Inside Scoop: Lizzie Thursby chats to the ISF about the IFR Student Science Showcase

SSSYou’ve seen the poster titles. You’ve felt the nervous tension wafting through the corridors. Yes, the IFR Student Science Showcase is fast approaching! Once again, this event promises to be one of the highlights of the academic calendar at IFR. We caught up with Lizzie Thursby – member of the organising committee and previous poster prize-winner – to give us her top tips for the day along with a taster of what we can expect from this year’s event.

You took part in the SSS for the first time last year. Did you enjoy it?

I thought it was a fun day! It is not often you get the chance to present your work to others and I enjoyed the challenge. There’s usually a hint of competition between you and your colleagues as well, which can be a lot of fun!

What did you gain from the experience?

The IFR SSS was the first time that I presented my work to people outside of my specific field of research, and this made me aware of the challenges that arise when you need to interact with an audience of mixed scientific backgrounds. You quickly realise that not everyone has the same level of understanding of your project as the people in your office, which means that you have to think about your work differently in order to make it sound understandable and also interesting to others.

I remember that an older student approached me at last year’s Showcase and said, ‘so, tell me about your poster!’ I was really nervous and my mind just went blank!

But the student was really encouraging and I soon felt more comfortable. I learned from this experience that it’s good to prepare a kind of ‘mental script’ that summarises your work so that you don’t feel so scared when people come to your poster. I think that the Student Science Showcase is a nice platform for learning these skills – you are in an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes.

What can we expect from this year’s Showcase?

We have tried to plan the food around the theme of the keynote talk (given by Professor Ian Rowland from University of Reading). It will be buffet-style with a Mediterranean feel to it. This year, we have managed to obtain a large amount of sponsorship from companies such as Biolabs, Primerdesign and Fisher, in addition to the funding given by the BBSRC, so expect some nice food and generous prizes! The sponsors will be there on the day to give us information about the services they offer, so feel free to have a chat with them.

Speaking of prizes… you won one of the coveted poster prizes last year, well done! Do you have any top tips for designing a winning poster?

Thank you! I would say that having a logical layout is quite important. Include lots of pretty pictures and don’t make it too wordy. Don’t forget an acknowledgements section! One useful tip is to print out a copy of your poster on A4 and try to read it – if you can’t read the writing then it won’t be readable on the real thing either.

And finally, what advice would you give to the current first years who will be taking part for the first time?

Don’t worry about how far you have got in your project or how big/small your results section is. Anyone can present a good poster, even if it only contains background information about your project. Concentrate on enjoying your first experience of presenting a poster and try to speak to as many people as possible. If people are not noticing you, approach them! I wish that I had spoken to more people last year and had not let nerves get in the way. Once you get going, you will feel much more comfortable chatting to people about your work. Enjoy it!

The IFR Student Science Showcase 2014 takes place on Monday 23rd June from 2pm in the IFR lecture theatre.


By Steven Lewis, a 3rd year PhD student in Stephanie Schueller’s lab.

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Big Bang Fair 2014 in Birmingham

The Big Bang is the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths for young people in the UK.

This year it was taking in place in Birmingham and the IFR had a stand presenting the work being done at the Institute.

A large number of students and members of the IFR travelled up North to show and explain to the hundreds of students, children, parents and teachers their science and answer questions.

Have a look at the pictures below to see how much fun we had and the awesome blow-up, walk-in colon.


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A survival guide to conferences

Yesterday I registered to attend my eighth conference and after three years of attending them I think I might be getting the hang of it! Before I embark on another round of abstract writing, grant writing and travel planning, I thought I might pass on some advice I wish I’d have known when I went to my first conference.

  1. Cloth posters are your friend. Unless you’re lucky enough to be giving a talk you will need to take a poster. Posters (or more specifically poster tubes) come with a unique set of trials and tribulations of which I won’t go into in detail. Suffice to say that when my poster tube spontaneously disassembled itself for the third time on the tube I began to see the benefits of a cloth poster. Cloth posters neatly fold into your suitcase, handbag or pocket (depending on the size of your pockets) and are a similar price to paper posters. In my opinion the quality is a good as a paper poster, unless you need to display lots of high definition images. The other advantage of a cloth poster is that when you return from your conference you can use the now ‘old’ poster as a draft excluder or table cloth, rather than just allowing it to collect dust and occasionally fall on people from a high shelf.
  2. Be like a Boy Scout. Conferences can be busy places so make sure you prepare in advance. Know which talks you want to attend, which posers you are interested in viewing, and any people you would like to meet while there. If you are going to try to meet people while at the conference make sure you’ve done your homework and you know about their research, it will only look bad if you don’t appear to have done some background reading before a meeting.
  3. Find yourself a conference buddy. On the first day of the conference I try to find myself a friend. This will make mealtimes and networking events much easier to face. My general method is to find someone who looks slightly cleverer than myself and also a bit lost and confused. This way I have someone who can explain the more complex talks to me, but is less likely to ditch me for the ‘cool kids’ on the second day.
  4. Never try to keep up with your PI.A conference is a stressful and confusing place for a student. However, for your PI, a conference is a chance to meet friends, catch up, squabble with rivals, eat, drink and be merry. Never get drawn into a drinking session with Professors, their capacity for alcohol is amazing. They will outdrink you, and I think it’s unlikely they’ll consider employing anyone who threw up on their shoes! My advice is to sit somewhere relatively close to them (in case they offer to buy the drinks) and enjoy the show.
  5. Networking = making friends. If you don’t ‘get’ networking don’t worry, neither does anyone else outside politics. Remember standing in the cold, wet playground on your first day of school, not wanting to let go of your mum’s hand? Fast forward twenty years and I still feel the same in networking sessions (although my supervisor said I had to stop calling him ‘mum’). Keep your conference buddy in sight for moral support. Say hello to everyone you meet (even if you don’t know them) and if they stop to chat, chat back. Try to remember names, as you will see many of these people at other conferences. In poster sessions talk to poster presenters. This both helps you pick up new conference buddies, and get yourself noticed (hopefully in a good way!). If people ask you to keep in touch after the conference then consider the offer seriously, you never know where it might lead. Remember networking gets easier as you get to know more people, so just try to swallow your fear and get stuck in there!
  6. Enjoy yourself. I know this is ridiculous advice and I hate myself for writing this, but throughout all the stress and angst try to remember that you are actually quite lucky to be doing this. Most people will never get to travel as part of their work and even if they do they probably won’t be attending these kinds of events. As PhD students we (sometimes) get to travel to some pretty cool places without very much personal expense. Try to enjoy the experience, spend a little time seeing the sights and attend the conference dinner whenever possible. Some of my fondest PhD memories are of travelling to and attending conferences.

By Hellen Brown, a 4th year PhD student in Arnoud Van Vliet’s lab.

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