What makes me passionate about communicating my research?
26 October 2017
Nadine Mirza was runner up in the prestigious Maz Perutz Science Writing Award this year.
She received seedcorn funding from the School in 2016 to work on reviews (focussing on cognitive impairment) and to write papers after the completion of her MPhil.
We asked Nadine about what makes her such an enthusiastic research communicator and what plans she had for her future.
What is your background and what are you currently working on?
I moved to Manchester in 2012 to pursue a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and an MPhil in Primary Care Mental Health at the University of Manchester. I have also worked as a Research Assistant at the University’s Centre for Primary Care, Division of Ethnic Minority Research in Primary Care. I have now begun my MRC-funded PhD in Mental Health within the same division.
Who is your supervisor?
My supervisor is Dr. Waquas Waheed, a Reader in Psychiatry and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist based in the Centre for Primary Care, University of Manchester. He’s an incredibly involved and hands on supervisor who makes his students’ success his personal mission. He’s also very invested in and passionate about working with ethnic minorities, particularly South Asians, and the issues they face in mental health and primary care services and what solutions may exist to counter these issues.
What makes you passionate about science Communication/influences/role models?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and they say write what you know and what I know inside and out is my own scientific research. Having focused on the influence of culture in dementia diagnosis within British South Asians for the last few years I know why it’s important and in desperate need of attention. But since my knowing it isn’t enough, science communication is how I am giving a voice to a hard to reach community regarding a problem that people hardly knew about before- that cultural differences can and do result in misdiagnoses.
It’s definitely a rush to see people interact with my work, question, analyse and give opinions on pieces I’ve written, because it means it was worth something to them. It was important enough for them to invest their time and interest. That really brings into perspective the immense power of the written word and its role in making the scientific realm more accessible and engaging for everyone. It also puts me in a position of accountability that I respect and enjoy, where I can consider the feedback of my audience, their needs and wants, to inform my research further, taking into consideration those who may be most impacted by my research at the end of the day.
Why is it important to communicate your research and engage a broader audience?
A crucial reason to communicate my research to a range of audiences is to bring peoples’ attention to the role of culture in dementia diagnosis and how it’s negatively impacting British South Asians. Reaching scientific audiences is one matter, in that it allows others to take my research further and continue to build upon and contribute to it. And I definitely try to do that through presenting at conferences, speaking at seminars and working on submitting publications to a range of journals.
But more important than the scientists are the general public. Seeing the research written with them in mind helps them acknowledge the problem, recognise it when they may see it and be aware that we are working towards a solution. As this research impacts the lay audience more than anyone it would always be my responsibility to communicate this research to them and to do it in a way beyond the limiting boundaries of academic writing, where my work would be dripping in jargon and technicalities. This opens up opportunities for the general public to take this issue on, to own it and want to tackle it, and contribute in their own way, whether through further writing and study, promoting the research or getting involved with community engagement and recruitment.
It thus becomes a mutually beneficial relationship between myself, the researcher, and them, the public.
What did you write about for the Max Perutz award you have just received?
I submitted an essay for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2017 and I was a Joint Runner Up and my essay was Commended. The purpose of this award is to encourage, not just science writing, but writing in a manner that allows a lay audience to understand why your research matters and how you conducted it. I focused on my MPhil research, which was a precursor to what I’m currently doing.
Through a multi-method process I culturally adapted a test that is used to diagnose dementia known as the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination Version III for British Urdu speakers. It was an extensive project that consisted of a systematic review that is now published, focus groups with lay persons from the British South Asian community and meetings with experts to help develop a test that was understandable to British South Asians and respectfully accounted for their culture in a way that it would not affect their results. My essay relayed these methods as well as emphasising, through stories of the focus groups and quotes from British South Asians, why this research is so crucial at this point in time and how there is a demand for it that simply needed to be heard.
What is your blog URL?
My blog is called The Almost Psychologist, found at www.thealmostpsychologist.wordpress.com
I started it a while back as a very casual documentation of my endeavours of working in mental health but it’s really grown now, allowing me to also describe my experiences of conducting and disseminating research. I also plan to post about this particular award and its implications.
How do you hope the award will help your research in the future?
This experience will definitely influence how I convey my research to others, informing the entire writing and dissemination process. From initially drafting the essay right up to the masterclass on science writing and the ceremony I’ve learnt about how to write for different audiences and that even within academic writing there are different structures for journals, blogs, magazines, and other mediums. I’d have to move out of my comfort zone, of following the Intro, Methods, Results framework that’s always drilled into us, to go for more memorable and engaging formats of writing. I’ve learnt how to really showcase my work, truly highlight it in a succinct manner that is both informative and entertaining. That can only be a good thing, if I can now narrate my research in a more approachable way to the wider scientific community and the public overall.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
I’m incredibly grateful, and quite flabbergasted, that all this has happened, that I was considered for the short list for such a prestigious award, that my essay then went on to get commended. It’s been a lovely experience and it’s really shown me the importance of what a little bit of writing can do, even something like science writing which may be perceived as mundane but is actually immensely powerful, driven, emotional prose that connects with all its readers when done right.
Having this essay receive the level of attention it has, allowed for my research to be highlighted and considered important and necessary, opening up eyes to existing issues.
It’s also important for me to emphasise how where I come from really influences the research I’m choosing to do. Having a Pakistani background and having lived there for eight years, I have an understanding of the issues ethnic minorities face in mental health services, particularly South Asians, and it’s a driver that motivates me to continue with my work.
What are your career ambitions?
I’ve been an aspiring clinical psychologist since the age of thirteen and have really geared all my work placements towards that, working in psychiatric units of hospitals, psychological clinics and in schools with both children and adults, across a range of mental health challenges and issues.
I still have a very deeply rooted interest in pursuing clinical psychology but now I would still want one foot to remain firmly in research, especially with the basis of work I’m conducting with minority ethnic groups. I’d want to really hone in on culturally adapting assessments, not just those for dementia but for any mental health problem, as well as work on developing or improving culturally adapted and sensitive services for mental health. Some way or another I’d always want to be involved in this.
I am also convinced I will never stop writing, and that perhaps science writing is the way to go.