Rubina Mulchandani is a PhD Scholar in Clinical Research at Indian Institute of Public Health-Delhi, Public Health Foundation of India. Rubina participated in ISF’s flagship event ‘Talk your Thesis’ and bagged the first position as the winner. This piece shares her experience of participating at India Science Festival.

 

I have been a science enthusiast or science nerd as they say, since school! Being the topper with a love for Biology, almost everyone suggested I pursue medicine. But I had other plans and I graduated in Life Sciences. When I was looking for courses I could pursue my post-graduation in, I came across a Masters in Clinical Research. It was a deviation from my basic sciences background, but research as a field intrigued me and I decided to make the switch. My learning was applied and very concept-based, in contrast to what I had been exposed to up until my graduation. My favorite bit was when we got to implement our skills in the field through our dissertation thesis. That was a turning point in my academic course and also my first tryst with ‘Science Communication’.

 

My thesis project was on assessing the prevalence of muscle related adverse effects among cardiac patients who were on a cholesterol-lowering drug called ‘statin’. It involved interviewing patients in a government hospital OPD and recording their responses. Within a week of my data collection, I had a significant realization. A majority of the Indian population belongs to the lower socio-economic strata or the economically weaker section.

 

Due to lack of education, resource constraints and inadequate access to health related information, most of these patients are largely unaware about their disease condition, with a sub-optimal knowledge of their medicines or treatment.

 

“My greatest challenge was to make them understand what my study was about, what research is in general, and why I need certain information about their illness. This led to a lot of questions from the inquisitive patients, who were now rather keen to understand various aspects of their health and disease.”

 

Each interview would take much longer, with me trying to explain scientific concepts in the simplest way I could, in a language they would understand. It was tiring but extremely rewarding to know that I could make a tiny bit of a difference to their lives just through effective communication of science. It was much later that I realized that what I had been doing was ‘SciComm’ after all.

 

Over the years, my interest in and passion for science communication has only grown. My PhD thesis is an extension of my masters’ dissertation and I have been actively making efforts to practice some SciComm in my patient interactions this time around. My aim as an early career researcher has been to build my skills in this area so that I can meaningfully contribute towards making science more accessible to a crucial group of stakeholders, the public. I have been able to connect with some wonderful science folk on Twitter, people I have learnt from and gotten inspired by. It was through one such brilliant scientist and public engagement expert (also a friend), Sarah Iqbal, that I got to know about the India Science Festival, when she retweeted a tweet of theirs, inviting submissions for the 2022 edition of the ISF. This was a unique opportunity and I had to give it a try. So, I submitted my entry for their ‘Talk Your Thesis’ competition, wherein I had to prepare a 5-minute video explaining my PhD thesis to a non-specialist audience. To be honest, at the outset, I had no idea that this would be quite an arduous task.

 

“As researchers and scientists, we are so used to writing academic papers and preparing conference presentations and talks, that conveying our thoughts to people within the scientific community comes naturally to us. However, we are not really trained to be able to convey the same thoughts to non-science folk.”

 

I took this as a chance to hone my SciComm abilities and to my delight, I cleared the first round along with 4 other ISF fellows, making it to the final round of the competition. We were all assigned a mentor who would help us prepare our final 10-minute talk on our PhD thesis, which would then be judged by an expert panel. The mentorship support I received was wonderful. While preparing for the final presentation, I got to understand and appreciate the nuances of building a story around our research work, breaking down difficult technical aspects into bite sized portions presented simplistically, and keeping the audience engaged by constantly piquing their curiosity. I also took feedback from some friends and peers and their insights proved to be quite valuable. The entire process was truly enjoyable and a lot of fun all through.

 

I was beyond thrilled when I was announced the winner of the ‘Talk Your Thesis’ competition at ISF 2022! More than the prize money, it was gratifying to see senior scientists and communication experts appreciate my work, which has served as the perfect encouragement for me to do better, and keep this momentum going!

 

I’d like to thank the amazing people at the ISF for this platform which is like an official segue into the world of SciComm for me, and has served as an effective avenue to build a network and connect with others in this field. I have been able to share my research with a much wider audience, and the resulting feedback is definitely going to help me strengthen my study.

 

The gatekeeping of science has alienated people outside of it, limiting its power to transform lives and enhance human health and well-being. This ecosystem can only thrive when not just scientists but all the other collaborators operate synergistically and move ahead together. I just wish more people knew about this endeavor and the quality work being done by India Science Fest in this regard, because such initiatives deserve a much larger reach. Hopefully we shall see that happening in the years to come. That would be a huge win for science!