) in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh, a diploma in International Development from London School of Economics (with a focus on environment) and has several years’ experience working on organic farms and in environmental education. She has also spent several years working further afield on international development projects and in industry in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Caroline’s research expertise focuses on agricultural labour in the UK, examining the changes and challenges associated with farm labour in the transition to sustainable intensification. She is also currently working on a research project examining farmer motivations to participate in conservation-focused farmer clusters, as well as working on a project for Defra.

Academic poster presentations are an important method of sharing your research. But in an age where multiple stimuli are constantly competing for our attention, our brain usually decides within seconds if it wants to continue focussing on any one thing before shifting its attention elsewhere. Attracting a captive audience is, therefore, a challenge. Below are ten things to consider in designing a poster that will catch the reader’s eye. If somebody walks away having retained any information about your research, then your poster has had, yes it’s that magic word, IMPACT!

  1. Look upon it as an exciting opportunity. Here is a chance for you to exercise your creativity in a way you may not be able to during other phases of your academic career. Embrace your inner artist, leap outside of the box and brandish your metaphorical paintbrush with pride. Designing a poster should be a fun project which gets your research out there visually and assists you in defining the key points of your project.
  2. Know your audience. If designing a poster for a mixed audience, start by assuming that your audience knows nothing about either your subject or your discipline. Make it easy to understand and use language that won’t have your reader yawning three lines in. If your poster is for a specific event, a sheet stuffed full of technical jargon can still be overkill, so mix it up to ensure your reader is informed whilst being entertained at the same time.
  3. Before you even begin to add any text, play around with some images that might link your research to the rest of the world. Decide whether you want a backdrop image, images dropped between the text, or a combination. Make sure any pictures you use are relevant, interesting and fun. If a picture can tell your reader what your work is about as soon as they walk into a room, then you’re already winning.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Many students follow a set format which can often make posters look similar and difficult to remember. Innovative examples of poster design include the use of texture, colour or 3D materials (glasses included). One extraordinary design was completed entirely by hand. Be inspired and you will inspire others.
  5. What information do you want your reader to take away with them. What is NEW about your work and what message do you want to get across to your audience? This is your story. You can choose how you tell it.
  6. You cannot fit your entire thesis on to an A3 sheet. The ability to be concise is key here. Identify the principal goals of the thesis, your methods in brief, KEY findings and MAIN conclusions. This will ensure that your poster retains much needed space for visual aesthetics, making reading it a less daunting task for the innocent passer-by.
  7. Font is key! Don’t assume your reader has 20/20 vision. Try not to make the text any smaller than 24pt, and intersperse this with bigger titles and sub titles. It is fun to play around with font styles but many can be hard on the eye for a poster so plain styles can work better alongside good, strong images.
  8. Check sizing and margins before you print. These is nothing more frustrating than adding the final flourish to your masterpiece and then sending it to the printers and unrolling a mess. Text that pushes right up to the edges and poor quality images might reveal unpleasant surprises on print day.
  9. Print it before presentation day. Leaving the printing until the last minute is a common mistake for any student, be it your poster or your actual thesis! Try to print it at least a day early in case you see any glaring mistakes.
  10. Show up! Accompanying your poster with a smile and some enthusiasm will cast a happy, colourful light over your work as you both hang out there proudly. It is an opportunity to show passion for, and knowledge about, your subject on a friendly one-to-one basis. So enjoy!

Written by: Caroline Nye

Twitter: @curlystem

If you wish to enter PGR showcase full details can be found on the PGR showcase webpage. Deadline to apply is: Sunday 22nd May.

3 Minute Thesis- What made me enter!

Elisabeth is a final year PhD student studying astrophysics. In her research she aims to detect planets orbiting other stars, and understand how these interact with debris dust – similar to the Asteroid and Kuiper belts in our own solar system. When not worrying about writing a thesis, she enjoys running and playing the flute.




