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Why should you enter the Max Perutz Award?


Our
Max Perutz Science Writing Award is now in its sixteenth year. Here some of the previous winners recall their motivations for entering, provide tips for new entrants and update us on their subsequent careers. This year we’ve also included a 100-word Centenary Challenge and a Centenary Prize for the best title because, yes, you guessed it, it’s our Centenary year. The competition closes on 23 June.

 

Angharad Davies

Angharad Davies (Image copyright: Angharad Davies)

Angharad Davies, 2003 winner

Why did you enter the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award?

Because I love writing! I had done a lot of creative writing previously, all kinds of things, even a pantomime for my medical school. So when I heard about the Max Perutz Award I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand at science writing.

How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?

The most important thing I learned was that there is a skill in telling the story ‘backwards’. Instead of explaining the research from beginning to end, it’s easiest to engage the reader by starting with the end-point — probably the most interesting and accessible part — and then once the reader is interested, work backwards explaining how you got there. This can be hard when you’re used to working through things in a very methodical and logical manner.

Have you done any more science writing since you won?

Not as such, but I have taken part in several public engagement events such as the Wellcome-funded ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me Out of here’, and as I’m a Welsh speaker I’m often asked to discuss and explain medical issues in the Welsh language media.

What would you say to encourage other MRC-funded researchers to take part?

I really enjoyed the process of trying to describe my research in a more ‘journalistic’ way with anecdotes about real people to bring it to life. People are probably always asking you about your research — this is a chance to think about it in a new way so that you can really enthuse them as well as yourself.

How has your research/career progressed since you won the award?

After I finished my PhD I was appointed Clinical Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Medical Microbiologist at Swansea University College of Medicine/Public Health Wales.

 

Michael Lee

Michael Lee (Image copyright: Michael Lee)

Michael Lee, 2008 winner

Why did you enter the Max Perutz Award?

I saw the advertisement for the competition, read the requirements and thought ‘how hard can it be’? I ended up taking far longer than I expected on those 793 words…

How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?

I learnt that communicating succinctly and accurately without jargon is an art. I’ve gained a healthy respect for science reporters.

Have you done any more science writing since you won?

I wrote an article recently on cannabis and pain for a public forum. It’s tough to write for readers who hold polarised views. I thought very hard about what I wanted to achieve with that article. Now, I mostly produce patient information sheets for various studies or treatments for pain. It’s still science writing; less glamorous maybe but nonetheless important.

What would you say to encourage other MRC-funded researchers to take part?

You have nothing to lose.

How has your research/career progressed since you won the award?

I came out of the MRC fellowship with a PhD and a clutch of papers. I then got qualified as a consultant anaesthetist. At present, I do research into pain medicine at the Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Oxford University.

 

Paul Dark (Image credit: Flickr/swissrolli)

Paul Dark (Image credit: Flickr/swissrolli)

Paul Dark, 2000 winner

Why did you enter the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award?

To take the opportunity to communicate multi-disciplinary science to a wider audience, as well as raising awareness of the challenges of my chosen (emerging) medical speciality. I also wanted to have a go at writing in a non-technical style and to improve my written communication skills.

How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?

The peer review by expert/professional communicators suggested that I could do it, that engaging with people via science writing was important, and that there was an appetite for it. I also met Max Perutz and had an opportunity to discuss biomedical research, science writing and communication — an opportunity I will never forget — inspirational! It was also rather tragic that he died not long afterwards.

Have you done any more science writing since you won?

One of my current academic roles is GMC Lead ‘Doctor as Scholar and Scientist’ at The Manchester Medical School — part of this role involves engaging with schools to promote bioscience and medical careers, particularly focussing on widening participation. Although it’s usually giving talks, I do also write for this sector in magazines such as Biological Science Reviews. In addition, I have worked for projects such as the Nowgen-Wellcome Trust programme for schools. As part of my research programme in infection and injury, I am now working closely in support of The Salford Citizen Scientists.

What would you say to encourage other MRC-funded researchers to take part?

Do it — it’s challenging and fun. And I guarantee it will improve your own understanding of your research work, your ability to communicate and will be a key learning opportunity for your future career.

How has your research/career progressed since you won the award?

I entered the competition when I was completing my PhD at the University of Manchester, having already trained in clinical academic surgery, emergency medicine and critical care. I was appointed to my current clinical academic post at the University of Manchester in 2003, carrying out clinical duties in intensive care medicine as Honorary NHS Consultant at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.

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