Thanks to this blog the amazing Tseen Kho asked me to share what I know about translating and communicating your research with a group of Early Career Researchers, in Australia anywhere from 1 – 5 years post PhD.
It was a one-hour session during a three day intensive to develop researchers at La Trobe, a great initiative.
It was the graveyard shift, 3 – 4 pm they had already had a tough day. I got some feedback afterward, and the best insights came from my cousin Jack. He teaches kids outdoor skills. He said he tries to constantly remember ‘why are they here’. I could have done that better.
It’s my first time doing this, I was trying a bit too hard to convince people I knew what I was talking about. ‘Story is your friend’ I would have advised myself If I had the benefit of a time machine. Here are some other things I would have told myself: ‘tell them how it’s going to be’, ‘connect using a story they can relate to’, ‘tell them about a time you did something wrong, and what you learned’. ‘focus on one thing and get them to think it through’.
I enjoyed it, I think the slides are good. I want to do it again, better.
Take ten years of impactful academic health research and distil it down to three minutes of talking and moving images. What’s really important? What has the biggest impact?
Now do that for six projects, which one is the best? That was the task assigned to a panel of judges in the inaugural Excellence in Health Research and Translation awards at La Trobe University, in March 2018. I helped script supervise the videos. Keeping them equal, showcasing the impact and highlighting the special things that made each project worthwhile.
I had to interview al the researchers, scour the nomination submissions and find the beating human heart of each project. It sometimes took some probing, but all the researchers knew someone who stood out, had a special connection, had a good story and would respond well under the hot gaze of the camera.
Along the way I became a real believer in the researchers work, all of them. The dedication it takes to choose the implementation path, to not stop at publication makes all the researchers who do that amazing.
It was such a challenge to select the points that made it into the videos, the editors I worked with were tough, and we made some real choices. Visuals were by Tim at Mustard Media who must take as much credit, if not more for how the videos came out. Simon at the LTU Media team and Alana, who produced the videos also deserve plaudits for the final product.
500 index cards, in five colours. Yellow for a topic, an actual thing we want to discuss. White for an area of discussion, probably with more topics underneath it maybe an episode. Exploitation on one yellow card, it moved from the Is Cleaning The Toilet Really my Internship? episode to the Say What Now I don’t get Paid?! episode. It ended up being an episode on its own. After practically a whole morning discussing, arguing, figuring out, and changing things we end up with the image here. Ten episodes, 37 or so topics and a roadmap for the next six months. Did it work out like that? read on to find out.
Some of them survived unscathed into the ears of listeners, nearly ten thousand at the time of writing. Others changed completely. When we scratched the surface of exploitation a lot of stuff came out, Amalia Ilgner who is suing her employer for unpaid wages, Jack Kenchington Evans is leading the charge on rewarding good internship providers to shame the others into pulling up their socks. And ‘Dodgy’ the mysterious figure behind the Dodgy Internships Australia twitter feed who is naming and shaming the most egregious offenders in the countless violations of the employment laws she finds on the internet.
That became a whole episode on its own and one of the best.
Along the way, we became experts, just by talking to 48+ people about Internships. Reading transcripts of the interviews and discussing the best piece to use to illustrate a point, in making the case for the arguments that we had found for both sides. Internships are good and bad, they can open doors for everyone, if you can afford to work for free, they are opportunities to prove yourself in a three-month job interview, and they are an excuse for free labour for unscrupulous employers. It’s a spectrum, and I feel we covered all the visible parts.
I listened to the first episode again and it still stands. It’s a touch didactic but there’s some great stuff in there, the history of the internship, how we got here, which pops up again later, and it’s pretty timeless. Unless the role of internships changes dramatically we’ll still be helping people get their heads around internships for a few years yet.
It was a good project, dreamed up by Dr Andi Horvath, podcast co-ordinator at the University of Melbourne it fit into their strategic plan, had management blessing “one of the best pieces of content we’ve created all year”. And my co-host and co-producer Buffy and I steered it from concept to ten+ mp3 files sitting on servers and phones all over the world.
We have a rock solid workflow, thanks google Docs. and we bow down to Google Backup and Sync which has needed only one tinker and has synced all the audio files on three computers seamlessly. we worked on scripts side by side on the ER Mezzanine watching the other person make changes. We typed back and forth in the questions doc live comments while recording in the 757 studio telling the one who was interviewing to ask the question again!
And our Reaper workflow is pretty good now as well, we use regions to mark the segments of an interview we are going to use, labelled with the Episode number and the grab number we know where it goes and can see if we are going to use something twice. The script has a list of audio files in it, with the names of the files next to the grab we are using, so one person can polish the script and another person can edit it together.
We found new and better ways to fine edit, getting an edit down to a drag and one keystroke from five. That must have saved us hours over the 250 grabs we used across the ten episodes. Using Reapers insanely customisable macros and chains of commands we can take out pops with two keystrokes.
Getting everyone to sound their best is the fine edit mantra, no umms ahs or pauses, you can cast around a while for the perfect word but it’s my job to show the sentence as you would want it to be recorded for the permanent record. And everyone sounds like there were recorded at the same volume, with the mic in exactly the same place thanks to some very clever compression from the good folks at Sonic Anomaly.
But it’s the people who have brought the story alive, they felt comfortable enough to share their failures and missteps at what is a very vulnerable time in their lives, I hope they can look back on their internships as some of our older guests did and see how far they have come.
Someone gave me cause to think about how I would teach what I know about grant writing today. I’ve sat on the other side of the desk plenty of times and been given lots to think about by some great teachers. I also think I have an approach that can help your application stand out, make a case and leave a mark.
The people in the class have to be prompted to think through the problems from their own point of view. I’m not sure how you would do that just yet. It could be through some grant giver/grant seeker role play, a dragon’s den pitch session, all verbal probably. If you can say it, you can write it. And it would help get away from ten dollar words that are dull and boring to read.
Obviously, you need to do some work on the donor knowledge gap and opening your eyes to the assumptions we all make when we tell our own stories.
After that it’s just decoding inputs, outputs, outcomes and budgets.