I’m in the unusual position of having given three minute pitches of my PhD four times: twice with the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition, and twice through a similar Three Minute Wonder competition run by the Institute of Physics. I was lucky enough to compete in the Three Minute Wonder final, where we spoke at the Royal Institute in London. Having grown up watching the RI Christmas Lectures I was pretty star-struck by that experience – and it’s not every day that you get to speak on the same stage where Faraday and Dirac have delivered lectures.

I would definitely recommend this competition to anyone, since it’s a really unique and exciting way to be able to share your research. For me there have been several clear benefits.

Firstly, it’s opened doors: I’m passionate about science communication, and I’ve been offered science communication opportunities as a direct result of these competitions. In September the IoP invited me to spend a week touring the South West and visiting schools to deliver science talks: I delivered 16 talks, to over 1000 kids, and had a brilliant time in the process. I was also invited to give an academic seminar at Bristol by someone who had seen my 3 minute piece, which is of course useful for forging academic connections.

Secondly, it’s a huge confidence builder. The competition feels like a very high pressure form of presentation because of the precise time limit (and the huge clock!). The first time I performed a pitch, I literally froze in on stage and my brain went blank. That was pretty horrible experience – but by repeatedly going through the process I’ve become much more comfortable presenting my science, which has been hugely beneficial at conferences and when giving seminars. If I had to freeze somewhere, I’d much rather it be at a relatively low-stakes competition like Three Minute Wonder than at a conference where there might be potential employers in the room!

I love my research, and I love talking about all things exoplanets – and events like this have given me more understanding of what the public do and don’t know about my field, and how I can simultaneously make my subject accessible and avoid dumbing it down. I really value that this means I can speak about my work in a more casual setting, and that my friends and family can start to understand what I do with my time. I am also excited by research more generally, and watching the other competitors – and talking to them afterwards – was a fascinating overview of some of the diverse research happening across the university – from microchips to autism.

Finally, I recently had a postdoc interview where the opening question was “So how about you just give me a two minute summary of your research so far?”. Interviews terrify me, and this one was at a very highly ranked university so I was definitely feeling the pressure – but I think managed to get garble a decent two minutes out, and I’m sure that my Three Minute Thesis and Three Minute Wonder experiences helped me to do so. And you know what? I got the job.

Written by: Elisabeth Matthews

Images of Research: Tea Ceremony

In 2016, I was a Category Winner in the Images of Research competition with the photograph entitled “Tea Ceremony”, which came under the category heading, ‘Society and Culture’. My second entry, “A Life Left Near Behind”, was also featured in the public exhibitions, in the Sustainable Futures category.

Tea Ceremony- Anastasia Sommerville-Wong

“Tea Ceremony”, is an example of the ‘tangification’ of under-represented and often intangible heritages, such as the blended inheritances, experiences and identities of mixed race children. As a researcher (at the time in intellectual property law), writer and photographer, I combined these skills to create an image which would capture the power of visibility, dissemination and copyright when it comes to protecting cultures and peoples who are frequently under-represented or misrepresented in the mainstream media. I am pursuing an academic career in creative writing but my background is in history, and I remain deeply committed to rediscovering and promoting the understanding of lost and under-represented histories, through creative exhibitions and publications which can help to debunk myths, undermine stereotypes and open our minds.

I am therefore passionate about the imaginative creation and curation of digital cultural and heritage content for educational purposes. While editing my first novel, I am exploring in particular, how literary fiction may be engaged with in new ways, using the latest in digital technologies and design. I am also interested in how it can simultaneously entertain, enlighten and inspire us towards healthier and more sustainable cultures and environments. I am fascinated by the ways in which our received cultural heritage, including that which is conveyed in literary fiction, journalism and other forms of creative writing, gives us our sense of identity and purpose, resulting in our differing beliefs and visions of what constitutes ‘the good life’ or ‘the good society’.

