Monthly Archives: June 2015

No longer NULL and VOID VESKI application. Subtitle: Why I love twitter!

Edited update of the article from last week originally entitled: NULL and VOID VESKI application…I’m probably too innovative for an innovation award anyway….!

At the 11th hour of my VESKI award application last Wednesday night, I took to twitter to whinge about the ‘small print’ requiring my referees to be be external from my institution (even though they would be the best able to comment on my application)

As a result, two of my twitter followers, who I converted into ‘real life’ professional networking contacts, offered to help me out. These were the wonderful Prof Kathy Belov ( @kathybelov ) who hosted me at USyd recently to speak on crowd funding, and the fabulous Dr Darren Saunders, ( @whereisdaz) who I helped with his (failed) pitch to get the Garvan to let their researchers do crowd funding.

Both were able to to provide timely referees reports on my ‘innovative achievement’ of setting up a new lab, with the help of the new model of crowd funding research projects. And to take time out of their busy schedules, at short notice, to do this for me, renders me eternally grateful to both Kathy and Daz.

The foot note to this story, is that I received a call from the VESKI office, as they were perplexed as to where my ‘professional achievements’ list was. It was on page 4, as requested…but was a list of invited Academic and community talks, Hansard references by federal politicians and the link to the Lancet article, which mentioned me and my crowd funding ‘mentees’ Martin Rees and David Hawkes.

This was considered ‘non traditional’ as not a list of peer reviewed publications. I did point out that the innovation award guidelines stated that page 4 should be a list of professional achievements providing evidence and hence pertaining to the innovation for which I had put forward as my ‘life sciences innovation’. They accepted this to be the case, hence my application met the guidelines. Although, I was told ‘good luck with that’ in a tone that may suggest I have little chance of competing with those who demonstrate a more ‘traditional’ type of innovation.

Time will tell, if the ‘traditionalists’ see my application as ‘capricious’ or if some of the panel will recognise that there is many elements of innovation in my recent achievements.

Below is the first 3 pages (non polished) of my application:

Title: Blazing a novel funding trail: Innovative use of Crowd Funding for Biomedical Research

  • Lay Statement:

Dr Melanie Thomson is the national pioneer who has leveraged the use of science communication via social media, to successfully fund three novel ‘crowd funding’ projects, based on her research in medical bacteriology as an Early Career Researcher at the Deakin Medical School in Geelong. The impact of these campaigns and her associated activities, have had far reaching impacts beyond her discipline in academia, to diverse spheres such as government policy and the wider biotech industry, evidenced by her sustained willingness to engage outside of the ‘ivory tower’, to inform the wider community of the model and mentor those who follow in her fire-lit footsteps.

Her three consecutive and successful campaigns of ‘Mighty Maggots’ (2013), ‘Hips 4 Hipsters’ (2014) and ‘No more Poo Taboo’ (2015) have enabled her to engage with diverse audiences, highlights of which involved a mention in Hansard in the Australian Federal Parliament as well as several national seminar invitations as well as Key note speeches at conferences designed to inspire those about to embark on academic and/or industrial careers.

She was one of the original ‘beta testers’ of her University’s industrial partnership with the Australian micro financing platform, ‘Pozible’, as part of the Deakin’s ‘Research my World’ concept. Since those baby steps in April 2013, the concept has grown outwards from Deakin and Pozible, to attract interest and engagement from other academic and medical research Institutes within Australia, many who have invited Dr Thomson to report the ‘warts and all’ aspects of her experiences. She is also able to comment on the institutional and administrative challenges involved in preparing this traditionally conservative research sector, for such ‘disruptive’ funding models. She has also created a ‘track record’ of three successful campaigns on unloved topics such as medical maggots, flesh eating diseases and poo, in this time period.

As a result of her actions, we are now witnessing a paradigm shift in the way certain parts of the  sector of the medical research ‘industry’ seeks funding for the expensive activities related to this research.

The current impacts of her brave example have been felt at the national and international level, evidenced by ‘main stream’ reports of her activities in the national media and in the high impact biomedical journal, the Lancet.

Dr Thomson’s example represents a viable alternative funding model to those disenfranchised by the restrictions of the current research funding climate in Australia – which favours established researchers (often older males) at the expense of those trying to get a ‘foot on the ladder’ at the Early and Mid Career Researcher (EMCR) level or those returning from career breaks, often EMCR female researchers.

Her example transcends the boundaries of her own discipline of biomedical research. The ripples of the impact of her recent activity, using this concept, is evidenced by the adoption of this funding model by diverse academic disciplines as well as those who in the public sector (who inform the policy of the Dept Industry and Science) as well as members of the biotechnology sector in Victoria. The ongoing impact of her ground breaking work is still being assessed, but there is now mainstream acceptance of the necessity to embrace alternative funding models, which is embedded in reality for those in the pilot stages of a project, in the medical research and biotechnology sectors.

She is also always willing to engage in the mentoring and education of others on this concept. She has spent considerable time and effort to travel to Melbourne and interstate, when invited to speak on this concept by her academic peers. She is also committed to communicating her science and her crowd funding experiences with her local community groups.

  • Evidence of significance of this innovation.

Campaign 1 (2013): ‘Mighty Maggots’ seen at : www.pozible.com/mightymaggots .

