On the 26th of May Professor Thomas Brand, Head of the Developmental Dynamics group participated in a science outreach activity, which was organised by the Native Scientist Organisation and the Goethe Institute in London. Two classes with pupils aged 15-16, who had German as second language for at least three years participated in this activity. Four scientists including Prof. Brand gave 15 minutes lectures on their scientific subject.
The lecture by Prof. Brand dealt with the ability of the heart to adapt to stress. He explained what the heart looks like, where the pacemaker is localised in the heart and how an electrocardiogram tells about how the heart functions.
Experiment. Heart rate measurement before and after a brief exercise.
In order to illustrate the ability of the heart to increase its rate of beating, each of the students had to measure their heart rate (pulse) before and after 10 knee bends.
Students do knee bends
Surprisingly we found there was a wide spread of student heart rates – which varied from 36 beats per minute (bpm) to 90 bpm. After the brief training heart rates in most cases went up by around 20-40 bpm.
In two cases however the heart rate was slower than before training, which maybe related to the fact that sitting in front of a real professor may make the heart beat faster and the physical activity was actually relaxing.
The brief lecture ended with some information on the actual research of Prof. Brand who discovered a family of proteins called the Popeye domain proteins, which are involved in the fight or flight response. Mice, zebrafish and also patients carrying mutations in these genes display abnormal heart rates in response to physical stress.
On the 18th March members of the Muscle Lab (Dr Matt Pavitt, Dr Karthi Srikanthan and Dr Ahmad Sadaka) ran a stand at the Imperial Fringe: Sports and Science Day in White City in association with Queens Park Rangers FC. The stall was entitled “Do you have the lungs of a footballer?”
Fringe-goers were given the opportunity to undertake an informal testing of their lung health with spirometry and carbon monoxide monitors. We also had a chance to discuss topics including:
lung disease in sport,
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Imperial College estimated 700 people attended the event. If you’d like to follow the work of the Muscle lab you can follow us on Twitter @NHLIRespMuscle.
Did you know?
Smoking is the leading cause of death in Great Britain, in 2013 80,000 deaths were attributable to smoking in England. Smoking costs the NHS UK £5.2 billion (2005/06). 19% of adults in Great Britain currently smoke (down from a peak of 46% in 1974), 20% of men and 17% of women currently smoke (www.ons.gov.uk).
Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health. Examples of air pollutants are nitrogen dioxide and particulates. Annually 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution (www.rcplondon.ac.uk).
We hear from a member of the NHLI Postdoc Committee and a PhD student on their experiences of the NHLI Postdoc Day that was held on January 23rd 2017. The event is designed to give our postdocs an opportunity to explore their career options and focus on their career progression as well as to network with other NHLI postdocs.
NHLI Postdoc Day 2017 from the perspective of the Postdoc Committee
Life as a postdoctoral researcher isn’t always straightforward. Although you’ve completed the seemingly unending task of your PhD, which is a large weight off your shoulders, by taking the next logical step and becoming a postdoctoral researcher, your future can feel uncertain. With only 1/10 postdoctoral researchers successful in pursuing a career in academia, making the best of every opportunity is key. This was clearly highlighted at the NHLI Postdoc Day on 23rd January.
Hearing from successful postdocs in how they have managed to drive their career forward, despite setbacks was both heartening and inspirational, and their ‘hints and tips’ were extremely useful!
The day began with a talk from the PostDoc Development Centre representative Karen Hinxman. Karen highlighted what the PDC could do to help the postdocs at Imperial. From CV checking to running courses and giving mock interviews for prospective job and fellowship applications, the PDC is an invaluable resource. We then heard from three researchers, Dr Louise Blakemore, Dr James Harker and Dr Jon Wilkinson highlighting the different pathways that a postdoctoral researcher wishing to take the academic route can take. Hearing from successful postdocs in how they have managed to drive their career forward, despite setbacks was both heartening and inspirational, and their ‘hints and tips’ were extremely useful! We then heard some enlightening talks about how Athena SWAN initiatives can help our career development and also the importance of open access publishing. Lunch provided the opportunity to network with fellow postdocs and also to meet the postdoc reps and speakers – and ask them any questions.