A Life Left Near Behind- Anastasia Sommerville-Wong

Both images were originally taken for my research-inspired arts initiative, which aimed, through collaboration between researchers, independent artists and the creative industries, to communicate research data, discoveries, questions and insights in new and exciting ways that will have more impact on policy-makers and the wider public than traditional publications. “A Life Left Near Behind” is a photograph of an installation I created with a poem I originally wrote for my Poetry of Places project. The project explores the ways in which we interpret and are formed and transformed by the natural environments we experience. The project uses fusion art-forms to convey the value to be found in earth’s natural environments, particularly the value of these environments for our health and well-being, and frames this thinking from a human rights perspective.

During my three years at the University of Exeter, public engagement and impact were at the heart of my work. I was an Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter (2014 – 2017) in the School of Law, working on the Europeana Space Project. This was a high profile, international and multi-stakeholder project funded by the European Commission. I worked in close collaboration with 29+ partners in the creative industries, culture sector and across disciplines in higher education, as well as with independent artists and cultural entrepreneurs. We sought to facilitate the creative reuse of digital cultural content for educational and commercial purposes, job creation and economy boosting across Europe. I was also academic host to an artist in residence for the ACE funded Exeter Enquiries project, and I ran my own Culture-Makers Project in collaboration with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, which was funded by a Researcher-led Initiative Award and a School of Social Sciences and International Studies Strategic Discretionary Award.

I am now a researcher at the University of Plymouth, working on the AHRC funded project ‘Imagining Alternatives: Utopia, Community and the Novel 1880-2015’. Impact and public engagement are once again central to my role, as I am responsible for creating and editing content for the project’s webpages, and for organising the workshops, public lectures and initial ‘Feasts for the Future’, in collaboration with our partners at Regen SW, a not-for-profit social enterprise which helps local communities develop ambitious renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

We tend to look at our communities in the light of the past and all the environmental challenges we face because of it. At the heart of the ‘Feasts for the Future’ project, is the idea that if we look at ourselves from the perspective of possible future communities instead, we will take more positive action in the present. By sharing a meal and telling stories about the ground-breaking renewable energy and energy efficiency projects taking place successfully in our region and around the world, we can develop a realistic and cooperative vision of what our communities could be like in the future. This vision may be more effective than the ever-present threat of destruction and disaster in motivating communities to take on ambitious projects that will transform the way we live. Our project web pages will be live soon, and links to these and further information about my research can be found on my blog at www.somervillewong.wordpress.com.

The Images of Research competition highlights the importance of using different forms of media to capture the interest of those outside your field; across disciplines, across borders, and across industries. Humans are creatures of five senses, and the reality is, no one will want to know about your research, let alone engage with the detail, if the exciting ideas and the potential of it are hidden behind a smokescreen of semantic quibbling and jargon. Academics are increasingly expected to enter into knowledge exchange with other professionals and to reach a wider audience with their research findings, in addition to fulfilling the requirements of traditional academic publications. I believe that if we maintain our accuracy and our integrity, this change can only be a good thing.

Written by: Anastasia Sommerville-Wong

If you are an ECR who wishes to submit an entry to this year’s Images of Research, the deadline is: Sunday 6 May- 23:59 (GMT). Full details about the competition can be found here: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/early-career-researchers/imagesofresearch/ 

Why enter PGR showcase?

I completed my Biological Sciences degree here at Exeter, before continuing on into an MbyRes. I undertook a joint project between Dr Helen Dawe and Dr Isabelle Jourdain here in Biosciences, which has now progressed into a PhD funded by the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship. My project focuses on ciliopathies, a class of severe diseases caused when your cells signalling antennae – called “cilia” – do not form or function correctly. A ciliopathy patient with a mutation in a mystery protein was discovered back in 2012, and it is my mission to figure out how this mystery protein helps to build cilia!

I think I heard about the PGR Showcase from an email newsletter that circulated around the department. My first thought was that the event was probably only aimed at PhD students. After all, I was only a few months into my MbyRes, and figured that I didn’t really have enough data to present. However when I spoke to my supervisors about it, they told me that I could definitely produce a poster from what I had so far, and that it would be a useful exercise in learning how to present my research. So I decided to go for it!

