BES Roadies: Who’s poo?

by Jo Griffin

We busk a little differently to most people. Having assembled from various locations around the UK, warming up with hot drinks in a pokey central London Starbucks, we play our favourite game. When you check out the next BES Annual Meeting (you know you want to), be sure to keep your eyes peeled for it. It will change your life.

As a BES Roadie, I’ve received public engagement training, helped develop busking activities and had the opportunity to attend music festivals and science festivals across the country. The end goal being to better my science communication skills and inform people outside the world of science on diverse matters such as ecology, and the research I conduct for my PhD.

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These activities are great for engaging people and spreading the word of ecology, however, there are communities that we are still struggling to reach. As stated in the BES ‘Making Ecology for All’ report from 2013, members of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community are significantly less likely to be in a STEM profession when compared to White counterparts. In 2010/11, BAME individuals made up 16.7% of all biological science students. This is an underrepresentation when compared to both the total for all STEM subjects, 20.1%, and for all subjects, 18.4%. There are no excuses for this gap; in the 21st century I am appalled that recent figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that no British University is employing a Black academic in a senior management role. This must change.

Now back to our London ‘Poo Game’ trip. The Windsor Fellowship has collaborated with the Royal Society to provide a mentoring scheme for Year 13 Black students living or studying in Greater London, who are studying STEM subjects. This is where we, the BES Roadies, come into the picture. We were given a one hour slot during a day long workshop, to communicate ecology to the students. Jessica opened the session with a brief introduction to the BES and the importance of science communication. We then split the cohort into four groups and took one group each to demonstrate our busking activities. Karen got to play ‘Pollinator Top Trumps’, Arron had ‘Who’s Poo?’ Jessica was on the ‘Mushroom Game’ and I demonstrated the use of taxonomic keys using the ‘Festival Animals’ busk that we took to Wychwood festival back in June. The students rotated around the different activities before reconvening in the seminar room where I then gave a short talk on my research.

I am used to communicating my work to academics back in my University department and at the odd conference. Entertaining a room of A-level students however, was a pretty terrifying prospect. When I asked if anyone had heard of the term ‘symbiosis’ some students nodded their head with a vague look of recollection whilst others shook their heads. Using examples such as corals, the bobtail squid, nitrogen-fixing bacteria in plant roots and deep sea tube worms, I got the students on board with the concept. Explaining the use of fruit flies and their symbiont to study host-shifts was a little trickier, I was nervous that this was where I might lose them. To my surprise, I was bombarded with questions. From the development and maintenance of symbioses and coevolution to the nitty gritty techniques I used to achieve my work and collect data, these students were the most inquisitive and enthusiastic audience I have ever had. It was an enormous pleasure to spend time with them. If I haven’t persuaded them that parasites and mutualists are just about the coolest things to study, then at least they will have left the session with a broader understanding of the term ecology. I hope that we will continue to engage with a diverse range of communities in the BES and look forward to reuniting with the Roadies for more science communication.

If you would like to become involved with the BES Roadies, please see upcoming public engagement and training events on the BES website: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/learning-and-resources/public-engagement/

Brainiology Event

Brainiology Event

Guest Post : Tom Butts, University of Liverpool

The School of Life Sciences held a ‘making the brain’ workshop in the Liverpool World Museum on Saturday 21st January as part of the ‘Meet the Scientists: Brainiacs’ day. Members of the public (and more to the point, their kids) came along and had a go at a number of activities all designed to get people thinking about the brain, how it works, and how it has evolved.

The first activity was to ‘build a brain’, where people had to assemble a 3D life-size anatomical model of the human brain. The second was ‘evolving the brain’ and involved arranging a number of animal photographs on a large phylogeny (of vertebrates). The final part was to try and match up the pictures of the animals’ brains to the correct animal on the phylogeny as a way to think about how brains have evolved. I had some cracking volunteers, including postdocs, PhD students, Masters’ students, and undergrad students from across the biological diaspora in Liverpool, and it was a cracking day had by all. Though knackering. I now have even vaster levels of respect for primary school teachers.

Thoughts on #LiveTweeting

As a part of the Centre for Cell Imaging and a member of the Microscopy and BioImage Analysis community, I occasionally get away to conferences like the recent NEUBIAS training school and symposium in Portugal.

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Since having joined Twitter last year (@dn_mason), this is the second conference that I’ve been to, and as a result, was the second time I tried (with reasonable success) to Live Tweet at the conference.

Live What Now?

Going right back to basics, Twitter is a platform for broadcasting small messages (of ~140 characters). Some describe it as micro-blogging. To many, the brevity of each tweet is both it’s greatest strength and also one of the most frustrating features.