After lunch we heard from Sarah Lloyd from the Wellcome Trust who gave us an overview of the funding offered to postdocs, both early career and those looking to establish their own research groups, and also gave us some key tips to help with applications. Dr Charlotte Dean, a PI from Imperial, then outlined her career path and how it fit in with family life. The day ended with three former NHLI postdocs and alternative career paths they have taken, in industry, academic publishing and public outreach which was both eye opening and informative, and let us know that life on the bench isn’t the only option post-PhD.
As an early career postdoctoral researcher, I found this whole day invaluable, and the event has helped me to gain some much-needed direction in driving my career forward!
By Sara Bonvini
NHLI Postdoc Day 2017 from the Perspective of a Final Year PhD student
Being a final year PhD student brings lots of questions and uncertainties. Apart from the PhD project itself, the most burning question is – “What next?”. According to The Royal Society (2010), only about 3.5% of PhD students stay in academia/University research, so what happens to the rest of them and what will happen to me?
The rest of the presentations were interesting and inspirational stories of journeys of some of the ex-NHLI postdocs.
The NHLI Postdoc Day, to which they invite PhD students in their final year, can help to answer some of these questions. The day is filled with lectures and this year we had eleven speakers. About half of the presentations were about the support for postdocs that is available at the Imperial College London and NHLI – the Postdoc Development Centre, the Open Access Publishing, the Wellcome Trust Funding, and the Athena SWAN programme. To me as a PhD student, it was useful to learn what it would be like to take a postdoc position at the College or specifically with NHLI.
The rest of the presentations were interesting and inspirational stories of journeys of some of the ex-NHLI postdocs. It was reassuring to hear that the road after PhD is not always a straight one. It can take turns and bumps due to personal or family priorities at a time, but rather that being a hindrance, it can actually enrich and expand our scientific world; being it teaching science to children abroad, or working as a scientist in an industry developing a diagnostic assay for clinical use.
I enjoyed all the presentations, and I learnt a lot. I believe that it would be beneficial to all PhD students, regardless of how far in their PhD they are. It might inspire them and help them to understand the different challenges and possibilities inside and outside of academia after they finish their PhD.
Having never attended a bring your child to work day myself when I was a child, I was unsure what to expect. As the National Heart and Lung Institute is a higher education institute renowned for high-quality research in complex cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, it was difficult to see how children as young as two would be able to get an insight into what their parents did at work. Nonetheless, my skepticism was unfounded, and my NHLI colleagues beautifully demonstrated how some of the scientific principles used at the NHLI on a daily basis could be communicated to the youngest of audiences.
It was great to see how Monty, a soft toy macrophage, could be used to illustrate the function of our white blood cells in locating and ‘eating’ microscopic foreign bodies to ensure a healthy immune system.
I spent the morning at the Guy Scadding Building with the children aged 2-3 and their parents. Activities included colouring in different cell structures and fishing for bacteria in a ball pit. Teddy, the youngest of the children, commented how he was “fishing for bugs.”
During the lunch break Maggie, age 8, explained to me how she had spent the morning performing a strawberry DNA extraction which involved immersing a strawberry in extraction solution in a zip lock bag and then filtering the liquid through a cheesecloth, before adding alcohol and removing the DNA with a pipette.
In the afternoon, parents, children, vampires and aliens attending the event from across the NHLI campuses met at the spookily decorated Queens Tower Rooms for a Halloween Party, which included face painting, apple bobbing, and the Mummy Wrap game.
Coming from a non-scientific background, I found that I had learned something new and gained a valuable insight into some of the scientific research that takes place here as well as a new appreciation for the multiple uses of a toilet roll.
Students and staff danced the night away at the NHLI’s welcome and farewell event for post-graduate taught programmes.