My poster ended up being about 50% explaining the field, and 50% my own results, so I needn’t have worried about not having enough data. The best advice I received from my supervisor was to take out as much subject-specific jargon as I could, keep it simple, and to make the poster as visual as possible. After all, the showcase is a University-wide event, so I needed to convey (in my case) Biological Sciences research in a way that someone who studies English Literature could understand.

I considered the day a useful learning experience, and just assumed that Best Poster would be awarded to a PhD student. So I was very surprised and grateful when I won best STEMM poster, along with a £250 voucher! I think it’s great that the competition is judged not on the amount of results you have, but on your ability to present your research to an audience who are not familiar with your field (or even your discipline!).

As well as presenting your poster, getting to walk around and have a look at all the other entries was a great opportunity to learn about some of the other PG research that is going on across the University. The competition was also good practice – when I had the opportunity to present my results at a national conference later on that year, I not only already had experience making a poster and organising my results into a story, but also more confidence when explaining my research to people I had just met. I’d really recommend applying, even if you’re a Masters student – you’ll get a lot out of the day, and a shot at a great prize!

Written by: Lauren Adams (1st Year- Biosciencse PhD Student)

Twitter: @L_Adams08
LinkedIn: laurenadams08
Email: lauren.adams@exeter.ac.uk

Soapbox Science: a celebration and cheer for female scientists, and one of the best experiences I had during my PhD

Isabel is a PhD student in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group as part of the Alzheimer’s Society Exeter Doctoral Centre. Her PhD focuses on evaluating genomic consequences of Alzheimer’s Disease pathology.



It all started with an application…

I was introduced to Soapbox Science in 2016, a few months after I moved to the United Kingdom to join the University of Exeter as a PhD student. When I first heard about it, I was very happy to find there was such an initiative in place, immediately feeling very enthusiastic about participating in it. Although I was not very confident I would be selected, and was afraid it would be too early in my career to do it properly, I still decided to turn my enthusiasm into an application to be a speaker anyway. To my surprise, my application was successful. I could not put into words my excitement when I read the email telling me I was selected to be a speaker at Soapbox Science Exeter, and little did I know then that it would turn out to be one of the best and most fun experiences I had so far as a PhD student – from the preparation, training, interviews, networking, inspiration from other female scientists, to actually standing in the soapbox per se. From that moment on, Soapbox Science won a very special place in my heart. Even after my involvement as a speaker came to an end, I remained accompanying Soapbox Science closely, always wishing to return and continue being involved. Two years later, Dr Safi Darden and Dr Ana Neves challenged me to join them as organizer of Soapbox Science Exeter and my answer could not have been other than “yes”. The three of us are looking forward to receiving enthusiastic applications for Soapbox Science Exeter 2018 from inspiring female scientists, which can be submitted here.

Exeter Soapbox Science organising team. From left to right: Dr Ana Neves, Dr Safi Darden, and Isabel Castanho.

About Soapbox Science…

Soapbox Science was co-founded by Dr Nathalie Petorelli and Dr Seirian Sumner to increase the visibility of women in science and challenge gender stereotypes about the ‘typical’ scientist. The first Soapbox Science event was held in London in 2011, reaching Exeter for the first time in 2015.

Even today, the public perception of ‘a scientist’ is still that of the male researcher, so initiatives such as Soapbox Science are irrefutably vital to change misconceptions and highlight that women can be (successful) scientists as well. Moreover, science, as many other areas, is still male-dominated, particularly in higher positions. An example of this is that less than 10% of all professors in the UK are women. And the problem does not seem to be related with attracting more girls to science. Although some fields are more unbalanced than others (Maths, Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering, as a few examples of scientific areas with a higher percentage of males compared to females), the major problem seems to be related to career progression, particularly when it involves balancing a successful career with building a family, which can become quite challenging and often impossible for some women. By having an all-female group of speakers, Soapbox Science events aim to raise these issues and promote and encourage female scientists and the science they do. Needless to say male colleagues are more than welcome to join as collaborators and volunteers.

