Hitting the right note

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by Judith Parry

In June this year, I had the privilege of attending a residential conference for UWE postgraduate research students, hosted by the graduate school.  Among the excellent items in a packed programme was an activity based on the dance your PhD contest.  This is an annual competition aimed at postgraduate researchers, in which students are challenged to present their research clearly and succinctly, in an entertaining manner, in order that it can be accessed by a wider audience audience (further information on the competition can be found here: https://www.science.org/content/page/announcing-annual-dance-your-ph-d-contest).

As luck would have it, I had brought my guitar to the residential. A few hours later, therefore, I had a rough-hewn song with some ropey lyrics.  The initial intention had been to add this as an audio file over some images, but I ran out of time and tech conspired against me.  Consequently, I chose instead to go unplugged, performing my “sung PhD” to a room full of my peers to much critical acclaim i.e. applause and some enthusiastic feedback.

Emboldened by this early success, I found myself playing the audio file of this song to my supervision team a few weeks later. They weren’t too damning of my efforts either – one of them even danced a little – so I proceeded to take further encouragement from this.

Which is how I recently found myself presenting my PhD research “Exploring the wellbeing benefits of Community-Led Housing, focusing on the influence of green space and green infrastructure on the mental wellbeing of residents”, as a more refined version of this song. This took place at the South West Doctoral Research Partnership conference, hosted on Frenchay campus towards the end of November.  I think the delegates attending the break-out session at which I provided this opener were more than a little surprised, but – once again – my efforts appeared to be met with some approval.

I suggest therefore that there is something to be said for not always conforming to the usual PowerPoint presentation as a means of communication.  The existence of a seminar at this same conference, on the topic of podcasts and research, would perhaps indicate I am not alone in thinking this.  Also, as a fellow PhD student said via direct message immediately afterwards, she found my performance “very informative as well as entertaining.” Which had been entirely my intention.

As researchers, many of us seek not only to gain knowledge for the sake of it, but also for our findings to have a wider influence on society, beyond the walls of academia.  More inventive forms of communicating our results are therefore surely to be recommended.  That is not to say that the accepted routes, such as peer-reviewed publications and traditional presentations, don’t continue to be valid and viable, but they perhaps lack the broader appeal needed to enable wider impact.

Whilst I recognise that approaches such as this song will not be acceptable to everyone, the reactions received to date suggest that at least it will not be forgotten. I thus remain resolved to continue in my attempts to strike a chord* with people in this manner.

(*Yes, I also pun.  And I’m not sorry.  You’ll remember that one too, though, won’t you?)

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