The dinner and dance event took place last week at the Queens Tower Rooms on the South Kensington Campus. The aim of the event was to allow our graduating students the opportunity to meet and share their experiences with the new students. So those who have already studied one of our post-graduate taught programmes can pass on first-hand their ideas of what to expect during their studies. Staff from the education, administrative and teaching teams were also on hand to answer any student questions and join in the dancing, including course leaders and Director of Education at NHLI Sue Smith.
Attendees were brought together by local folk band ‘Muscadin’ who succeeded in spreading their love of folk dancing, even with those of us who may not have done much, if any, folk dancing before. The dances of the night involved moving around the room and mingling with people who you may not have met beforehand, therefore encouraging the interaction between students and staff from different courses.
Ellie Wilde, Trainee Education Administrator with NHLI, attended the evening and remarked “This was my first Cèilidh experience and I had great fun. The live band, Muscadin, were excellent – everyone likes a bit of folk music and dancing. I enjoyed swinging all the NHLI students and staff around on the dance floor. It was certainly a very lively evening, filled with lots of food, wine, skipping, hand-clapping and brow sweating. Luckily, kilts or tartan were not required!”.
A great night was had by all, a fitting hello and goodbye for NHLI students.
Everything was defined in a scientific business context (no communication to lay audiences here) and after two and a half days of active listening, transactional analysis, thinking about relative needs and head-down building roadmaps for hard negotiations we wanted more!
Step one: ignore the other party and decide what you want. Oh so easy to say, but so hard to do. In detail. More detail. The more detail I write down, the more flexible I can be in my negotiation (apparently).
Step two: place an ambition on everything – in the ideal world how much lab space do I want, what equipment do I need access to, what would I like to be paid…
Step three: what are my limits? For what things is there a point at which I will stop and walk away? What is that point? Would I really walk away for one unit lower?
Step four: what other criteria don’t have limits but are ‘important’? What information would it be in my interest for the other person to know about me? (Make a list, make sure you tell them!) What questions do I have? (Questions must be facts, and can’t be negotiation points – don’t put the same thing in two places…).
Only once I know all of this can I even talk to the other side (or so I learned).
We negotiated to buy a house, a holiday, to start up a lab, to get a job. We watched each other, we gave feedback (‘I really liked… and next time I would change…’), we got stopped mid-sentence from giving abstract advice such as ‘…couldn’t she have…?’ and instead were invited to change places and have a try ourselves. It’s a bit harder when you’re sitting in the hot seat (I learned). Am I trying to negotiate? Or convince? Offer an alternative, buy, compromise or impose?
Aside from the roadmaps, the one exercise that will really stick in my mind is the one on body language:
‘Find a partner where each person speaks a language that the other doesn’t understand,’ we were told.
Next, ‘relate a story to the other person about something which has an emotion involved, eg happy, sad, angry.’
And finally, ‘Ask the other person what emotion they thought the story was about’.
Vraiment, GCSE French m’a equipé pour communiquer avec mes collègues, and astoundingly the emotion of the story was communicated absolutely perfectly, even through the struggle for scraps of vocabulary. Perhaps more interestingly, conveying emotions wasn’t just limited to communication within European languages.
My only regret is that my colleagues know what I’ve been doing. ‘What,’ I hear them thinking, ‘is she going to ask for next?’ Good question, but we also learned that there isn’t always a negotiated solution. What we can do though is try: ‘it may take two to tango, but it only needs one to lead the dance’.
Professor Barbara Casadei hopes to inspire the next generation of female scientists by encouraging women in the progression of their scientific careers. As such, she is the perfect speaker for the next NHLI Athena Lecture. The NHLI Athena SWAN lecture series highlights high profile female scientists and asks them to talk about their research and career path as a woman.
Prof Barbara Casadei: Fortune Sides with Her Who Dares
Tuesday 31st of Jan 2017, 4 pm
Room G34, Sir Alexander Fleming (SAF) Building, South Kensington campus
The talk will look at Barbara’s research and how her career has expanded, leading to her current posts as a Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford, Deputy Head of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Fellow of Wolfson College.