Join us!

Soapbox Science is open to any enthusiastic female scientist, from PhD students to Professors, from academics to industry researchers. Come bring your work to the streets and help us inspire and encourage the next generation of scientists.

Soapbox Science Exeter: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/research/events/soapbox/
Soapbox Science Exeter on Twitter: #ExeterSoapbox
Soapbox Science website: http://soapboxscience.org/
Soapbox Science Twitter: @SoapboxScience

Written by: Isabel Castanho- PhD student in the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group as part of the Alzheimer’s Society Exeter Doctoral Centre




Institute of Health Research Early Career Researcher Network Event

The Early Career Researcher Event was held on a warm sunny day on St Luke’s Campus. A sense of anticipation was in the air, as the attendees caught sight of the burgeoning tables, overflowing with offerings for the cake competition later that day.

Cake 1 Cake 2Cake 3

A few of the entrees to the competition

All Early Career Researchers on bands E and F were invited to attend, along with people who had recently been promoted to G grade. We were especially eager to make the event open to research facing professional service staff and people based in Cornwall and Plymouth University.

Our Speakers:

Jane Slaven, an Advisor from the HR department started off the day by talking to us about the structures that are in place within the University to support us during our career progression. She highlighted the importance of working alongside our line managers to ensure we could identify and meet the targets required for progression. She also signposted us to the University webpages where we might find a range of useful resources to help us manage our physical and psycho-social wellbeing: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/wellbeing/

Our second speaker was Professor Michelle Ryan, Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology/ Dean of Postgraduate Research and Director of the University of Exeter Doctoral College. She discussed the role and structure of the Doctoral College and emphasised the importance of Early Career Researchers in providing feedback to her regarding particular issues which affect us. This will help the developing Doctoral College listen to the voices of Early Career Researchers and ensure that the support they provide is representative of our needs.

The Vice-Dean of Research, Professor Angela Shore then talked about how our roles as ECRs are funded; primarily through individual research grants and teaching opportunities. The importance of gaining lecturing experience was discussed in an interactive session, with audience members contributing various other ideas, such as contributing towards funding bids, which could aid in our career progression. Attendees found this session highly useful and it highlighted the need for the peer-network to also consider how individuals without a PhD could also progress with their careers.

Professor Nicky Britten (Professor of Applied Health Care Research) built on the theme of being proactive. Talks focused on the need for ECRs to flag any concerns about the way we are managed with our Heads of Research. This led to a discussion later on that afternoon about the need for a suitable feedback system so that ECRs knew what actions had been taken after they had raised concerns. Nicky also outlined how ECRs contribute towards the IHR.

Afternoon Discussion:

The afternoon discussion provided the opportunity for ECRs to discuss what they would like the future of the peer-network to look like. Whilst we agreed that it was useful to have a space to come and share concerns, it was suggested that it would be constructive to also have a positive focus during meetings. Various ideas which were put forward included:

  • Having the opportunity to talk about the work that we are all involved in.
  • Inviting external speakers to occasionally attend part of a session and deliver talks on agreed topics for the development of ECR peer network members.
  • Structuring sessions around particular topics e.g. C.V. construction.

Inspired by the talk from Michelle, there was a high degree of interest in using a peer-network meeting to identify key issues of importance for ECRs at Exeter University to feedback to the Doctoral College. A preliminary date for this has been set for 5th July, during the next face-to-face Early Career Researcher Meeting in South Cloisters.

Our attendees from Plymouth indicated that they would like to be involved with the Exeter Peer Network via video-conferencing. This is a very exciting expansion of our peer-network and we look forward to getting to know each other more in the future.

When asked about what they had found most useful from the event, attendees said:

  • “All speakers provided very useful information”
  • “Loved the cake competition!”
  • “Finding out that whatever level, people have similar concerns”
  • “Understanding overall what the perspective of the university is around ECR’s”
  • “Talking to other ECRs!”

