The Art of Communication

A000On 12th – 14th July 2017 the Eighth NIHR Infrastructure Doctoral Research Training Camp titled The Art of Communication was held at Weetwood Hall Conference centre in Leeds. The Imperial Clinical Academic Training Office had been invited to nominate 3 doctoral students for consideration for a place at the camp.  I was pleased to be chosen as one of the 3 successfully nominated candidates.

100 delegates from centres across the UK attended.  This was the 8th training Camp offering delegate’s access to workshops, inspirational speakers and the practical experience of communicating with a challenging panel of ‘experts’. The specific aim was to equip delegates with the skills and ability to successfully defend and communicate their research effectively with a range of people including fellow scientists, research funders, the media, patients and the public.

Panel in action
The panel

There was a dedicated poster session held during the afternoon of 12 July at which I presented my doctoral work on Patient Reported Outcomes. Plenary sessions included a presentation by Dr Giles Yeo Director of Genomics & Transcriptomics, Institute of Metabolic Science University of Cambridge, publically known for his appearance on the BBC2’s Horizon programme Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth.

Dr Yeo gave an amusing and engaging presentation of his experiences of working with journalists and the media. In one encounter his eloquent scientific explanation of obesity was distilled on his behalf to ‘fat is bad’.

The importance of the message was reinforced by Professor Anthony Redmond Professor of Clinical Biomechanics University of Leeds. Delegates were challenged to be able to describe their research in 20 words and themselves in 10 seconds.

giles Yeo
Dr Yeo

Professor Anne-Maree Keenan, Chair of Applied Health Research and Assistant Director and Training Lead, NIHR Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Unit University of Leeds, introduced the delegates to the NIHR Making People Healthier Research Programme. Delegates then worked in 10 small groups supported by a designated mentor with a brief to develop a communications plan for our research. Each group was assigned a published paper to adopt as their research which had been funded by the NIHR Making People Healthier stream.

Two days were spent working with colleagues from Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs), Biomedical Research Centres (BRC’s) and Public Health Research units from across the UK we developed a communication plan and presentation for the B-type natriuretic peptide for incident atrial fibrillation – The Heinz Nixdorf Recall study, published in Journal of Cardiology.  Mentored by Dr James Frith from University of Newcastle we also had access to workshops on top tips for media interviews using media effectively and PPI in communications we also had 1:1 appointments with the press officer; PPI advisors the NIHR Director and NIHR comms team. There were a few surprises in and amongst such as being hauled out of a media interview with the unrelenting Professor Waljit S Dhillo.


The final morning required all groups to pitch their comms proposal to six members of a Dragon’s den type panel. Professor Dave Jones Dean of NIHR Faculty Trainees and Professor Waljit  Dhillo in particular had sharpened their critical appraisal skills and wit in readiness. They were met with well-prepared teams skilled in rebuttal.

Sadly we were not the winning team but it was an excellent learning experience shared with some wonderful colleagues in a supportive NIHR family environment! I advise all NIHR / NHLI doctoral students to get ready for the ninth NIHR training camp next year.

by Anne-Marie Russell

NIHR Clinical Research Fellow
Respiratory Epidemiology Occupational Medicine and Public Health


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