Woman with 24 problems…

Woman with 24 problemsImage credit: znkeys

So, I’ve been lucky enough to get a Wellcome Engagement Fellowship ( \o/ ) and whilst people are starting to ask me – ‘so, what are you going to do?‘ – i am heeding the advice of the first fellows, Kevin Fong and Richard Barnett, who suggested not jumping into doing projects too soon.

I only officially started on the 15th January 2013 and have been mulling over a few ways to progress my fellowship goals, which are:

1) To learn from citizen science initiatives to explore principles and approaches relevant to biomedical science [Check out #citizenscience on twitter]

This video lecture from Muki Haklay of the extreme citizen science group at UCL gives a broad history and insight into different types of citizen science and the societal trends (education, technology) that are enabling its uptake. They also show examples of what they call ‘extreme citizen science’ which involves communities in setting the research question and in analysing the problem (which sounds very similar to Catalyst, an interdisciplinary research project i coordinated at Lancaster University – see video below from the Catalyst project, Patchworks).

2) To explore the role of interactive storytelling and technology to create meaningful experiences [Check out #transmedia]

The twitterstreams for 1) and 2) don’t cross yet but watch this space

3) To test and share approaches UK-wide (e.g. with MOSI and Festivals) [will post here & on @erinmaochu Wellcome Blogs and my slideshare]

4) To raise awareness of future neuroscience challenges [currently via Pinky & Ze Brain]

5) To involve and support Life Sciences Staff and students with their public engagement endeavours at The University of Manchester.

I’ve decided on four brave moves forwards that will push me out of my comfort zone.


One way to get started is to think about failure… On Turing’s Sunflowers, a citizen science experiment that i coordinated and encouraged the public to grow 3000 sunflowers and to keep them alive through wind, rain and not a lot of sun – there was so much that i didn’t have control over (my project risk log was uber lonnnnnggggg). Thinking about failure and imagining the worst possible outcomes helped me to find new partners as the project progressed and together we innovated away from failure. This time around I imagine I want to embrace failure early and embody my thoughts in something more creative than an excel spreadsheet!

Whenever i visit my mum in Copenhagen i am always intrigued by this picture of a woman with 24 problems (see image up top). And now, i am thinking about my BIG failings, indeed problems and little ones too, being housed in these eggs – inspired by that picture by Danish painter, John Korner. Hopefully thinking about problems in this way might offer some creative offerings and laughter along the way.


With the fellowship, which is all about my learning and professional development, comes a wider sense of social responsibility. Whilst its there in everything i do anyway, the fellowship is a platform from which to make a difference. Luckily the Centre for Social Justice in Durham recently launched a guide on ethics in community based participatory research and are having a conference on 28th February 2013 which i am going along to and presenting a case study on Turing’s Sunflowers (and I’ve invited peeps from Catalyst to join in too). I am being hosted by the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester and, with Social Responsibility as their third institutional goal, i aim to contribute to that too.


I hope this practical step will encapsulate 1 and 2 nicely and turn what i learn into value for others. Indeed, I am lucky enough to have two brilliant storytellers as my mentors, Professor Nancy Rothwell (University of Manchester) and Jean Francyzk at MOSI. So far I have a few public speaking opportunities lined up… some of them collaborative which is fab – and where I am speaking on my own, i aim to make the talks collaborative in some way (bear with me dear audiences!)

Here’s my talks & slideshows coming up or just happened in 2013/2012. Feel free to download & share slides linking back to the page if poss.


Keep it Simple Stupid! Sometimes I overthink, over write and over complicate things. When i was applying for the fellowship and preparing for the interview panel – i met with my good friend, writer/director, Sam Harrie for advice. After rambling about what i wanted to do with the fellowship for 30 minutes she reminded me of the KISS principle. Doh!

Indeed – I will be kissing all the way to 2014! Thankfully F.E.T.K doesn’t fit into a neat anagram so i am throwing that one away before it gets an outing….

It’s been really useful writing this blog post – (i am sooo slow!) but its helped me to reflect on what i want to achieve by the end of the fellowship… find lots of future collaborators to forge creative approaches to transform society where its needed most.

PS. Feel free to get in touch


5 thoughts on “Woman with 24 problems…

  1. Oxford citizen here: and KISS. How do you divide a cube of cheese into six equal and logical parts? It is not easy. If you start cutting it logically from different corners, you get lots of odd bits. But you can build a model, and see what goes on inside the cube, and hey presto, you have your cheese, and noone is left hungry and goes away grumpy.
    And it tells you about how a cube works, and Einstein would be happy with that.

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