Winning Cake

Winning entry to the cake competition: Jo Varley-Campbell (Research Fellow: University of Exeter Medical School PenTAG Systematic Reviewer) with her beautiful white chocolate and raspberry creation.

Overall, the event was a welcome opportunity to meet colleagues at a similar stage in their careers and share experiences over cake. We look forward to doing the same again next year.

Written by : Dr Liz Shaw -Research Associate: University of Exeter Medical School HS&DR Systematic Reviewer

Liz Shaw

The Researcher Led Initiative awards are intended to enable postgraduate research students and early career research staff to be creative, proactive, and empowered, through the process of initiating, designing, managing, and delivering new professional development activities for their peers that will develop the skills and experience needed to progress their careers. The awards support short-term, well-defined initiatives that develop and deliver transferable skills training experiences and/or resources to the applicants’ peers across the University.

Are you preparing your poster for the upcoming Postgraduate Research Showcase?

Are you preparing your poster for the upcoming Postgraduate Research Showcase? Kirsten Thompson, one of last year’s prize winner’s, offers her thoughts and tips for designing a poster.

Making a good poster, a really good poster, is not as easy as you might think and is an incredibly good skill to acquire. Think about attending large conferences with 4,000 delegates and hundreds and hundreds of posters. Do you want to spend the time reading the text of every one? Which ones catch your eye? Make you want to stop? Which ones do you walk away from feeling inspired and actually understanding the new discovery?

I found designing my poster for the University of Exeter Postgraduate Research Showcase 2016 a task which forced me to really focus the key findings of my research. I had to distil several years of research into a very small word count. I work on a deep diving oceanic Southern Hemisphere whale which we only very rarely see alive – Gray’s beaked whale. Almost all we know about this species is what we have inferred from genetic analyses. My poster attempted to tell the story of how this research has evolved and how the methods we have used have developed our understanding of the biology of such an enigmatic species.

Secrets of the Dead
Kirsten Thompson’s Winning Poster- Secrets of the Dead: Examining genetic kinship in Gray’s beaked whales

I was absolutely delighted to be the Winner of the STEM category! I am a part-time student also working part-time as well as being a mother to three teenage children. It was incredibly encouraging to have won this award, not only to be the recipient of the Amazon voucher, but also to be given recognition for the time, care and thought spent.

PGR Showcase Display in the Forum

I learned a huge amount and here are the key things that really stand out for me both when I was designing my poster and when I have spent hours floating through aisles of poster boards looking for one that will change my life (or research).

  1. You have less than one minute to capture your reader’s attention. Whose attention are you trying to capture – who is your audience? Make sure that the poster is inviting and the lettering is big enough. An abstract of 200 words is a useful test to make you focus the key findings of your work. Make sure that this abstract is easy to find. If you want the reader to take away key messages, draw the eye to them with bold. At least one good figure that tells your story will be appreciated.
  2. Less is more. Don’t make the poster too busy, it will take too much time to read and make the reader work too hard for the prize.
  3. Enjoy the process. You will learn a lot and if you love your research, let this joy flood out onto the page with some creative flair!
  4. Ask for advice from your co-authors. They also know your research and will probably have presented many posters in their time. The final decisions are yours, but if co-authors are willing to give advice you may learn something.

The University of Exeter Postgraduate Showcase is a valuable opportunity to trial your skills in presenting your research to a cross-disciplinary audience. You don’t have to win a prize to learn something and if you enter every year throughout your degree you will certainly hone your skills. It also gives you an opportunity to talk to people who know nothing about your work. Acquiring this skill will be critical as you present to much larger audiences and develop your career, whether in academia or not.

Written by: Kirsten Thompson- College of Life Environmental Sciences

This year’s showcase will take place all day 15th-17th May in the Forum Street, with prize ceremony on Wednesday 17th May starting at 14:00. For further information about the Postgraduate Research Showcase and to view previous winning posters visit the website here.

Why should I enter Three Minute Thesis?