Live tweeting, is basically the act of providing a running commentary of a seminar, event or even a whole conference. All of the tweets associated with such an event can be tied together using a text-tag called a #hashtag (which starts with a hash like that last one).

You can always go back through the twitter website (or app) and see all of the tweets associated with a hashtag. For example, check out all the #NEUBIAS tweets.

OK, I get it, but why bother?

I find myself being asked this question quite a bit. So here are my three main reasons for live tweeting (in no particular order):

  1. OPEN NOTEBOOKS: Like most people these days, I have way too much paperwork. Between manuscripts, notes and admin, the last thing I need is more paper on my desk. By live tweeting, I can keep track of who presented what, and when (and, what I or the audience thought of that in the question periods/breaks). Once you get the hang of it, you can check and record links to papers and websites on the fly so you know that you’ve not made a mistake in writing down the the URL (especially important if your handwriting is less than clear). Everything is time-stamped and fully searchable so it’s easy to find that note you took six months ago (can you say the same about your regular notebooks?).
  2. ACCESSIBILITY: Plain and simple, live tweeting, gives people who aren’t at the event access to some of the ideas, thoughts and opinions that are expressed there (see endnote #1). Perhaps you’re off at another conference but want to stay abreast of the latest research, or maybe your budget doesn’t stretch to a trans-atlantic flight. Furthermore, this taps into the idea of open science. By sharing your ‘notes’ via Twitter, everyone gets interactive access to them and the community can start a conversation around them.
  3. NETWORKING: This might be a slightly broader point, but a lot of scientists use Twitter. By becoming part of the twitter ecosystem surrounding an event, you will probably find it easier to get yourself and your work known. You’re also becoming a bigger part of the community and getting involved with discussions to which you would otherwise be oblivious.

Tips for Tweeters

I am by no means a twitter expert (a twexpert?) least of all regarding live tweeting, but below are a few tips that might help you to get started:

1) Ditch the default website

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At least 3% of your screen here is taken up by beard.

The twitter homepage (above) may look nice but it’s really inefficient on space. Once you move to Tweetdeck, you will never look back. Tweetdeck is a very customisable app built into twitter. Compare the image above with the one below. Left to right, I have my home feed (tweets from people I follow), my notifications (people talking directly to me or interacting with my tweets) and the #NEUBIAS hashtag, all on one page.

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You can add as many columns as you want, so you can follow individual people, hashtags or direct messages, tailoring exactly what you see in each column (likes, retweets, follows &c)

2) Tabbed browsing

It’s fairly obvious that Twitter is a web application (see endnote #2). So you probably already have a web browser open. Learn how to use and manage tabbed browsing, so you can quickly search for websites (IE the speaker’s homepage), papers (PubMed or your equivalent repository), or relevant links that you might want to come back to later. Learn shortcuts to quickly switch between and close tabs.

3) Links and Hashtag

Does the speaker use twitter? If it’s not on their title slide, a quick search is a good way to find out:

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Assuming you don’t have a ridiculously common name…

If they do, include it in your tweet. It lets them know that people are discussing their work and opens up another avenue for discussion (once they’re off the stage).

This also helps with the visibility and networking mentioned above. Same idea goes for hashtags. If the event has a tag, use it in every tweet. Also, try to hashtag topics that will expose your tweet to others who might find the content interesting. #Don’t #over #do #it #though.

4) Harness the power of images

A tweet with an attached image is more visible and easier for you and others to find later when scrolling down a timeline. I try to add images at least once per logical break, even if they’re screen grabs from a website or company logos.

2017-02-18-tweets1Get to know how to screengrab, crop, save and upload an image quickly on your platform. Most browsers can open PDFs directly so you don’t need to download and open in an external application to screen grab an interesting figure or notable schematic from a paper. Make sure you include a link (a DOI or URL) so people can put the image in context.

5) Get to know the tweeps!

As I said before, a lot of scientists use Twitter. Try to figure out who are the people tweeting at a conference and make sure to follow them to see what they’re talking about. You may find extra insight or perhaps an interesting discussion point in which you can get involved (on or off-line).

The last word…

Live tweeting is not for everyone, but hopefully I’ve given you some reasons why you might at least want to follow a conference hashtag, even if you don’t contribute. Like any community however, the more people that get involved, the more everyone benefits.

