CASE STUDY: ONTARIO INSTITUTE FOR REGENERATIVE MEDICINE
BACKSTORY – SCICOMM 101
When the OIRM reached out to me in January 2016, I knew right away I wanted to work on this project. But, as a freelance production studio, not for the reasons you might think. Yes, I wanted the work.
But, it was about much more than that.
I worked in academia for a long time and, by the time I left, I was convinced that students and postdocs weren’t getting the opportunities they needed to be able to effectively communicate ideas outside of it.
Once they leave, most will never write another grant, traditional thesis or manuscript. Many will never put together another conference talk for a group of peers in a (potentially very narrow) niche area. But, despite gaining these kinds of experiences during their doctoral studies, most have no idea how to write for (or speak to) those outside of academia.
And, guess where most students and postdocs are headed?
I feel strongly at this point, that these kinds of experiences – creating short pitches for these kinds of competitions, taking part in 3 Minute Research Talks, or simply sitting in on elevator pitch workshops should be mandatory.
The science is hugely important, and explaining it is what I do for a living. The work outlined in these videos will live on. Once these students graduate, their projects will be picked up by new candidates who, hopefully, will continue the process of moving these solutions closer to the clinic. But, I care as deeply about the future of these students as I do about the science. I don’t know where they’re headed after they graduate. But, I hope they realize and appreciate how hard and rewarding this kind of challenge can be. The lessons they’ve learned here will serve them well no matter where life takes them.
Students and postdocs need more opportunities like this one.
I was just happy to be a small part of it.
GOOD TO KNOW
This series starts off with a pitch competition initiated by the OIRM – in which doctoral students involved in stem cell research across Ontario are challenged to summarize their work in 1 minute pitch videos. Three winners are selected to have their pitches turned into a full 2-3 minute animated video.
OIRM’s communication director, Lisa Willemse, worked with the winners to polish their scripts and provide some live video footage of them in their labs for the final animation.
This is where I come in.
Projects like these are full collaborations in every sense of the word, and they’re a lot of fun. The OIRM sends me the students’ voice over and video footage.
I the animate the sequences and stitch them together with the live video.
In this video (the first of four produced in collaboration with the OIRM), doctoral student Nika Shakiba describes the complexities of turning adult cells back into stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are those that have the capability to become any type of cell in the body. Nika’s work involves taking adult cells and turning them back into stem cells – the goal of which is personalized medicine (being able to use one’s own cells to repair our own organs should they fail).
The process is called “reprogramming,” but it’s horribly inefficient. Nika strives to use mathematical models to predict which cells might be lucky enough to re-claim that elusive stem cell status.
More efficient reprogramming = more stem cells = better opportunities for regenerative medicine
- There’s a clear problem and a sense of urgency
The time a patient waits for an organ can mean the difference between life and death. This statement (called a hook – a trigger that entices your audience to continue watching) is delivered within the first few seconds of the video. You aren’t left wondering why Nika’s work is so important.
- It covers only what’s relevant for its audience
Nothing about working with stem cells is easy. The science behind how they grow and the decisions they make about their fate is hugely complex. Nika and Lisa did a great job distilling down what was important for a general audience to know.
If you, your organization, lab or business is tasked with explaining science to an audience, this video serves as a great template.
- Notice what’s missing
Even though this video provides a nice foundation of what to say in this kind of science video, equally important is what Nika doesn’t say/do:
No specifics are given regarding the mathematical models she uses.
No details are given on exactly what genetic factors are used to initiate the reprogramming process. There are genes that, when added to cells, are known to coax cells into becoming stem cells. There are also factors that are known to help maintain cells in a stem cell state. She doesn’t tell us what these are.
She’s obviously looking for specific markers on her cells to suggest that reprogramming has taken place. Yet, we never learn what these are.
There aren’t any acronyms that she doesn’t define and there’s no jargon.
If you think this was a lot of material to leave out – it was. Remember though that scientists weren’t the target audience.
The general public was.
There’s no point in providing additional information that won’t be retained.
All she gives you is a glimpse into the problem and how she’s tackling it. If you want to know more, the easiest thing to do is reach out to her lab’s supervisor or take a look on the OIRM website for more links and information.
For more help crafting your own message, here’s a quick cheat sheet to get you started with your own science story. Simply hover over the PDF below to expand, read and download.
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STEM CELLS INKED – EPISODE 1 STORYBOARD