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More than Just Your Average Research Work- Interstellar Initiative & FameLab

06 Oct 2021

When most people think of research, the image that is often conjured up is a scientist poring over stacks of data, meticulously carrying out experiments in the lab or in the field, or even concentrating on multiple spreadsheets that require statistical analyses. But science is more than that as Dr Sangeetha Shyam and Kanimolli Arasu from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health Sciences, IMU shared their recent experience on international and national platforms.

‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’- Isaac Newton

For one, science is about collaborations and working together to push the boundaries. The Interstellar Initiative, a programme jointly presented by the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development and the New York Academy of Sciences aims to connect the most promising early career investigators with peers in related, yet distinct disciplines. It is with this platform that the initiative hopes to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and catalyse discoveries that will tackle the world’s most critical medical challenges.

Dr Sangeetha Shyam is one of the selected investigators flying IMU’s flag high since June this year after an intensive competitive fielding.

Along with the other two members of her “Dream Team”- Dr Yuichi Mori, a gastroenterologist and clinical epidemiologist from the University of Oslo/ Shigowa University Japan, and Dr Benjumin Hsu, an epidemiologist and data analyst from the University of Sydney- they were provided with approximately USD25,000 and tasked to develop a collaborative proposal to generate preliminary data.

Over the course of this year-long programme, their final, full-fledged grant would ultimately be submitted to international funding agencies. With the guide of their assigned mentors from John Hopkins and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Drs Sangeetha, Mori and Hsu were able to map out a well-received initial proposal which has integrated all three of their expertise. “It was a lovely experience,” Dr Sangeetha (left in the photo below) recalls.

“The ability of the three of us to work cohesively like we had known each other for years was a great feeling. Apart from their expertise and scholarly acumen, they impressed me with their genuine kindness and humility.I look forward to absorbing as much as possible throughout this programme. ”

“Apart from the fact that this an excellent opportunity to get trained in grantsmanship and interdisciplinary thinking, this was an opportunity to network with excellent bright minds from around the world and learn from their perspectives and experiences.”

But even as breakthroughs are discovered, the process of science is not done until it has been communicated. While researchers can quite easily convey their findings to their peers, disseminating the same information to the public is a whole other art form. Enter Famelab.

‘Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated.’- Anne Roe

Famelab is the longest running science communication competition in the world. Presented by the British Council and Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), it gathers young scientists to engage the public in a three-minute presentation on scientific topics and concepts. Every presentation is judged according to the golden rules of the 3 Cs- Content, Clarity and Charisma. Shortlisted from 67 participants in the heats, Kanimolli Arasu was selected as one of the 11 individuals in Malaysia to enter the National Final held recently on 11th September 2021. While the competition did induce a certain degree of nerves, she fondly recalls the golden opportunity of learning about science communication.

“It was a very enriching experience for me. As part of the competition process, the British Council had organised a two-day masterclass by Dallas Campbell, who has vast experience as a science television presenter and writer.”

“He had provided great insights like how a good science communicator should be able to breakdown any complex scientific matter to simple language which is understood by all,” said Kanimolli.

“On a personal level, I was very happy to have created a positive impact, even on my children as they became excited watching my videos on Famelab, and started understanding what probiotics, prebiotic and bone health are.”

“It really showed me how vital science communication is for the community, and I look forward to imparting these skills to my students at IMU.”

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