My master’s thesis is about 95 pages long. That’s a lot of information to reduce down to a two-page script that can be read in three minutes. But that’s what I did, along with 11 of the most inspiring young researchers I have ever had the chance to meet at McGill. It all happened on March 31st at McGill’s 3rd annual 3 Minutes to Change the World.
I started thinking about the importance of communicating my research in an accessible way under pretty melancholic circumstances.
I was at my grand-father’s funeral in Moncton, New Brunswick, back in January. For the first time in ages I got to see my extended family. I would say that the mean age of visitors to my dear grand-father’s wake was clocking in around 75 (He was 94!). In true Maritime hospitable fashion, everyone was very sweet and curious about my research at McGill.
At McGill, I tell people that I am in the field of Psychiatric Epidemiology. I’d say there is a 50/50 chance on campus that someone knows exactly what I’m talking about. Most people can take a pretty good guess.
At the funeral home, sipping tea and nibbling on cookies, I quickly realized I needed a synonym for my field. My sister whispered in my ear that I should drop “Psychiatric Epidemiology” (or, as she calls it, ee-pee-dee-mee-oo-lo-gy) in favour of something more accessible. Why not say “Public Health?” Sure, why not. What’s even better? Dropping the titles all together.
“I study mental health in Canada,” I would explain. “I look at how neighbourhoods affect things like depression.”
I’ll never forget when my great aunt (in her late 80s) totally got it. As soon as I dropped the big scary words, she could actually hear what I was saying.
I think that’s what 3 Minutes to Change the World is all about. The goal is to break down barriers so that our research is accessible to those who actually can benefit from it.
Now I’ll admit something. I had an unfair advantage during the event. The nice thing about my research is that everyone lives in a neighbourhood. It’s very relatable.
That’s why I was so impressed with my fellow presenters in the sciences (shout out to Mina, Jonathan, Joseph, Claire, and Nilmini in particular). Using metaphors and compelling images, they were able to communicate their truly complex findings for someone like me (with an Arts background) to easily understand.
In research, we’re taught to use the most specific words possible. We’re also taught to be irritatingly conservative when discussing the implications or applicability of our research. But communicating with the public is a different ball game.
To those kind folks in Moncton, it didn’t matter what field I was in. What mattered is that I was able to make my work relevant and exciting, so that people could connect to it. After all, isn’t that what research is all about?
For more info about the event and the fabulous presenters, check out Guillaume’s thorough and thoughtful post.
3 Minutes to Change the World participants win big: Psychiatry’s Claire Champigny and Jay Olson, and Microbiology’s Nilmini Mendis all took top oral presentation awards at the 10th Annual Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Research Symposium on April 1-2 at McGill. These guys are the real deal!