By Charlotte Davison
This spring saw the first MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS) PhD retreat. Held at Kew Gardens, the day gave PhD students from a variety of disciplines the opportunity to network in the sunlit gardens before sheltering from April showers of sleet, snow and hail.
“I think we’re coming away with everyone feeling a lot more confident about networking, about asking for help with techniques and I think in the end this will lead to a much stronger science community at the MRC LMS,” said Charlotte Mykura, lead organiser and PhD student in the Cell Cycle group.
The day began with a communication workshop led by science communicator and comedian Dr Steve Cross. Students considered how to engage different audiences and compiled a long list of what not to do when delivering a presentation. Points to avoid included being bored by your own work, using “one million graphs”, having a “laser pointer disco” and assuming your research is so important that everyone in the audience is already familiar with it.
“I found the communication skills workshop particularly interesting,” said Vassili Kusmartsev, a PhD student in the Molecular Systems group. “It helped us to figure out how to understand our target audience.”
Students honed their presentation skills by giving three-minute long “flash” talks about their research. The afternoon then saw fierce competition between teams of students as they battled it out to make the tallest Lego tower. Hosted by Imperial College Graduate School, the session aimed to explore how researchers can harness both collaboration and competition to succeed in science.
Concluding the day, keynote speaker Sophie Scott of University College London discussed her research on the neurobiology of laughter. Scott delivered witty anecdotes and imitations of different laughs, prompting laughter from her audience. She said, “Laughter can completely change what a behaviour looks like, it’s a completely social behaviour”.
The day was organised by the Student Committee and funded by Imperial College Graduate School.