 

ENDNOTES

#1: There is a really interesting discussion around this point, which extends to recording and/or streaming a conference. The argument goes that if people can “be at a conference” from their computer why would they ever pay the flight/hotel/conference fee to go to a conference in person? To me, this argument is patently ridiculous. Attending (most) conferences is about being part of a community, and this is a 2-way interaction. Some of the most interesting discussions happen over drinks or at meals, not necessarily during the talks and question periods. I’m fully for recording and streaming talks at conferences, and I seriously doubt that this would impact attendance.

#2: Many people use Twitter on their smart phones. The one and only time I do this is if I want to take a photo and tweet it directly. Otherwise, it’s just too slow and lacking in the editing / lookup tools (eg. good tabbed browsing) and screen real-estate to make the most of tweetdeck. If you can, always use a laptop or maybe (if you’re really good with it) a tablet.

IIB PhD student visits Upton Hall School as an inspiring alumnus

This is a guest blog written by Caisey Pulford, a PhD student studying at the Institute for Integrative Biology

 

On Wednesday 25th January I visited Upton Hall School FCJ to speak with and inspire the next generation of female scientists. I was warmly welcomed to the school with a beautiful, informative and delicious lunch held by the head girls team. I was interested to chat with them informally about their career aspirations and informed them of the many opportunities that University has to offer them.

I then spent an hour presenting a talk to the year 12 students about current topical scientific research being conducted at the University and the impact of scientific research on a global scale. I spent time discussing the invasive Non-Typhoidal Salmonella epidemic in Africa and explained how genome sequencing has revolutionised scientific research. They were fascinated to learn more about “real life research” and about the many different options a career in science could offer them! An informal question time followed were the girls asked many questions about the courses at Liverpool and were keen to find out more about research at the Institute. I was delighted to hear that some students had already taken their first step on the research career ladder by focussing their Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs) on epidemics, viruses and bacteria. I have a feeling we will be seeing quite a few of them leading their own research soon!!!

I would like to extend a huge thank you to the staff and girls at Upton for welcoming me to the school so warmly, for listening so intently and for asking lots of questions! As the Upton Hall School Motto goes “Age quad agis” Whatever you do, do it well! (also have fun, learn lots and make a difference!)

I look forward to returning to Upton over the next few months to speak to the year 10 science students.

You can read more about Caisey’s visit and see the pictures on the Upton Hall School website:

http://www.uptonhallschool.co.uk/news/?pid=3&nid=1&storyid=181

Range High School Students annual visit to NMR Centre

On Wednesday 18th January chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for a workshop in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine. This visit has become an annual event which the students enjoy and say enhance their understanding of how NMR can be applied in a research environment.  The students learnt about the advantages and disadvantages of mass spec and NMR from Dr Mark Wilkinson and Dr Marie Phelan, carried out chromatography and learnt to prepare  and run NMR samples and how to interpret the data.  Prior to their visit, as part of a school practical, they have made salicylic acid – a precursor for aspirin. We obtained these samples and collected NMR spectra of their products ready for analysis on the day.  This enabled them to establish how successful their synthesis had been and compare their results across the class, with previous years’ students (and to the teacher!). 

A range of University of Liverpool postgraduate students and postdocs helped with the day providing practical and theoretical advice, including Dr Hannah Davies, Rudi Grossman, James Torpey and Kieran Hand (pictured above).

Speed (dating) Science Careers

On the 19th January, 40 Year 12 students from Life Sciences UTC visited Life Sciences to take part in a Speed Science event with 5 PhD students from IIB.  This was part of their Build My Future Festival.

Small groups of students spent 5 minutes listening to a PhD student talk about their research before being given 5 minutes to ask questions on things such as the PhD student’s research, what university is like? What being a PhD student is like? Which degree programmes the PhD students had taken? before moving to the next PhD student to start the process again. Using this approach the students were able to speak to and ask lots of questions to a 5 different PhD students in a short space of time

The students were really engaged and asking lots of questions, whilst it gave the PhD students chance to practise their science communication.

Thanks to Tushar Piyush, Matthew Agwae, Hammed Badmos, Gospel Nwikue and Jonathan Temple for volunteering to help out at this event

Postcard from Khon Kaen, Thailand – Eddy Spofford and Charlotte Price (MBiolSci students from the Institute of Integrative Biology)

Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is more prevalent in Southeast Asian countries compared to the western world, where cases of CCA are rare. Opisthorchis viverrini (OV) infection (opisthorchiasis) is the associated cause of this increase of cases in CCA, and rates of high infection with OV correlate with high CCA occurrence. In the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand, OV-infection is endemic – this region also suffers high levels of CCA. OV may be transmitted by eating raw or undercooked fish in foods such as such as ‘koi pla’. After consumption, the OV parasite resides in the duodenum, the liver and surrounding bile ducts and can live for up to 20 years. Infection is asymptomatic, making CCA difficult to detect until it presents in its terminal stages. For these reasons, OV is classed as a type 1 carcinogen.

