An Update on What’s in Store for the Next Few Months

I’ve done that thing again where I have a tonne of ideas and things to post, and then life gets in the way and time disappears leaving me with a never ending to do list and a blog that hasn’t been updated in too long. That never ending to do list is currently almost entirely on hold because I have left the UK, and will be returning only to switch out the contents of my suitcase, before returning at the very end of February. For the first time in a very long time, I’ve put everything on hold in favour of one project – my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.

I’m currently on holiday in Quebec City with my boyfriend. We’ve only been in Quebec for 1 day, but it’s been a pretty wonderful start to the trip. It’s freezing cold; -18°C levels of freezing cold, so today we’ve spent the day wrapped up warm and wandering around the city. We dawdled down towards the river that we can see from our hotel (incredible view from our room below!), and somehow ended up hurtling down a traditional toboggan run that’s one of the oldest attractions in the city. I did a lot of screaming and laughed so much that by the time we reached the bottom my face ached, my teeth were the coldest they’ve ever been, and I had tears streaming down my face. Today I also had a slice of the best pecan pie I’ve ever tasted – unsurprisingly, Canada suits me very well so far.

Tomorrow we are heading out to Montmorency Falls – a waterfall one and a half times higher than Niagra falls, and just a short drive outside of the city. Montmorency Falls freezes in the winter and it’s apparently a must-see if you’re in Quebec at this time of year. I’m super excited to see the views and take some time to see more of the area than we can on foot.

We’re staying in Quebec for new year’s eve, and then we’re heading to Toronto for a few days after new year. After that, Cameron is heading back home to Aberdeen and I’ll be in full Fellowship mode. Currently my itinerary looks something like this:

  • 5th-12th January: Toronto
  • 12th-18th January: New York
  • 18th-22nd January: New Hampshire
  • 22nd-30th January: Washington DC
  • 1st-3rd February: Berlin
  • 7th-16th February: Singapore
  • 16th-25th February: Hong Kong

So, what can you expect to see on this blog as I attempt to remember what city I’m in over the coming weeks and months?
Hopefully you’ll be pleased to know that I’ll be taking you along for the ride! My Fellowship project is all about science blogging, and using creative techniques to improve the way that blogs can engage the public with science, so it seems like a good idea to keep bit of a diary of my travels in blog form. I’ll also be doing a few more creative blog posts to try my hand at the new techniques and methods that I’ll be learning about from the experts that I’m meeting up with throughout.

On the subject of experts – if you are a science communicator, scientist that communicates their science to public audiences, someone using science as inspiration for creative projects, and you will be in any of those cities when I am scheduled to be, please let me know!
I’ve reached out to a number of people that I want to meet up with, but have purposefully kept my schedule relatively free so that I can make connections as I go. Leave a comment on this post, or tweet me (@heidirgardner), and let’s talk creative science communication.

About that Blogtober thing…

Hello again..

When I last did one of these ‘I SWEAR I’m gonna post more’ type posts, I said I was going to do Blogtober – i.e. posting every day in October. I did that, kind of, a little bit, not entirely. I missed 2 days between October 1st and 25th, and I haven’t posted since then.

I very definitely haven’t just been doing nothing in that time. It’s now 9.45pm on Tuesday 20th November and I am doing panicking about how little time I have left before my contract finishes at work. Not because I don’t know what I’m going to do, but because oh my God there is SO MUCH to do.

Since I last blogged, I’ve done a fair amount of stuff, a mix of fun at home stuff, fun at work stuff and at work stuff, including but not limited to:

  • Been flying in my boyfriend’s new aeroplane
  • Seen friends in Glasgow that we haven’t seen for months
  • Continued to learn Mandarin (I know! Exciting! I want to write a blog post on this soon)
  • Done 2 vivas for students (weird, because I was the examiner?)
  • Had some really annoying issues with my depression medication that’s meant that I am genuinely finding it hard to get enough sleep – not that I can’t sleep, but that I can’t stop sleeping. It’s really annoying and my love for the NHS is the only thing stopped me from exploding about the fact that I’m still waiting for a follow up appointment to try and fix things despite this having a massive impact on my day to day life. (If anyone is interested in weird ways depression can impact your life, let me know – happy to talk about it if people are interested or think it might be helpful)
  • Took part in 2 weeks of I’m A Scientist live chats with schools across the UK (again, I’ll write a blog post on this at some point soon)
  • Been home to see my Mum for a weekend (thanks to aforementioned medication issues I slept for about 60% of the time I was there..)
  • Advertised and spoke to students interested in an MSc project that I proposed, so that’s exciting (not sure if any of them have chosen the project yet but fingers crossed!)
  • Given interviews for 2 separate 30 Under 30 things (beyond hilarious)
  • Gave an invited talk at the James Hutton Institute about the importance of academic blogging (the irony of giving said talk having not posted anything here for weeks was not lost on me)
  • Had my first ever full body massage (OMG DO IT, I felt like a new woman for days afterwards)
  • Signed up and started volunteering as a Coordinator for Pint of Science – we are bringing the event to Aberdeen in May 2019 (I’m very excited about this)
  • Designed some last minute Christmas stock for Science On A Postcard (it’s a collab with Wonk! Magazine – coming soooon)
  • Booked all of my accommodation for adventuring end of December to February 2019 (EXCITING! Again, another blog post coming on this soon)
  • Cleared out my wardrobe and furnished Aberdeen’s charity shops with an embarrassing amount of clothes
  • Gave a Cafe Scientifique talk in Tarland, Aberdeenshire, where I talked about clinical trials, research waste, and the work we’re doing at Trial Forge to make trials more efficient
  • Submitted the hard bound copy of my PhD thesis (proof in the form of a photograph below) and ordered robes etc because I AM GRADUATING ON FRIDAY.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m going to sort my inbox out before I go to bed, and do my very best not to sleep through my alarm for the hundredth time this month. Tomorrow is going to be super busy and brilliant because we have a visiting researcher at work, and I have multiple Skype chats to make sure I get everything I want to get done, done, before I leave the Unit at the end of December.

What I really want to do now is say I’m going to do Blogmas – i.e. posting every day in December in the run up to Christmas, but we all know that if I say I’ll do the whole Blogmas thing, I’ll probably get caught up with other things. So, I won’t say I’m doing Blogmas, but I will update soon, probably with graduation photographs after Friday 🙂

Have a lovely week everyone!

I’m on Mighty Casey Quinlan’s Podcast!

Another late post, but I’m super excited for this one.

Today I spoke to the wonderful Mighty Casey Quinlan – she’s a hugely engaging podcaster and comedian who interviewed me in the most warm and enthusiastic way. We talked all things trials, public engagement, and patient involvement.

Listen to our podcast here.

Links to things we discussed from the Healthcare is Hilarious show notes:

Randomized controlled trials explainer (from The Conversation)
Cochrane recruitment guide (link is to full training handbook)
James Lind and the first clinical trial in 1747 (spoiler alert: the scourge of scurvy!)
The “sweetie trial” that Heidi talks about
Heidi’s blog post manifesto on why early career researchers should do public engagement
Trial Forge, the project that Heidi is working on
Heidi on Twitter
Heidi’s profile on the University of Aberdeen’s site

Prioritising the Research Agenda for Trial Retention – Birmingham, 23rd October 2018

I’ve been in Birmingham today for the final consensus meeting of the PRioRiTy II project, so I thought I’d write a quick blog post before dinner so that you can find out a bit more about the process of research prioritisation.

Image credit: Prof Shaun Treweek

I’ve spoken on this blog before about the first PRioRiTy project, which was a prioritisation of questions around trial recruitment. That project took the same shape, though I’ve been more heavily involved in PRioRiTy II because it’s led by Dr Katie Gillies, who was one of my PhD supervisors; she’s now one of my line managers and she’s fantastic to work with. Katie was a participant in the consensus meeting for PRioRiTy, and as soon as she came back from that meeting (almost 2 years ago!), she set to work on PRioRiTy II – she moves fast because she is a complete trial methods nerd, just like me (I’ve found my people!).