An 80,000 word thesis would take 9 hours to present

Your time limit…3 minutes

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is an academic research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland (UQ), Australia. Run in the UK by Vitae, 3MT® challenges doctoral candidates to present a compelling spoken presentation on their research topic and its significance in just three minutes.

We held our first 3MT® competition last year, with our winner Simon Dickinson going on to represent Exeter in the National Semi-final. Here’s why Simon thinks you should enter 3MT®:

I found the 3MT® competition an incredibly valuable experience – not only in further developing my public speaking skills, but in giving me space to think about actually what I’m trying to achieve. It’s always difficult during the PhD period to take the time to return to articulating your core intentions, but in designing my 3MT presentation I was given space to do this in a way that also developed my communication and engagement skills….Most of all, however, it’s good fun – and if you treat it as such then I think your presentation (and research) comes across in a much more powerful way!

You can watch Simon’s fantastic 3MT® here for inspiration!

We are holding an internal 3MT® competition to determine who will represent the University of Exeter in the 2017 National Semi-Finals. Heats will take place throughout May 2017, culminating with a University Wide Final on 30th May 2017. A total of £600 Amazon Vouchers will be awarded as prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. To enter, simply submit your online application form by Friday 7th April at 5pm!

Anarchy in the academy: why create an academic poster?

Academia is an institution predicated on convention. The choreography of our words, actions and – dare I say it – ‘outputs’ is implicitly shaped by the historical establishment. As well, of course, as by contemporary agendas: the need to publish; to be measurable; impactful; REFable. Typically, we operate in sentences and paragraphs, charts and graphs, chapters or papers. Images are often secondary, whilst for some they are a seemingly unaffordable luxury.

The academic poster is a form of knowledge communication which explodes the boundary walls of academic convention, opening up a space for alternative forms of expression. Prose is often ousted, or at least demoted, as shapes and forms, space and image shoulder the semiotic load.

The academic poster is an act of liberation – perhaps even peaceful protest. Not only for the researcher, but for his or her research. In our thesis we all tell the story of our research, except it’s not the story; it is merely a story: the tale we choose to tell as we navigate our way along the doctoral path: through supervision meetings, conferences convening colleagues, and chapter revisions, towards the Mecca to which all PhD students are directed: the successful viva. Subverting the linear constraints of the thesis, the academic poster provides a stage upon which an alternative research narrative may unfold.

It is for the reasons above that I was drawn, some months prior to the submission deadline, to start planning an academic poster for last year’s postgraduate research showcase. I understand the constraints within which we as scholars must operate, and I know how to do so. Yet I am of an academic generation that is hungry for change, for opportunities to express, communicate and engage in the research process in new and innovative ways, a generation that has not been in the game for long enough to believe that change is not possible.  The postgraduate researcher showcase provided me with a platform upon which to enact my frustration with the academy simultaneously with my belief in the power and value of alternative mediums of academic expression.

What is more, I don’t know about you, but I have to do a lot of reading and writing as a PhD student. Creating a poster gave me a break from obsessing over paragraph, chapter and thesis structure, as I was forced to think about colour and composition. It also made me feel good knowing that I was creating something that others would be able to engage with without having to burrow into line-crossing, multi-clausal sentences.

Creating an academic poster enabled me to see my research differently. Simple as. It also forced me to think about how to make my research interesting to an audience that isn’t composed of geeky linguists like myself. It required me to take off my academic blinkers and think about my research from a real world perspective. I have benefited from the activity, as has my research. I can’t really comment on the effects it might have had on others, although it did win the prize for most innovative poster, so I must have done something right. Which is interesting in itself, because what I did was cover my poster with actual swatches of wool. And the judges voted for it. Which goes some way to proving the point above: that there is power and value in alternative forms of academic communication.

So my advice would be to do two things: become proficient at operating within the rules, but also know how not to. Disrupt the norms, push the boundaries and challenge conventions, because that, dear colleagues, is what academia is really all about.

Sarah Foxen- College of Humanities

You can view Sarah’s and other winners posters here.