Magnetic Moments: Taking Our Science to the People!

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By Alex Smith, Carinne Piekema and Karla Miller

This year at the ISMRM-ESMRMB joint meeting, we are excited to announce a new competition to provide an opportunity to practice public outreach: Magnetic Moments.

Why engage the public? At the end of the day, scientists work for the public. Most of our research is publicly funded, as are most academic institutions. The public deserves our best effort to explain what this money goes to, particularly for research like ours that is relatively expensive. Sharing our love of science is also important as it sparks the interest of the next generation of scientists.

However, connecting with the public can be a difficult task for even the most accomplished scientist. We develop an entire scientific language within our field and tend to work in very specialized areas – even within our field. This makes it challenging to talk about our research with the general public, friends and family, and sometimes even other researchers.

What is a Magnetic Moment? You mean, aside from the origin of the world’s greatest medical imaging technology? Well, in this context a Magnetic Moment is a video explaining your research in a way that everyone can understand. It’s one way for the ISMRM to explain itself to the public – Magnetic Moment videos will be hosted on the ISMRM’s YouTube channel. And it’s a nice way for you to promote your research within our community, as the semi-finalist videos will be featured at the annual meeting.

How does it work? First authors of accepted abstracts are invited to enter the competition by submitting a 3.5 minute video presentation about your research pitched at a level that anyone can understand. The format is up to you, but below are some pointers that may help you think about the content of your presentation. After semi-finalists are selected, secondary schools around the world will vote to choose finalists, who will then present to a live panel of judges drawn from the broader public at the ISMRM-ESMRMB joint meeting.

Can I still participate if I don’t have an abstract to present? Absolutely. We need members to get the word out with local secondary schools. Even better, you could attend a school to introduce the competition and talk about your own experiences as a researcher. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry – we’ll provide you with materials and have a public engagement professional on board who can provide advice and guidance. Let’s take our research to the people and encourage the next generation of scientists!

What makes for good public outreach?

  • Target your audience appropriately. Remember, the overall goal of this presentation is to explain your research in terms anyone will understand. If a 12-year-old would be able to understand what you are saying, you’ve hit the right level.
  • Tell a story. Engage your audience by relating your work to concepts, situations or issues they are familiar with. Don’t try to fit in too much or make too many analogies, though. Pick one key message and stick to it.
  • Tell them why. As with all science communication, explaining why your research is important makes all the difference. Will it improve diagnosis? Advance knowledge about how the brain works? Avoid unnecessary procedures? Be explicit! Often, a good presentation will dedicate just as much time to “why” as to “what”.
  • Avoid technical jargon. Like all fields, we have developed our own language to describe complicated concepts like k-space, coils or oedema. But the general public has no idea what these words mean. A great tool for identifying overly complex language is the XKCD simple writer (https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/).
  • Keep figures simple… Like the words you use, any figures should be simple. Most likely, effective figures won’t be perfect representations of your research. That’s fine – public engagement aims to impart a basic understanding, not research expertise.
  • …or don’t use figures at all! We’re all accustomed to speaking over slides. But by thinking that figures tell the story for us, we can get a false sense of clarity. Often, the use of simple props can be even more effective – so much so that we have a special prize for the best presentation without slides.
  • Ask the experts. Effective public engagement takes practice, so we have enlisted a professional. Carinne Piekema is a public engagement coordinator with years of experience. She is available to give feedback and would love to hear from you (carinne.piekema@ndcn.ox.ac.uk).
  • Don’t focus on aesthetics. The example videos included here are of a high filming standard, but there’s no need to go that far. Feel free to use your phone’s camera, or video capture powerpoint. The message is the thing!

We hope you find your Magnetic Moment to Explain Your Research to Everyone!