Editors Letter: Welcome New SciCommers!

Editor-in-Chief Sophie Prosolek welcomes new SciComm Soc members

Welcome, new members to the UEA SciComm Society!

As I’m sure many of you are aware, this is our first year as an official society and we’re so pleased that so many of you have signed up to be part of our community. The last two weeks have been pretty hectic, with sign-ups and event requests far outstripping our initial modest expectations!sciocomm soc freshers

For the first time, UEA SciComm Society held their own stall at Freshers Fayre. Prepared with our precious UEA Events sponsored rollerbanner (see left), we set up camp between the Rock & Alt Music Society and the Harry Potter society. We waited patiently but we didn’t have to wait long; soon all three of our stall volunteers we’re occupied by eager students, all wanting to know more about local scicomm. It was thoroughly invigorating, rewarding exhausting, and I’d almost completely lost my voice at the end of the day!

The following Monday we held our first social – again I had humble expectations but these were far outstripped. Approximately 30 new members from all walks of life descended on the Rose Tavern for one of James’ infamous quizzes! The event was amazing and so many laughs were had. I left feeling so excited for the future of our society and so proud of everything we’d achieved so far.

The success of the SciComm Society has been absolutely overwhelming over the last few months. Plenty of events are in the pipeline (such as a SciComm Writers’ Group and Intro to SciBlogging’ training) but we need feedback and interaction to make things happen. Whether you’re an old founding friend or a new member please do keep in touch, let us know what you think and hopefully we’ll see you soon 🙂

Special thanks to Sylvain, James and Tulaine for helping out at the Society’s Freshers Fayre stall, and thanks again to James for running the quiz and helping design our branded banner.

Author: Sophie Prosolek (@InfraRedRum

SciComm in Academia-Industry Collaborations: Get Involved Through Agri-Tech East!

In days gone by scientists who studied crops in the lab may never have set foot on a farm – and they didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. Thankfully things have changed a lot since those days, but if this rings bells for any researchers you know, then read on!

becky's tractor tride
Becky’s first tractor ride!

My name’s Becky and I work at Agri-Tech East, a networking organisation for scientists, farmers, technology developers, start-ups, Universities and agribusinesses. We help accelerate knowledge exchange and innovation in agriculture, using science communication to turn challenges into business opportunities.

Agriculture is such an exciting and wide-ranging industry; on a day-to-day basis I might be learning about artificial intelligence, drones and robotics, plant breeding, soil measurements, or even some alternative chemistry. I hear time and time again from our members that getting fresh perspectives on the science is invaluable to advancements in the agriculture sector– this is why I so pleased about the collaboration between Agri-Tech East and UEA.

Over the years UEA researchers have shared ideas with so many of our members, by taking part in many of our workshops, and having stands at conferences and shows. One of the highlights of the year for me is the Royal Norfolk Show, and over the past couple of years I have worked with UEA researchers to showcase their work to show-goers in the Innovation Tent (see our Youtube video here). This is always great fun; this year we helped UEA’s Dr Aldina Franco put her bird tracker on the Head of the show which attracted lots of media attention! Also at our upcoming cross-sector REAP Conference, Prof Gerrard Parr (Head of Computing at UEA) will be delivering an exciting keynote speech on how his work supports innovation in artificial intelligence, imaging, genomics, robotics and smart sensors for the agrifood industry.

aldina royal norfolk show
UEA at the Royal Norfolk Show 2018 – Dr Aldina Franco and Nation Farmers’ Union President Minette Batters

I urge any budding researchers to make the most of all these scicomm opportunities. Why not get out there now and start sharing what you do? Open yourself up to new ideas, contacts and maybe even future career possibilities. A good place to start is with Agri-Tech East and our Young Innovators’ Forum.

Learning about mass tomato production with JIC PhDs and young farmers; one of our Young Innovators’ Forum visits.

This series of events, sponsored by The Morley Agricultural Foundation, is built to allow early career stage scientists and farmers to learn a bit more about each other’s work and how we might help each other. Previous visits included trips to a mushroom farm, an anaerobic digester, and to the Earlham Institute (blog archive here). This has sparked on-going collaborations including farm visits, and even work feeding into people’s PhD research.

Agri-Tech East also offers a bursary for full time students to attend the REAP conference in November (more information about our bursary scheme can be found here), and because UEA is one of our members, it’s free for UEA students to attend many of our networking events throughout the year. Take a look at our website to see what interests you.

I would love to hear from anyone taking part in an Agri-Tech East event about how it has helped your research, made you new contacts or helped your career prospects. You can keep in touch by signing up to our monthly newsletter, and I look forward to seeing you at an event soon. You can also get in touch with the UEA Research and Innovation team on business@uea.ac.uk who would also be happy to discuss how you can make the most of UEA links with Agri-Tech East.