Direct Funding: Numbers of Donors: 129 people, Total Donations: $9,9750

Indirect Funding: Geelong Community Foundation Grant $34,000, Queenscliffe and Point Lonsdale Community Enterprise: $3,000, Private donations from individuals (x3) : $4,250

Campaign 2 (2014): ‘Hips 4 Hipsters’ seen at: www.pozible.com/hips4hipsters

Direct Funding: Number of Donors: 180 people, Total donations: $12,413

Campaign 3 (2015): ‘No more Poo Taboo’ seen at www.pozible.com/nopootaboo

Direct Funding: Number of Donors: 161 people, Total donations: $10,988

Evidence of Local and National Impact: Media Coverage (selection of total media artefacts)

04/08/ 2014 SYDNEY MORNING HERALD Young scientists use crowd sourcing to fund their research

http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/young-scientists-use-crowd-sourcing-to-fund-their-research-20140804-zzs0y.html

interview
16/06/2014 ABC Newcastle Interview with Dr Melanie Thomson, Deakin Medical School, about antibiotic resistance. Interview
25/05/2014 3RRR Interview with Melanie Thomson, Lecturer in molecular medicine, Deakin University, about host pathogen interaction. http://rrrfm.libsyn.com/einstein-a-go-go-25-may-2014
1/03/2014 Australasian Science Science funding attracts crowds Interview
25/01/2014 Geelong Advertiser Infections hip and shouldered Interview
25/01/2014 Geelong Advertiser Geelong hip in world research Interview
19/12/2013 Geelong Advertiser Geelong at the heart of life-changing research Research  mention
20/06/2013 BAY FM Geelong researchers from Deakin Medical School want to hold a study into the Bairnsdale ulcer. Interview
01/06/2013 Geelong Advertiser The tiny jaws of life Research  mention
15/05/2013 Geelong News Science battles bacteria Interview
08/05/2013 Australian Research turns to crowd power Research  mention
01/05/2013 Geelong Advertiser Call in the maggots Interview
01/05/2013 Geelong Advertiser online Old therapy may heal wounds Interview

Evidence of International Impact:

Dr Thomson was interviewed with two ‘mentees’ Dr Martin Rees (UNSW) and Dr David Hawkes (The Florey) for ‘Crowdfunding for medical research picks up pace’ article, for the ‘World Report’ column of ‘The Lancet’ (a premier biomedical research journal) Volume 384, No. 9948, p1085–1086, 20 September 2014. Link: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61661-5/fulltext?rss%3Dyes

  • Novelty of this innovation

The most novel aspect of the crowd funding activities recently undertaken by Dr Thomson, is that she has managed to successfully adapt the ‘Crowd Funding’ platform of social enterprise and micro-financing – more common to the arts and media disciplines, to help fund medical research projects. This was particularly helpful to her as new group leader, as she sets up her new research program during the early stages of her career transition from a post-doctoral fellow (in the UK) to an independent Principle Investigator, at regional Australian university.

These trail blazing activities has enabled her to raise her individual profile locally in Geelong with the mainstream media, as well as businesses, politicians and philanthropist organisations. It has facilitated her higher profile at a national level, evidenced by the numerous invitations to speak at interstate universities, some considered to be ‘Sandstone’ institutions.

Dr Thomson is now seen as a national torch bearer for the concept of crowd funding academic research and has been invited to deliver Key Note addresses at two conferences aimed to inspire current Higher Degree by Research students, as they consider their future career options and the transferrable skills they made need to sustain a portfolio career in medical research. (QUT 2014 and BioMedVic 2015)

She has also mentored several individuals from other academic institutions, using other new acdemic micro financing platforms, one of which was developed after early consultation with Dr Thomson (Dr Ben McNeil, Thinkable Platform via UNSW).

As a measure of the wider impact of her work, Dr Thomson has been interviewed by members of the federal Dept of Industry and Science, about her crowd funding activities and has mentored a Victorian Biotech SME during their recent (unsuccessful) campaign (Kirsten Puls, tinnAway campaign, 2014). She has presented at a recent Bionic Technology Workshop, as an invited speaker for BionicVision, Melbourne. She has also been asked to present the Key note address at the Smart Geelong Awards (Nov 2013) as well as present at local Rotary, Probus and Geelong Sustainability groups, who are interested in the model of crowd funding their own projects, such as solar panel purchase.

One of the most innovative aspects of her crowd funding activities, is her determination to raise the profile of diseases traditionally neglected by the world of corporate philanthropy.

Her first campaign aimed to have the much maligned maggot, transformed in to a mini medical super hero, to fight a rare neglected tropical disease. Her second campaign saw her collaborate with artists, graphic designers and animators, to implore the world to ‘think of the Hipsters’ who may be the victims of increasing antibiotic resistance of superbugs, in the coming decades. In her most recent ‘No more Poo Taboo’ campaign, she is employing a two-step strategy to firstly fund an awareness animation, to educate health care workers and medical clinic visitors, as to the dangers of the diarrhoeal superbug, Clostridium difficile. The secondary and ultimate aim of this campaign is to ‘convert’ this smaller funding source, into a larger donation from several US based philanthropic organisations, when she is hosted by the C. difficile Foundation, as an invited speaker at their National Awareness Conference in Boston, USA in November 2015.

Such a strategic use of her knowledge of the limitations of the achievable funding amounts, by crowd funding, is testament to the iterative and reflective learning process Dr Thomson has employed to study this innovative concept, throughout the past 20 months. Experiences which she is always willing to share with wider academic and biotech communities, both in person and online via her blog and ‘SlideShare’ account.

She now has three PhD students working on the three projects she has crowd funded, which constitutes ¾ of her nascent research program at the Deakin Medical School, in Geelong.

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