“Science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.”

“Science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.” – Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

When asked what inspires her research and her life, Sandhya Mylabathula, a doctoral candidate in Exercise Sciences, readily cites Mark Walport’s belief in the necessary connection between science and communication.

But just as enthusiastically, she takes Walport’s tenet two steps further: Research isn’t finished until it is communicated and then acted upon,” she says.

Precisely this kind of thinking motivates Sandhya to look for opportunities to communicate science to non-specialized audiences.

She’s now in her 6th year of volunteering with Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization that delivers programs in science, technology, engineering, and math to students from Pre-School to Grade 12.

She has presented at the Ontario Science Centre to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. She has attended conferences in other disciplines to discover approaches that enrich how she communicates her research (at a recent conference in Banff, for example, she learned about qualitative analysis). And last spring, she took a creative leap, entering the inaugural Showcase Your Work competition at Robarts Library. To Sandhya’s complete surprise, she won.

Showcase Your Work is an initiative of the University of Toronto Libraries’ International and Community Outreach Committee, which oversees the use of the exhibition facilities in Robarts Library. This competition was launched to attract a new group of potential exhibitors, U of T graduate students, in recognition of their innovative research. With the support of the Office of the Chief Librarian, committee members Vincci Lui, Ksenya Kiebuzinski, Maureen Morin, and Megan Campbell organized the inaugural event. Each winning project received a prize of $1000, as well as a materials budget of up to $200 to help offset the cost of printing and supplies. Tracy L. Spurrier (PhD candidate, Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations) and the team of Tim Rappon (MD/PhD student) and Nida Shahid (PhD student, both in the Institute For Health Policy, Management and Evaluation) joined Sandhya in the January 17 celebration officially launching their exhibits—and marking their achievements.

Sandhya admits that transforming her great ideas into an engaging display was not easy. For instance, she knew she wanted to include interactive components in her exhibit Concussions: The impact of injury—but how? Some troubleshooting and conversations with Committee members led to her to a dramatic solution to convey concussions as an “invisible injury”: viewers of her exhibit are encouraged to shine a blacklight flashlight on an image of a brain to reveal a mind map of themes related to concussion injuries, from frustration and denial to isolation. “It’s important for people with concussions to have a good support network to help them deal with any emotional and psychological effects they may experience,” Sandhya says. Yet rather than frighten people away from participating in contact sports, Sandhya hopes her exhibit will encourage awareness and prevention—and counter popular myths about concussions with scientific research and sage advice.

Sandhya Mylabathula (KPE) demonstrates the blacklight flashlight at her Robarts Library exhibit on concussions. Photo: Paul Terefenko
Sandhya Mylabathula (KPE) demonstrates the blacklight flashlight at her Robarts Library exhibit on concussions. Photo: Paul Terefenko

The final touches to her exhibit? A 3D-printed brain graciously loaned by Amy Khan, and a feedback station where visitors can share their responses on Post-It Notes. (Be sure to visit the exhibit before March 1 to contribute yours!) Sandhya hopes Showcase Your Work will be an annual event at Robarts, enabling other graduate students to experience the challenge of bringing their research into three dimensions.

Looking for ways to communicate your research to a broader audience? Want to learn from graduate students in other disciplines, and start honing skills you’ll need for job interviews, grant proposals, and professional networking? Here are some suggestions:

  • Sign up to compete in the Three-Minute Thesis (3MT). New this year: all master’s and doctoral students in research and professional programs with a major research project or dissertation are eligible to participate. Registration starts February 25, and Preliminary Heats take place March 18-28. Learn more: https://uoft.me/3MT
  • Present your research at the Graduate Speaker Series, informal events in Grad Room that encourage students from all disciplines to present and discuss a monthly theme.
  • Each month, try to attend a campus talk in a discipline you know nothing—or very little—about. You may be surprised by your discoveries!
  • Look for opportunities (volunteer and paid) that draw upon your expertise, but require you to communicate with youth. The Department of Math hosts a variety of opportunities, as does Anthropology (join the Ethnography Lab listserv for updates); the Faculties of Law and Medicine (check out this application for the Faculty of Medicine’s Youth Summer Programs); and many more. The SGS Graduate Professional Skills Program (GPS) also grant GPS credits for participation in Let’s Talk Science.

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