Showcasing Graduate Research in 60 Seconds or Less
Could you explain your life’s work in less time than it takes to microwave your lunch?
Erica Dao (left) and Rachael Finnerty aced the 60-second challenge and won second and third place at McMaster’s inaugural GradFlix. Presented by the School of Graduate Studies, the video competition challenged graduate students to share their research story in 60 seconds or less. An adjudication panel judged the videos based on how the students communicated their research, the creativity and visual impact of their videos and the technical quality. The top 12 videos were posted on YouTube with the winners announced during a live online showcase, that included a guest appearance by Interdisciplinary Science professor Katie Moisse.
Erica, a PhD candidate in Radiation Sciences – Medical Physics working under the supervision of Michael Farquharson, showcased her research on x-ray and optical properties of tissue for cancer classification and characterization.
Rachael, a registered psychotherapist, accredited music therapist and PhD student in Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior working under the supervision of Laurel Trainor, presented her research on online group music therapy as a proactive approach to managing stress and anxiety.
How much time did you spend working on your video?
Erica: This was my first time making a video so it took about 12 hours! I spent four hours on the “art” that I made in PowerPoint. It took about eight hours to record the audio, make animations in Adobe After Effects, and then edit in Adobe Premiere Pro. Special shoutout to Lyons New Media Centre and Greg Atkinson for the software and tech resources.
Rachael: Approximately 40 hours. This included writing and re-writing the script, choosing images, creating scenes, choosing background music, many re-recodings of the audio, and lots of overall editing. After very helpful feedback from Dr. John Bandler, I made some major edits to my first cut of the video. In the spring of 2020, I completed a Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior course on Neuroscience Education Animated Video Production with Dr. Geoffrey Hall which was incredibly helpful in creating this video.
What’s easier? Talking about your research for 60 minutes or 60 seconds?
Erica: Sixty minutes by a long shot! The biggest challenge in a 60-second video is including all of the important information at an appropriate level without it feeling rushed. With a 60-minute talk, it’s much easier to set a good pace and provide context for the story you want to tell before diving in. In 60 seconds, you have to effectively communicate an idea in less time than it takes for someone to microwave their lunch. It’s a great exercise, though. Often we are working on something really specific, figuring out the nitty gritty details to see if a concept works. Every once in a while, it’s good to take a step back to look at the bigger picture and major goals of our work.
Rachael: I could talk forever about my research. If there was an audience interested in listening for hours, I could easily fill all of that time, so definitely 60 minutes is much easier. However, I feel it is more effective to keep it short when conveying an important message about your research.
Why is it important for researchers to have strong communication skills?
Erica: Nothing happens in isolation. The work that we do has an impact on the broader community. Communication is essential for collaboration and support. In the current climate where there is a lot of misinformation and distrust in scientists, we all need to play a part in sharing reliable and truthful information. The best way to do that is to be honest, approachable, and engaging.
Rachael: Not communicating one’s research well is like having a beautiful singing voice and choosing to only sing in the shower. It’s such an incredible shame not to share with others the fruits of our talents. As talented researchers, we need to share what we are doing whether that is contributing new knowledge, supporting previous research, sharing our research questions or null results. It is not enough to share through research journals. Researchers need to advocate for the importance of what they are doing in order to secure funding and to create a supportive network. The results of our work can have a greater impact when more people are aware of it. I think it is important to remind researchers that having strong communication skills can be a shared endeavour. Not all researchers are in a position to regularly post on social media about their work, create videos or talk on podcasts and radio shows. But if all researchers can recognize the value of communicating their research well, they can elicit support. As researchers, we have a responsibility to share our findings. This means we also need to learn how to disseminate our research to everyone, not just academics. This requires strong communication skills.