Fellows give small talks on the big picture of research
By Ian Thomas
A large crowd of NIEHS staff gathered Jan. 20 in Rodbell Auditorium for the Fellows Communication Challenge, an hour-long session consisting of three-minute presentations by research trainees from across the institute. It was all part of the Big Picture, Small Talk seminar series, a grass-roots program within NIEHS to help scientists hone their skills in speaking to general audiences and giving nonscientific staff a clearer grasp of the research their work supports.
In all, fifteen fellows participated, and three, selected by a panel of judges, took home top honors and $1,000 travel awards.
“This challenge was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and it definitely took some unique preparation,” said Bart Phillips, Ph.D., a postdoc with the NIEHS Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory and one of the competition’s winners. “Condensing years of theory and data into a few simple sentences without completely watering down the work was not easy. Just ask my wife. She’s the one who had to listen to me practice.”
Other challenge winners included Natalie Saini, Ph.D., of the Genomic Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory, and Lauren Wilson, Ph.D., of the Epidemiology Branch.
A lightning round of learning
Among the topics covered during the challenge were the use of stem cells in tissue regeneration, the environment’s role in infant disease, and the impact of tobacco smoking on DNA. (See slideshow below for details on each talk.)
“Making complicated things meaningful in a short, easy-to-understand way is a hard thing to do, yet every presenter we had here today excelled at it,” said Claire Long, one of five judges. “That made our jobs as evaluators every bit as difficult.”
The Big Picture, Small Talk series continues on Feb. 18 with a discussion on endocrine disruptors, led by Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., NIEHS health scientist administrator. Other Big Picture, Small Talk events in 2016 include the following.
April 13 — Staff Toxicologist Mike Wyde, Ph.D., discussing the National Toxicology Program (NTP) studies on cell phone safety.
March 10 — Allen Dearry, Ph.D., director of the Office of Scientific Information Management, outlining big data challenges.
May 19 — NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., topic TBA.
July 22 — Students from the National Institutes of Health Summer Internship Program at NIEHS reporting on their research projects and findings.
(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)
Phillips, left, spoke on the role of stem cells in reproductive health research, and Saini, middle, discussed her research on cancer cells. Wilson, right, outlined her study of genetics and the environment as they pertain to breast cancer.
(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Fellows Communication Challenge Judges
Peggy Mooring — Administrative and Research Services Branch
Claire Long — Administrative Services and Analysis Branch
Debbie Wilson — Administrative and Research Services Branch
Mary Jacobson — Office of the Director
Ginger Guidry, Ph.D. — Office of Communications and Public Liaison
Long said she liked that the organizers asked the presenters to touch on both the nature of their work and what’s important about it in the big picture of human health.
(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)