by Fiona Malcomson
Politicians are not my usual audience and the House of Commons is not my usual auditorium. I normally present at scientific meetings, with PhD students, Post Docs and Professors as the audience and University halls as the venue. Despite having presented several times throughout my research career to date, I still get that adrenaline rush. Whether it’s a short 5 minute presentation stood by my poster, or a 30 minute oral presentation in a large hall! But this was a different kind of adrenaline rush…
STEM for Britain
The STEM for Britain event has been held annually since 1997 and aims to foster engagement between early-career researchers and MPs. Researchers from several categories, from Biological & Biomedical Sciences – the category I presented at – to Engineering and Maths, present a poster with the research they think will be most interesting and engaging for the politicians. It is also a competition, with winners selected from each category.
The Big Day
13 March 2019 started with a commute to Westminster, arriving to beautiful views of the river Thames and Big Ben. As you can imagine, a thorough security check awaited me upon my arrival at the House of Commons. The Attlee Suite was set up much like what you would expect from other scientific conferences and we were asked to stand by our posters during our allocated 3-hour time slot. During this time, politicians and other researchers would come and go, asking me to talk them through my poster and posing various questions. I also got the opportunity to invite my local MP, Chi Onwurah – it was fantastic to meet her and discuss the research I was conducting.
My Research Poster
I applied to present at the STEM for Britain event via The Nutrition Society and was selected as one of two Nutrition Society members. My poster described the findings from my research investigating the mechanisms underlying the effects of overweight and obesity on increased bowel cancer risk – a subject I thought was very topical, with the rise in overweight and obesity as well as in cancer incidence in the UK. But, enough about the science!…
What did I learn about presenting to politicians?
- Keep it simple! As scientists, we are used to presenting at conferences in our specialist, niche research areas. This time, our posters were very much targeted to a lay audience. Time to ditch the technical terms and lengthy figure captions explaining experiments!
- It’s still about selling the science – you have to make your findings as interesting and exciting as possible!
- Impact is important! Discussing the many hours spent in the lab running experiments has little impact. The audience want to hear about what your research means, how it can be translated into practice and make the world a better place!
- Time is of the essence! At scientific conferences, we often linger at each poster for a while holding a glass of wine. Politicians are busy people, so there was no time for that, especially as there were very important topics being discussed in Westminster that day. (I won’t say it, but it begins with the letter ‘B’!)
- Politicians are genuinely interested in science and early-career researchers! I had fantastic conversations including very interesting questions from MPs, many of which gave me food for thought.
Although I did not win the prize for my category, I was honoured to have been selected to present at the event. This is one of the most memorable days in my career as a scientific researcher to date!
About the author
Fiona Malcomson is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Newcastle University. Fiona is working on a WCRF-funded grant investigating relationships between lifestyle factors, such as nutrition and physical activity, and cancer risk and survival.