As part of our integrated masters final year project and internship, Charlotte and I are observing the sustained immune response towards OV – one of several contributors to the development of CCA. As part of a Newton Fund project funded by the British Council, we have been conducting our research in the Tropical Disease Research Laboratory (TDRL),  part of Khon Kaen University. So far, we have enjoyed integrating ourselves into a completely new culture and working in a lab with more independence than we have had before. So far it has been an exciting and rewarding experience. TDRL provides a lot of opportunities for international students, so whilst we are submerged in Thai culture we have also been fortunate to meet people from all across the world. This is in addition to making discoveries along the way in the lab. Knowing that our research will contribute towards efforts to reducing OV-infection and CCA mortalities is very humbling.

TDRL developed the “Lawa Model” several years ago and introduced this to Lawa villages 6 years ago. This model aims to educate people about the dangers of OV and eating potentially contaminated fish. Health volunteers are responsible for screening of patients to detect OV and administering praziquantel, as well as other non-OV health issues. They are also required to examine stool samples and educate locals as part of the free education programme in local schools, or ‘door to door’ educating. The health volunteers are key in maintaining the health and awareness of the local communities, whether it be through interpretive dance, adaptations of popular Thai songs or handing out leaflets.

The Lawa Model education programme in schools is free. Before the model was introduced, an average of 10% of children were OV-positive. Now, most schools around the Lawa Region can boast 0% infection. The Model encourages education about OV as part of the school curriculum by rewarding them with certificates. This is promising for future generations that are much less likely to suffer from CCA.

The Lawa Model adopts the ‘EcoHealth’ approach which means a transdisciplinary approach, where experts from different scientific disciplines such as conchology, ichthyology, parasitology, biochemistry and veterinary medicine that target each stage of OV’s lifecycle.  A major failing in previous attempts has been lack of sustained awareness and implementation of control programmes. The Lawa Model has attempted to solve this by encouraging and educating stake holders including local officials, monks, village leaders, schools and the previously mentioned health volunteers who are also responsible for providing regular health checkups for the villagers and checking for OV-infection.

On our visit to Lawa Lake, we saw for ourselves the success of the model, where it was very clear that the majority of people now had a clear understanding of how OV is transmitted. Before the model was introduced six years ago, OV-infection in the human populations in this area was 60%, but this has now fallen to less than 10%. OV-infection in fish has fallen from 70% to <1% and snails infected with OV have dropped to less than 0.2%. As a result of this success, the TDR team are now planning to introduce the Lawa Model into different provinces within Thailand and other neighbouring countries. Charlotte and I recently visited Kalasin, a province nearby to Khon Kaen, which is in very early stages of Lawa Model implementation. It was very eye-opening to see how unaware some people still are in Thailand despite the threat of this disease. However, due to the Lawa Model’s previous success it is likely villages in Kalasin will have the same promising results.

The TDR team from KKU often travels to local Lawa Villages to hold talks about the dangers of OV and explain how it is transmitted. Ultrasound screening is also performed to determine levels of liver complication in patients. Blood samples are also taken from the field and used as part of research about the pathology of OV infection, which precedes CCA. As part of my and Charlotte’s research, we have analysed these blood samples through various immunological assays. Our research will contribute to the current hypothesis that people with a more aggressive immune response are more susceptible to the development of CCA.

The recent ‘National agenda against liver fluke and cancer’ has made clear its aim to remove OV from Thailand in the next 10 years and reduce the number of CCA mortalities. The Lawa Model is a perfect example of how constant attention and support to communities can reduce the infection rate of OV. For this to happen on a national scale, the government must become involved on a permanent level to guarantee replication of the Lawa Model’s success.

After 3 months here, Charlotte and I are continuing to enjoy both the science and the fun that comes with Thai culture. We are fortunate to be part of such a worthwhile project and hope our time here will be beneficial to both ourselves, and the fight against OV and CCA.

Top L-R: Dr Kanin Salao and Eddy processing patient blood samples in the lab; Eddy and Charlotte with Prof Steven Edwards and Dr Helen Wright, who lead the University of Liverpool collaboration with TDRL, and Dr Kanin Salao from TDRL prior to them leaving for Khon Kaen in July; Eddy and Charlotte with other TDRL students paying respects to Prof Banchob Sripa (centre) on “Teachers Day”.

Bottom L-R: Community outreach program in Kalasin; Charlotte carrying out neutrophil isolations in the lab; OV parasite under the microscope.