Still from Donovan Garcia-Ceron's 2019 VYT entry, 'Exploring Extracellular Vesicles From Plant Fungal Pathogens'
When I first learned about the Visualise Your Thesis (VYT) competition, I immediately flashed back to the numerous cybersecurity emails I get saying “If it sounds too good to be true, then it is probably a scam”. That is because, to me, VYT was too good to be true: create a video showcasing your PhD research and win cash. To keep. And, no, it is not a scam.
I enjoy photography and videography so it took me only seconds to decide that I will participate in VYT with a stop-motion animation entry. The Oscar-nominated short film Fresh guacamole by PES served as an inspiration (watch it - it'll blow your mind).
Before I knew it, I was creating a storyboard, snatching Play Doh from 5-year-old kids at the toy section of Big W, and transforming my living room into a chaotic, yet efficient, photography studio. Creating my VYT entry was a fantastic experience that helped me develop effective communication skills, which are crucial in science.
Here is a summary of what I learned across my participation in the 2019 and 2020 VYT competitions:
- The message is key.
I was not an expert in stop-motion animation and I learned along the way while creating my 2019 video. The judges liked it, too: I won La Trobe’s competition and came 2nd in the overall international competition. I joined VYT again for 2020 and, this time, decided to dedicate more time to it with creating special effects using Photoshop, trying different lighting, and adding complex animations. It was also a successful video, and I was in 2nd place in the La Trobe competition.
However, when I compare both of my videos, I realize that the first one, although simpler in content, was more effective at telling what my research was about. Therefore, even if you think you don’t know much about video editing, you might be an excellent storyteller, and this is what VYT is all about.
- This is not supposed to be easy.
I might have forgotten to point out that VYT calls for videos of no more than 60 seconds. Sixty. Six zero.
It goes without saying that summarizing a PhD project (often up to four years long) in a single minute can be challenging. I really enjoyed finding new and simpler ways of describing my research. I found it rewarding and means I may now be able to explain what I do to my grandma without putting her to sleep. Success!
- Put your money where your mouth is.
Before VYT, I used to think that I was good at communicating my research. What I was good at, in fact, was presenting in front of other researchers who were familiar with my study area. Explaining scientific concepts to people outside of the research world, and even scientists from other disciplines, is a different challenge.
For me, this challenge got easier. I participated twice in VYT, and twice in the public speech-based 3-Minute Thesis. After these events, I got used to finding new analogies and examples to explain my research and, in some ways, this helped me with being more comfortable with public speaking.
- Communication is a powerful tool.
Imagine if for a whole year, every scientist in the world collaborated to find a cure for cancer. It could most certainly lead to important discoveries. By communicating your research, you are closer to finding a colleague who works on a similar topic to yours, establishing a collaboration with industry, or becoming known and engaging with a philanthropic organization.
Your research becomes amplified and of greater impact when you connect and collaborate.
The first step is to put it out there.
There is a significant amount of funding, staff support, and other resources that enable us to perform research. I believe it is critical that we share our knowledge in a way that is interesting and influential. For some, public speaking may be too much, but the good news is that you can write, blog, vlog, tweet, or create amazing videos like the ones submitted to VYT.
Let’s keep research in the headlines (for the right reasons)!
You can view Donovan's VYT entries:
Donovan supports open and equal access to scientific knowledge. In his spare time, you may find him riding a bicycle or woodworking.
Donovan has a YouTube channel where he discusses how to draw scientific objects using Adobe Illustrator. He's also on Twitter @DonovanGarciaC.