How the PredictTB Student Presentation Session fits into the project’s broader Capacity Building work

Science communication is becoming an increasingly important skill to master for people involved in science. In the context of PredictTB’s Work Package 4 – Capacity Building, Networking, Dissemination – a presentation session was organized on October 7, 2021. The session provided a platform for early-career researchers in the PredictTB consortium to present their work.

In this article, Prof. Robert Wilkinson of Imperial College London reflects on how the student presentation fits into PredictTB’s broader capacity building activities and discusses why this type of activities are critical to help further the careers of junior researchers.

A chance for early-career researchers to practice their science communication skills

The Student Presentation Session included four talks by early-career scientists. Each speaker introduced the person presenting after them (except for Munyaradzi Musvosvi, who introduced Simon Mendelsohn) and moderated the short Q&A sessions that followed the 15-minute presentation.

The structure allowed the person presenting to focus on their scientific work, as their background and relevant context were provided by the person introducing them. Further, the structure allowed all speakers to try different roles, including speaker and moderator.

Agenda:

  • Simon Mendelsohn (UCT SATVI): Head-to-head validation of host blood transcriptomic biomarkers for pulmonary TB by real-time PCR
  • Bih Chendi (SUN): Performance of host gene signatures in Tuberculosis Disease and Other respiratory diseases in a low TB burden setting
  • Charles Manyelo (SUN): Evaluation of host biomarkers as tools for early diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis
  • Munyaradzi Musvosvi (UCT SATVI): Investigating the relationship between mycobacteria-specific T cell differentiation and treatment outcomes

“The presentations were uniformly very good. Well thought through, well planned and well executed,” says Prof. Wilkinson.

Science communication is becoming an increasingly important skill for researchers  

“Clinical trials are not good vehicles for developing people’s careers. Many junior scientists work towards a defined outcome for many years and after the outcome is delivered, their careers have not always advanced. In PredictTB, we try leverage the networks of the consortium to digitate career development for people serving the trial,” says Prof. Wilkinson.

Prof. Wilkinson also emphasizes that early-career scientists can never get enough chances to present their work. The ability to clearly communicate your science to both specialized, semi-specialized and lay audiences is becoming increasingly important for scientists.

“Being able to precisely and concisely outline what you have done, why you did it, and what the results are is a core career skill for scientists today.”

Horizontal peer-driven, faculty facilitated discussions can often generate some of the best results, according to Prof. Wilkinson, who simultaneously appreciates that measuring the results of this type of event is anything but easy. New connections are made, and exciting relations strengthened – over time, they may lead to concrete career opportunities.  

While there are aspects of in-person meetings that cannot be easily replicated in digital events, there are also many advantages of hosting events such as the Scientific Presentation Session online. One such advantage is that travel constraints do not get in the way for someone to participate, making events more inclusive and providing speakers with the chance to reach out to a larger, more diverse audience.

“Any learning period such as a PhD or a PostDoc position should be a mixture of focus and enquiry. You have to be curious, but not too curious,” concludes Prof. Wilkinson, recognizing that ambition should not result in you spreading yourself too thin by participating in too many online events.