Andrew Bastawrous, an eye surgeon at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, won last year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award with an article explaining the importance of his research developing smartphone apps for checking eye health. As we launch this year’s competition, Andrew explains what winning the award did for him, and provides a few tips for budding writers.
Andrew with his wife Madeleine and son Lucas (left), and the whole research team (Image copyright: Andrew Bastawrous)
Why did you enter the Max Perutz Science Writing Award?
A fellow PhD student at the university sent me the link and suggested I should apply. It made sense to write an article explaining the project in non-scientific terms as I was always being asked by friends and family what it was that I was doing. This was the perfect opportunity to distill my thoughts into a form that could be understood by everyone and that I could direct people to if they were interested. I never expected to end up winning the competition.
How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?
Having to sit down and write something without jargon made me look at my work in a different light. Trying to see something you are deeply involved in from a more distant and very different perspective can be quite challenging, but very refreshing. The question set to us was, “Why does your research matter?” Getting to the heart of that question meant engaging with the emotion that drives the work in the first place.
The whole process has made me appreciate good writers and their ability to present complex information in an engaging way. It has also encouraged me to write about the everyday scientific work I’m doing in Kenya in a manner that can be understood by friends and family. Read more
Smartphone showing an eyescan (Copyright: Andrew Bastawrous)
Andrew Bastawrous, winner of the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, is soon to head off to Nakuru County in Kenya to diagnose and map blindness in local populations with both existing methods and his new ‘EyePhone’ app. Here he tells us about the happy coincidences that have got him to this point.
Seven years ago as a very junior doctor attending an international health conference I found myself sitting in the wrong room at the wrong time. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, it dawned on me that I’d misread the programme and the session I thought was on healthcare in Africa was actually on making the most of medical school.
When it got to my turn, I explained apologetically that I was in the wrong session and introduced myself as a wannabe ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) with a dream of working in Africa. I contemplated daydreaming the rest of the session away, but as the introductions continued, I heard another man apologising for also having misread the programme. At least I wasn’t the only one. Read more
In the article that won the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, Andrew Bastawrous tells us about his ‘Eye Phone’ app, developed to diagnose blindness in resource-poor settings and soon to be taken for a road test in Kenya.
Everything is hazy; I can’t even see my glasses. I keep my eyes closed; it doesn’t seem to make much difference opening them. My hand feels clumsily around the bedside table, knocking my mobile phone to the floor, and eventually I come across my glasses. On they go, and I can see again. Those brief few seconds as I awake each morning serve as a continual reminder of how much I value my sight.
Many people fear losing their sight more than any other sense. I am fortunate to have perfect vision when wearing corrective glasses or contact lenses, and privileged to be in a profession (ophthalmology) where centuries of research and practice have brought us to a point where much of blindness is curable or preventable. There is no feeling like it: when the eye patch comes off someone who hasn’t seen for years, witnessing their sheer wonder as they take in their surroundings and their anticipation to see faces that have become voices and places that have become memories. Read more