After studying medicine in Italy, Barbara Casadei moved to Oxford to undertake her clinical and research training. She was awarded the Joan and Richard Doll Fellowship at Green College in 1991, a DPhil in Cardiovascular Medicine in 1995, and a BHF Senior Research Fellowship in 2001.
Earlier this year Dr James Moss, Dr Saleh and I created a game based tutorial called the High Altitude Game that aimed to bring together a years’ worth of pharmacology and physiology knowledge for 1st year medics. The game has a simple premise; you (in a group of 6 people) are a single medical officer on an expedition climbing Everest with the responsibility for the medical needs of your climbers. There are six timed challenges and points are scored for each including your team name. You start at base camp and must decide who can and cannot go on the trip i.e. should someone with COPD climb Everest? As the game takes twists and turns you must diagnose and treat party members including a wondering exile who is slowly making his way down the mountain. There are board game style pieces that you assemble giving a practical feel to the tutorial. The game was designed to be challenging to 1st year medics requiring them to make quick decisions to treat their climbers.
I was asked by Dr Rebecca Holloway from Imperial Outreach to play the game with lower 6th form students at their annual summer school. Imperial Outreach, headed by Dr Annalisa Alexander and her highly dedicated team, focusses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and gives school children of a variety of ages the opportunity to experience university teaching regardless of background. Every student I have taught at outreach over the past 2 years has been focussed, enthusiastic and dedicated so I was really looking forward to playing the High Altitude Game with them.
I did not alter the game to fit the level of 6th formers, but rather opted to teach students the medical physiology that would be needed, through a lecture in the first half of the day. The students were told to take notes on the information that they thought would be relevant to the game. I hoped here that when playing the game they would share their notes learning from each other.
The lecture was broken into discussion sessions where newly learned topics were discussed in groups related to diseases such as asthma and COPD to solidify the new knowledge acquired. Ideas from these discussion sessions were presented to the class via a poster that the students created. There were further discussions as a class on the presentation and the students were eager to ask questions. The subject matter was further broken up by other mini games, one of which involved handicapping one group of students with lab goggles covered in cling film and pitting them against another group of students at a buzzwire game to highlight the effects of high altitude cerebral oedema on vision, focus and dexterity.
In the second half of the day, we played the High Altitude Game. The students were split into different teams with a mentor whose task was to facilitate discussions during the game in a PBL style without giving the answers to the challenges. The mentors, Anabelle (Biomedical science), Charlotte (Biomedical science) and Rishi (2nd year medic) worked incredibly hard to keep the game running smoothly especially when we played the sound of a mountain storm for half of the game full blast through the speakers.
At the end of the day the mentors and I tallied the scores and were delighted to see that all groups completed the game with high marks above 70%. However, as there could only be one winner the group scoring the highest marks received Terry’s chocolate oranges.
It was a very challenging and fun filled day. I would like to thank the mentors, Shreya (Outreach lab technician) and Dr Holloway for their hard work and effort in making the day run smoothly.
We received positive feedback for the day from the students. Generally they liked the way the lecture fit into the High Altitude Game. They aspect of the game they particularly enjoyed was that the tasks were practical and that they integrated into the game narrative. The students worked very hard to deal with all challenges the day had to offer them. I wish them well in their future pursuits whether they be academic or otherwise.
I’m very encouraged to see that Imperial has joined the 30% Club, which is a global campaign aiming get a minimum of 30% women on key governing bodies. It was first for FTSE-100 boards but has since expanded to organisations such as universities.
This declaration by the College is backed by practical initiatives such as a new Executive MBA scholarship scheme for women in partnership with the 30% Club. In addition to the financial scholarship from Imperial, successful applicants will receive a range of support from the 30% Club, including a cross-company mentoring scheme and exclusive event invitations. Although we clearly have Alice Gast to thank for much of this, it’s a very positive message to see other senior leaders in the College very much present at the events around this and actively promoting the Athena agenda.