Thank you to Ruth Welters, UEA, for her contribution to this piece!

Author: Becky Dodds (@beckyagritech) Events Administrator for Agri-Tech East

New Therapies For Multiple Sclerosis Herald A Promising Future

At SciComm Soc, we love a good re-blog for extra exposure! This post was written by SciComm Society member Harbs Marway (@HarbsSM) and the original post can be found at www.harbansmarway.com


“In the past month, two new treatments for multiple sclerosis have hit the headlines. One STEM cell-based therapy is being touted as a ‘game changer’ in many reports and the other drug-based approach, published in The Lancet, looks very promising.

what is ms

The ‘game changer’ was announced at the annual meeting of the European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation by Dr Richard Burt.

It uses haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) to create immune cells without the memory of MS, meaning they shouldn’t attack the body’s CNS.

This is a risky approach and involves a few steps. Firstly, the patient goes through a course of chemotherapy to encourage the production of bone marrow and fresh stem cells and their subsequent circulation through the blood. The cells are then collected before the patient undergoes another extensive cocktail of chemotherapies to wipe out their established immune system.

The theory here is that older immune cells are sensitised to myelin and ‘teach’ the younger immune cells to attack the myelin sheath around the nerves. These older immune cells not only attack the myelin directly, but they release chemicals that damage the nerve cells themselves.

Once the old immune response has been removed, the young stem cells collected earlier in the process are introduced back into the body. This in effect is a reboot as the younger cells had not been taught to attack the myelin. The immune system essentially reverts to a time before MS. We don’t know whether the nerve tissue can recover yet, however at least further damage to the CNS is unlikely.

Each stage in this procedure carries inherent risk. Between one and two people per hundred who have undergone HSCT have died as a result. Chemotherapy can lead to fatigue and hair loss while stripping away the immune system leaves the patient at risk of infection. As such, they require isolation under specialist conditions.

HSCT is only suitable for those with the relapse-remitting form of the disease and disease modifying therapies need to have failed for this avenue to be pursued.

What about those with other forms of MS? A large clinical trial has found that a drug called siponimod reduced the rate of disability progression in secondary progressive MS.

In a study peer-reviewed and published in The Lancet, the rate of disease and disability progression has been shown to decrease compared with a placebo group. The study involved 1645 patients, with 1099 in the siponimod group and 546 in the placebo group. The trial took place in 292 hospital clinics and MS centres in 31 countries.

Siponimod works by trapping types of immune cells (B and T cells) in the body’s lymph nodes. This stops the immune cells from attacking and further damaging the myelin in the CNS.

The patient’s disability was measured every three months and confirmed if the level of disability remains for another three months.

The trial found that 32% of the placebo group experienced confirmed disability progression (CDB), whereas only 26% of the siponimod group did – this works out as a 21% relative risk reduction, which is certainly not insignificant.

The study was funded by Novartis, who are in plans to apply for a European licence for the treatment. If this proves successful, siponimod will be judged for cost effectiveness as an NHS treatment.

What does the future hold?

It is worth noting here that these treatments are targeted at different types of MS. The HSCT treatment is targeted towards relapse-remitting MS, whilst the siponimod drug approach is for secondary progressive MS.

One of the therapies has been published, the siponimod therapy having been peer-reviewed in The Lancet, whilst the HSCT has only been reported in the news and at a conference. It is due to be published in May this year so further details may be unveiled, but the exact methodologies and results are as yet unclear, though all reports sound extremely promising. What we do know is, for now at least, HSCT is expensive, costing around £30,000.

Both methodologies require development before we will see them as standard practice. For sufferers of MS, it is good to see what is being developed and that emphasis is being placed on the different forms of the disease.”

Further information:

MS Society
MS Trust


Author: Harbs Marway (@HarbsSM)
Original post can be found at https://www.harbansmarway.com/health/new-therapies-for-ms/

“Why did I do that for free?” How to start selling your scicomm skills

Science communication is an ever changing and varied field; new, exciting opportunities arise daily and it can be difficult to know which path to take. Whatever stage of your career, building your scicomm portfolio can be a challenge with the demand for volunteer experience often taking precedence over finding real paid work. Whilst volunteering is a great way of getting your name out there, it is easy to find yourself with lots of work to do and very little prospect of pay. However, there are things you can do in order to maximize your chances of finding paid work in science communication. Here’s my top three tips for maximizing your employability when its time to go pro:

  1. Find your niche and specialize – Being a jack-of-all-trades can be really useful in scicomm, up to a point. However as the saying goes “a Jack of all trades, is a Master of none”, and its being a master of your art that will get you employed in science communication. Hone your skills in one particular area, such as science writing, broadcast science or working with children. This will mean that when you get noticed, it will be within the specific area of expertise of in which you hope to find employment.
  2. Give yourself credit and let others credit you – You’d expect someone to credit your research so why wouldn’t you expect them to credit your scicomm? If you write an article, produce a video or create an outreach activity, make sure you’re given due credit for your work. Keep a list of all the good work your producing and make sure you add to your CV. As you gain more experience, some of the lesser achievements will fall off your list and will be replaced by examples of your best work which you should show-off with due confidence!
  3. Be proactive – Have you ever heard of the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat? Well, let me introduce you to the paradox of Schrödinger’s job vacancy; sometimes there’s no job until you look for one. Being proactive and handing out CVs or showcasing snippets of your work can really boost your chances of employment. Some employers really appreciate you reaching out to them and if you have a strong CV, many will keep your details on file for them that perfect position comes up.

These tips and tricks apply to a multitude of possible career paths, however they’re particularly pertinent within the science communication sector where many jobseekers are searching for a career change. Many people discover their love of scicomm following the study of an academic degree, meaning that they often have to demonstrate a completely self-taught skill set – which can be overwhelming and daunting. If you’ve decided that you’re ready to take the step from freebie to freelance, keeping these three things in mind will help you find the job of your dreams.

Author: Sophie Prosolek (@InfraRedRum

Editor’s Letter: Success for the SciComm Soc Blog

Editor-in-Chief Sophie Prosolek shares how the SciComm Soc blog is going from strength to strength

Hello UEA SciComm Society; this is the first time you’ve heard from me, the acting editor, here on the SciComm Soc blog. Firstly, I’d like to start by staying ‘thanks for visiting’, as our readership continues to steadily climb. Our initial call for posts was met with an unprecedented welcome, with articles offered from writers across the globe who each wanted to share their fond experiences of UEA.

Of course this initial success could not be possible without our contributors, so secondly I would like to say ‘thanks for writing’ to Jonny, Alice, Fred and Sam, who have each sent me brilliantly written articles sharing their experience of being a scientist. Their articles can be found on our main blog thread; do give them a read, they’re a really great inspiration.

My third and final thanks is to our members. Without our SciComm Society members ‘Project: blog’ would never have taken off. I hope that in the coming year we are able to offer some exciting events which celebrate our SciComm community, bringing us all together in mutual appreciation of what we’ve each achieved. If you’re not already a member of our society and would like to be, (for UEA staff/students/affiliates) please sign up for free via the UEASU website (https://www.uea.su/opportunities/society/15772/). To be part of our blog community, please click the ‘Follow‘ button in the bottom right hand corner.

As ever, I’m going to end with another call for contributors. Whether you’re interested in writing or editing, we want to hear from you. We want to hear from scientists and non-scientists alike; whatever your skills or ambitions we have something for you. If you’re interested in science journalism, we can offer advice and training in journalistic style: if you’re interested in editing I can certainly show you the ropes: if you’re interested in art or design, then come help us create some beautiful SciArt!

We are a wonderfully member-led society; we’re here to bring the opportunities opportunities to UEA that you want to see, so don’t hesitate to get in touch at UEASciComm@gmail.com or find us on Twitter @UEASciComm

I look forward to hearing from you 🙂

Author: Sophie Prosolek (@InfraRedRum)

Entering the world of science media: Sam Rowe discusses his work with Developing Experts

Hi everyone – it’s great to be featured on the UEA SciComm Soc blog this week! My name’s Sam and I recently finished my PhD in chemistry at the UEA. I worked under the supervision of Prof. Julea Butt and my project was all about developing new ways to harness solar energy for the production of valuable chemicals. For this blog post I thought I’d write a little bit about my PhD experiences and then talk about my job as a science writer & presenter at Developing Experts, a new science education company based in Norwich.

Overall, I loved my PhD. My project involved work in both the School of Chemistry and the School of Biological Sciences so it was really varied. I was also lucky enough to work in a busy, sociable lab environment so never felt too isolated. SamThe PhD was certainly stressful at times though and I found the write-up period particularly challenging as I was trying to balance thesis writing with finishing off lab experiments, supervising a visiting researcher and preparing a talk for a conference in France. I completed my thesis a few weeks before the final submission date, passed my viva a couple of months later and then re-submitted my corrected thesis in time for graduation in July this year. My advice to current PhD students would be to regularly take time away from the lab to pursue your own interests. It’s really easy to focus on getting results and ignore physical/mental wellbeing, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a break and asking for help if you need it!

