sarahkeenihan

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

From shadow, into the sun

In March 2017 on March 6, 2017 at 5:30 pm
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Photo thanks to thomasrousing/flickr

Anna: As a researcher, one could complain about a number of things. Grant season in is full flight and there are more and more applications for less and less funding, fake news and hyperbole seems to rule over facts and figures and …did I mention lack of job security?!

As a researcher and woman, one could feel even more pessimistic about the future. As far as dollars go,  NHMRC 2016 funding outcomes highlight the divide between women and men*, there are reduced travel and networking opportunities if you have family commitments and then there is the all-pervasive unconscious bias knocking you back, without you or your colleagues even noticing.

Hidden Figures”, nominated for Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards and based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, reveals the challenges that faced 3 mathematicians working for NASA in the 1950’s and 60’s. They were women and they were African American. The bias wasn’t unconscious or hidden or casual. At this time – in the state of Virginia, and thus NASA’s Langley headquarters –  segregation laws were enforced. The bias was out there in the open, all day, every day. These women had constant social and professional roadblocks just because of the colour of their skin (and gender).

When I saw the film, I immediately thought of someone else who worked away in the shadows and described as “The Dark Lady of DNA” – Rosalind Franklin. She too was a researcher. She too was a woman. She too was a minority (Jewish in an anti-Semitic Britain in the early 1900’s). She too was an inspirational ‘hidden figure’. Here, in discovery of the structure of DNA (for which Watson and Crick won a noble prize).

So as I finalise my 2017 fellowship application in between breastfeeds and childcare pick-ups, I hope I, and many other (probably more deserved) women can step out of the shadows, get funded, do inspirational research and continue to break down the roadblocks.

*Across all funding schemes, applications with a male CIA received almost double the budget as applications with a female CIA 

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When the audience doesn’t sit still

In February 2017 on February 23, 2017 at 7:19 pm
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Image thanks to military health/flickr via Creative Commons 

Have you ever tried to communicate science to an aggressive 23-year old man who just wants to go home and pretend it’s all not happening?

What about to a 35 year old mother of a baby and a toddler, all three of whom can’t stop crying?

Or a 16 year old exchange student, who is incredibly shy and speaks English as a second language?

Perhaps yelling through a door, to a confused, possibly drugged teenager who is shut in a room to protect the wellbeing of others in her vicinity?

Every night the hospital emergency rooms across Australia fill to the brim with worried, angry, over-stretched, poorly-slept parents and their children.

The children may be vomiting, bleeding, hurting, unconscious or even dying.

The nurses and doctors triage the children according to their needs and the resources currently available.

In just minutes, the professionals make snap assessments on the patients and their parents, and then deliver complex medical information tailored to their needs and demands. It requires the hospital staff to decide:

  • How receptive are these people to being told what to do by an “expert’?
  • What is the level of education  – will they understand if I use terms like “abdomen” or “cardiovascular”?
  • What do they value in this interaction – information? guidance? free drugs? …or just somebody to listen to their problems?
  • Can I make assumptions based on my previous interactions with this family?
  • How should I best communicate with these people – talking? brochures? handwritten diagrams? through an interpreter?
  • What level of detail should I present – am I just trying to prove I’m the one in charge, or will this information be useful and applicable by the parents? Do they even care about the ‘why’?

Knowing and pitching information just right for audience is a continual challenge for those working in science communication. And emergency room personal do it damned well.