So, I said she moves fast, but you might ask why it’s taken 2 years to get here. As with anything in research the process is not as simple as it looks. This prioritisation exercise was not simply a group of people getting together in a room today and deciding what we thought was most important; the process has involved many, many more people than just those in the room, and is based on the method that the James Lind Alliance (JLA) use for priority setting partnerships. The JLA method is designed to take into account the views and opinions of all stakeholders that have an interest in a specific research area. For us, that meant: trialists, methodologists, ethics committee members, researchers, patients, funders, clinicians and more, but the JLA method has been used for lots of prioritisation activities and the people involved are tailored each time to fit with the aims of the project.

We had a wonderful graphic illustrator with us today, and she captured the ‘story so far’ brilliantly in the image below. Before today we had a survey, followed by a huge amount of data analysis and question searching within the responses from that initial survey, an interim prioritisation process (some of you might have been involved with this because I posted about it here), and then came this face to face consensus meeting – so today was the culmination of a lot of views, opinions, time and effort.

A snapshot of a graphic illustration from the PRioRiTy II consensus meeting showing the story so far.

Below are a few photographs from the day – lots of serious faces, extensive discussion, and some compromises needing to be made too.

The kick off – Katherine Cowan (Senior Advisor to the JLA) did an excellent job chairing the workshop, keeping us all to time and making sure that everyone’s voice was heard within the discussions.

Image credit: Prof Shaun Treweek

In the first session of group work attendees shared their 3 most and 3 least important questions from the list of 21 that we had supplied them with in advance. From the initial survey responses we had 27 questions, which were then narrowed down to 21 questions during the interim prioritisation.

The second session of group work saw the beginning of the ranking process! Coloured tablecloths were used to distinguish questions that were most important (green), least important (red), and somewhere in the middle (yellow). This allowed participants to discuss the ranking of their group as a whole (i.e. based on the feedback from the first group session), and then physically move the questions into a more defined ranking position after discussion.

The final session – questions were laid on the floor so that the entire group could see the ranking. Katherine then went through each question in turn to ensure that the group could reach a consensus; harder than you might think!

Image credit: Trial Forge

We won’t be sharing the top 10 questions around trial retention just yet though; tomorrow we have our final Steering Group meeting (let me know if you’d like to see a blog post about what a Steering Group does within a research project!) where we will go through the top 20 questions and make sure that all the wording is clear.

We then plan on unveiling the top 10 at the Society of Clinical Trials meeting in New Orleans next May. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you might remember that I went to the Society for Clinical Trials meeting earlier this year when it was in Portland. It’s a brilliant conference that enables trialists from around the world to meet each year to share their work. After that we also plan to do some more conference dissemination at the International Clinical Trials Methodology conference, which takes place in Brighton next October. Keep an eye out for future blog posts too – I’ll be posting the final top 10 when they’re released!

Image credit: Prof Jane Daniels

Knowing When to Take a Break

If you’ve been following my Blogtober posts, you might have noticed that I missed a day yesterday. I just did not have the time to get a blog post written and uploaded.
I had planned to do it on Tuesday night, but I ended up getting caught up with some freelance work and then packaging and sorting my shop orders took way longer than I thought it would. Yesterday just seemed to go by in a blur; in the morning I was doing a viva for an MSci student that I’ve been supervising whilst she’s been away on placement all year. After that I had a Mandarin Chinese lesson (I’ll talk more about this in another blog post – it’s so much fun!), and then by the time I got back to my desk, sorted out my inbox, and did the urgent things on my to do list it was almost 6pm and my tummy was doing the ‘leave work now and feed me’ grumbles. Predictably, last night also went at super speed and before I knew it it was 11pm.

I had thought of staying up and working on getting a blog post up before midnight because the thought of missing 1 day in the middle of the month was driving me mad, but after more than 30 seconds’ thought and a yawn that was so big it probably could have broken my jaw, I decided against it.

Today has also gone by in a blur, so I’m here after 6pm thinking ‘oh crap, what do I blog about today?’ – and I think that in itself is interesting. I blog to share my research, to draw attention to subjects that I care about, and to try to encourage people to engage with health services research. If I’m exhausted and pushed for time, it’s very unlikely that I’ll achieve any of those things; knowing when to take a break is important.