I’m really passionate about public engagement work and have tried to develop my science communication skills as much as possible. During my PhD, I served as communications officer for the Norwich branch of the British Science Association and regularly volunteered with the Royal Society of Chemistry. I also had the opportunity to present my research in parliament as part of STEM for Britain 2017 (an event I would highly recommend applying for if you get the chance!). As the end of my PhD approached, I was still really open-minded (but also quite unsure) about what I wanted to do next. I considered a few different jobs in academia and science publishing but eventually decided that I wanted to work in science communication full-time. However, I found that there were very few permanent science communication roles in Norwich.

Fortunately, after applying for a few jobs my CV was passed to someone at Developing Experts. This was followed by an interview after which I was offered a position as a science writer & presenter within their curriculum team. The company produces online resources to help parents and teachers teach science – making everything from lesson plans and handouts to presentation slides and practical activities that accompany the lesson. My role focuses on making science videos – something I had always wanted to do during my PhD. The videos show lesson topics in a wider context and and different careers in science, so I’ve been able to talk about my PhD research and present other key concepts in chemistry and biology. Furthermore, I’ve had the chance to interview scientists in academia to showcase the great work being conducted on the Norwich Research Park. So far, I’m really enjoying my job because I’m constantly learning new things and feel that I’m becoming a better science communicator. I’m really excited for the next phase in the development of the company as they start work on different subjects and expand their public engagement activities. This year, we’ve got a stand in The Forum on every day of the Norwich Science Festival so hopefully I’ll get to see some of you there!Sam 2.JPG

To round off this blog post, I wanted to say that I’m really keen to work with scientists and science communicators at the UEA (and beyond!). I’m hoping to produce short videos (typically around 2-4 minutes in length) on topics in biology, chemistry, physics and maths that relate to research going on in academia or industry – some recent examples can be seen on the Developing Experts blog: https://www.developingexperts.com/blog.

So thanks for reading and please get in touch if you’re interested in producing some science videos 🙂

Twitter = @samfrowe

Email = samrowe@developingexperts.com       

Author: Sam Rowe, (Presenter, Developing Experts)

Federico Bernuzzi: My Personal Journey into Research

Hello, my name is Federico Bernuzzi and I’m a first year PhD student studying how a broccoli diet can beneficially impact metabolism. I’ve always been passionate about nutrition and keeping healthy; I’ve decided to share my personal story of how working in nutrition research went from being my dream to my everyday reality.

fred rugby for blogMy interest in science emerged from an early age. When I was a child I used to enjoy spending time outside in the garden digging and looking at the various insects. I still remember playing rugby on a wet and rainy day, and as the ball dropped from my hands I could not but stop noticing the worms emerging from the grass.

Transitioning from a child to teenager being involved in different sport activities: such as playing rugby for my local school and club along with several trips to the gym, an interest in nutrition emerged. I firmly believed that by eating a healthy diet I could fuel my body well, and that would then help me to get the best out of my performances. However, spending lots of hours reading on the topic (rather than focusing on my school homework!), I was left rather disappointed. Not only was the literature confusing, but no one seemed to really know what constituted a healthy diet.

As I approached my final year of school, I decided to apply to study for a degree in Biochemistry at the University of East Anglia (UEA) as I wanted to gain a better mechanistic understanding on how the human body works. During my degree I had the great opportunity to not only work at GSK in the field of microbial biotechnology; I also carried out several research placements both at UEA and the Institute of Food Research (IFR). During my free time I still kept up to date with the latest news on nutrition research. I was keen to pursue a career in research, however I decided to carry out a Master’s degree first in order to build my skills and confidence.

Choosing a Masters course was not easy. Although I already knew I wanted to work in nutrition, I decided to take a gamble and instead opted to study epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Leeds. This decision came about as I saw the importance of data analysis to generate and test novel hypothesis in scientific research. Besides, I was always left frustrated by not being able to understand the difference between t-tests and ANOVAs!.

fred chef blogAfter completing the masters, I worked briefly as “chef” at a local Church café in Leeds. I then moved back to Norwich to work as a technician for 9 months in the Mithen group prior to starting my doctoral degree in diet and metabolism in the same group at the Quadram Institute of Biosciences in October 2017.

My journey into research wasn’t linear, but after several detours and plenty of patience, I’ve finally manged to make my dream of working in the field of nutrition a reality. Now, I’m a PhD student investigating the effect of dietary compounds from broccoli, and how they influence metabolism in the liver. With the UK having seen a rise in metabolic syndrome, obesity and type II diabetes in recent years, I also feel like my research is contributing to the diet and health of the wider community, which I find very fulfilling.

So, there you have it, my journey into nutrition research; I hope you enjoyed my story and I hope my passion for nutrition and health has rubbed off on you. Next time you go to your local supermarket pick up your foods with curiosity, remember my journey into research and don’t forget to buy some healthy broccoli!

Author: Federico Bernuzzi (PhD student, The Traka Lab, QIB)