My trip to Parliament

Communicating your research to various audiences is a key skill for PhD students and early career researchers. One audience that biomedical engineering PhD student Simone Rivolo wanted to work with was policy makers and taking part in the SET for Britain competition was one way of doing this. Simone was shortlisted from hundreds of applicants to appear in Parliament and this is his take on the experience.

“Dear Simone, you have been selected to present your research at the Houses of Parliament.” Wow..Me? At Parliament? Seriously?

Let’s start from the beginning. How often do you read about how important it is to promote your research? How crucial it is to engage as many people as possible? I am up for it! Following advice from Alice, our Comms Manager, I submitted an application for the competition SET for Britain, which gives early-career scientists the opportunity to present their research to Members of both Houses of Parliament at Westminster, and I have been selected ! Let’s go to Parliament !

First step: buy a suit, shirt and tie, since the average PhD student looks are not much appreciated within Parliament. Done!
Second step: prepare a poster to present your research to MPs. Therefore, make it attractive but most importantly keep it simple. That’s hard, really hard. After a few sessions where my supervisor and I try to explain what we do in our scientific (dry, technical, probably boring) way, and Alice stares at us thinking “what didn’t you understand about keep it simple?”, the poster is ready.

Simone presenting his poster
Me presenting my poster

Here I am, on 9th March 2015 entering Parliament for the first time (and probably the last). It is huge, so many things going on, so many people running around. I slowly find my way to the conference room, hang my poster and nervously wait for the event to start. Will the MPs be interested? What will they ask? Will they find what I do cool?

The first MP walks towards me, looks at the poster and says, “it looks really nice, is it innovative?”. I didn’t expect this question. I smile and guide him through my poster convincing him about the originality of my work. After breaking the ice, everything flows naturally and a lot of MPs are interested in my work. Most of them have a relative or friend who had coronary heart disease (roughly my research topic) and would like to know what I am doing, how we can defeat it, where the research is leading us. That’s so nice, everyone is looking at you like you are The Expert, The Scientist! This doesn’t happen much during my PhD.

The 2 hours of the event quickly finish and I have a little time to enjoy the buffet, with all sorts of food and drinks (not bad being an MP).

It was an amazing experience. It teaches you a lot about how to communicate your research, how to engage people, how to keep their attention. It is so different from a conference. Everyone is relaxed, interested and positive. Nobody tries to put you down.

I strongly recommend everyone to submit next year and enjoy a trip to Parliament!

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