So, with that in mind, I am going to take tonight easy. I am going to read my book (I’m currently reading Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss and really enjoying it so far), I might write a blog post later on, and I’m going to get an early night.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog post that I haven’t felt pressured or felt rushed to write. I’m planning on doing a ‘publication explainer’ post talking about embedded studies, what they are and why we need more of them.

Have a lovely evening 🙂

Peterborough STEM Festival – 13th October 2018

Today I was at Peterborough STEM Festival with Science On A Postcard – I know, I haven’t mentioned it at all, hence the late #Blogtober post. Yesterday I drove from Aberdeen to Northumberland to Doncaster, and then my boyfriend drove the last hour and a half to Peterborough. We were then up bright and early to set up our stand at the event this morning before doors opened at 9.30am. We shut down at 4pm and the day was jam packed! Really good fun, but hoooooly cow I am tired. So tired in fact, that we both drove back to the hotel and immediately had a nap before ordering room service and watching Harry Potter (#rockandroll).

Enough about my post-nap antics; today was brilliant. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’ve only sold Science On A Postcard projects online up until now; this was my first face to face activity.

I did a lot of prep work last week – my nails are officially wrecked from taking pin badge backers off, adding a backing card and then re-pinning – but the preparation seemed to pay off!

We had lots of brilliant attendees coming to see what we were selling, some buying, and some even asking about how Science On A Postcard came about. I even got the chance to do some of science communication about my own work, clinical trials and Trial Forge! One lovely guy named Samson (a Geophysicist) even got me with some of his own scicomm whilst his little daughter was sneaky away with one of the free lollipops we supplied 🙂

As well as working scientists, we had lots of scientists of the future coming over asking questions about our pin badges – ‘what’s a mathematician?’ ‘what is diversity?’ and ‘how do I become a doctor?’ were some of my personal highlights. Lots of these children were also coming over to tell us about the other exhibits that they’d seen that day (again, it could have been the lollipops!), showing that the demonstrations that were going on all day were really getting children excited whilst teaching them fun facts about science, technology, engineering and maths in the process.

For those that are on Instagram, follow us @scienceonapostcard. For those that aren’t, here’s our insta story from today 🙂

Thanks to all of the wonderful organisers and volunteers that helped out at Peterborough STEM Festival today – you were all incredible and made sure that the day went without a hitch! Well done, and enjoy the post-event warm fuzzy feelings as you continue to get positive feedback over the coming days. We hope to be back next year 🙂

For now, I’m off to climb into my giant hotel bed before the long drive back to Aberdeen tomorrow.

Living Near Peterborough and Have Some Free Time This Weekend?

What are you doing this weekend?

If you’re stuck for ideas, come and see me at Peterborough STEM Festival!

The STEM Festival in Peterborough is an event run completely by volunteers, and a passionate bunch they are too! This year the team have put together an incredible line up including:

  • TV presenter Maddie Moate who  will be doing an event linked to her Mission to Mars Astronaut Academy, and also a meet and greet
  • A tech-based escape room with BGL Group
  • Technology business Codem and their Sahara Force India F1 car and simulator
  • A Mad Science show featuring ‘flying toilet roll’, ‘eye-boggling erupting pipes’ and ‘cool dry ice’
  • Mathematician Katie Steckles’s show ‘The Mathematics of Paper’
  • Mathematician Dr Tom Crawford, aka Tom Rocks Maths, who will be talking about the science and maths behind a perfect penalty kick
  • Making the best paper plane with Thomas Cook
  • An introduction to coding with Vivacity Code Clubs

As I said earlier, I’ll be there too. I won’t be talking clinical trials though, instead I’m taking Science On A Postcard on the road! I’ll be there with my lovely partner selling enamel pins, postcards, notebooks, tote bags, pocket mirrors and more – all with a STEM twist!

Peterborough STEM Festival is completely free to attend, to make sure you don’t miss out grab your tickets here. Hopefully see you there 🙂