Tag Archives: crowd funding

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


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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Mel’s crowd funding wheezes have jumped the shark…

This is my first (and perhaps last) post related to my third crowd funding campaign, that I have attempted in as many years.

In that time, I have been nationally and internationally feted, as a guru on the topic of crowd funding research, as an academic. Which was nice….validating as it were, in this day and age, when the catch cry of ‘excellence with impact’ in academia – is paramount.

But with some trepidation (given my current health status and the on going mental health impacts of such, documented in several posts here since the start of 2015) I decided to attempt to crowd fund a project I had been working on since 2012, that was the most promising from a ‘bench to bedside’ patient outcome and traditional peer reviewed perspective.

However, the disease in question, which could kill people with a toxic bacterial diarrhoea…had a distinct image problem, as it was decidedly non glamorous, from a marketing angle (and I say this from the perspective of a scientist that had ‘sold’ the value of medical maggots to the masses!)

I had previously discarded this disease as ‘impossible to sell’ via crowd funding, due to the general narrative of philanthropy for killer diseases and the hierarchy of ‘significance’ that exists with in this space. (If I had $10 for every time I wished I had stayed working in cancer research, I wouldn’t need to crowd fund!)

Perhaps it was the brain lesion talking, but I honestly thought that all that a disease that kills people with toxic mega colons (but mostly just gives people the shits) needed was the ‘Mel treatment’ of awareness raising and crowd funding.

And this with with the over arching aim of having an interesting and compelling narrative to tell, as an invited speaker to the Cdiff Foundation Awareness conference, in Boston in Nov 2015. I thought that I could detail the process of attempting to crowd fund and then hopefully present them with a new resource, with up to date info (such as, it’s not just a nasty hospital super bug….it can be acquired in the community and perhaps from pets and contaminated meat).

To create this resource, I would need to engage a professional animator, the fabulous James Hutson, from Bridge 8, who I had worked with before on my previous Hips for Hipsters campaign – who I knew to be exactly the person to create a witty resource that could hold mass appeal, on such a taboo topic. But I want to pay him properly for his intellectual property and his time on this occasion, which means I need to raise over $10k via my current campaign.

It was a risk, asking for funds for an awareness resource, instead of directly for my research…as my existing successful CF paradigm was to exploit the ‘Woe is me, the EMCR with no proper grants’ ….as feeling often shared by my peers and people of certain political persuasions on Social Media.

But, as I had been communicating to all and sundry, the concept of ‘engagement’ and ‘awareness’ as the best ‘outcome’ and ‘impact’ of academic CF campaigns, I thought I would just cut to the chase…and fund the actual awareness raising resource. But if the levels of bemused interactions with peers and some unsolicited advice (from those who have no track record of doing anything like this)…is anything to go by…I’ve made a huge mistake.

And my moment, when I strapped on the water skis and jumped the shark, Fonzi style? The moment when I uploaded a #undiesforcdiff selfie yesterday, in a vain attempt to garner any interest in a gimmick related to this project. It got me a couple of nice donations, but has left me pondering the last shreds of my professional reputation.

Certain events, beyond my control, involving mistakes made by the ‘powers that be’, with some of my most staunch previous supporters, leading up to the launch of the No more Poo Taboo campaign, left me wondering if I should pull the plug, less that a week out. I had 45 days, but needed 2-3 weeks of clear air time, to allow the generated toxic aerosols to settle (a habit picked up when working on liquid cultures of PC3 level clinical strains, during my PhD)

This strategy has left my woefully short on dedicated communication time, to clarify the goals of my project this time. I now often wished I had the bravery to press the ’emergency stop’ button, a few weeks back.

The only consolation I have is that when looking at the overall stats for success versus failure, on crowd funding campaigns, I’m currently ‘on trend’ heading for a 2/3 success to failure rate. And as a scientist, I need an internal negative control…(she tells herself forlornly!)

But, perhaps I can get an ‘ice bucket challenge’ viral campaign going, if I could get a celeb to represent this issue, like Carrie Bickmore did for a recent awareness campaign for brain cancer, in Australia. But I’m thinking we come back to my original issue…Poo is too Taboo for anyone to be associated with.

I would like to thank @greenepidemic (Dane) for the #undiesforcdiff hashtag idea and @ivalaine (Miranda) for the ‘nominate friends to do undies selfies, a la ice bucket challenge’ idea. And to all of the early adopters of my campaign, fingers crossed I won’t be giving your money back!




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It has now been 10 days from the flurry that was the end of my second successful crowd funding campaign to garner funds to support my research activities. Phew! It was an exciting ride at the end of the campaign and as happened last time, Hips 4 Hipsters took on a life of its own in the final 40 hours or so.

This is due to the ’emotional’ investment from the people who have already pledged and would like to see the campaign succeed as well as final cracking of the resolve of the ‘lurkers’. Many of the ‘first timers’ to the concept of crowd funding projects were watching the total tot up towards the trigger point with bated breath. Some urged members of their own social networks to pledge and the lovely support I received from people I consider Australian ‘Super Tweeters’ like @colvinus and @upulie, was gratefully received and these two people are perhaps responsible for several thousands of dollars worth of pledges from their networks alone.

The day before the campaign ended, I had a theme based grant meeting at work in the afternoon. There was 5 of us lab heads going around the table to talk about our various projects’ progress and the success or failures of recent Grant Applications. After hearing the tales of woe (?!) from the two NHMRC fellows (neither fellowship renewal had been successful, despite a Nature paper for each), it was my turn.

I baldly stated I don’t consider myself a researcher in their league, as I could never envisage Cat A grant applications as a CI-A and that I felt locked out of the system due to my ECR status, lack of patrons and a spotty track record. I was then asked ‘What is it that you are an expert in?’ My reply was ‘Stakeholder Engagement’ …which was a strange answer, as they expected a more science based response. But it has become clear to me over the past 12-18 months that this is indeed quite true in my case.

The head of research then looked at me in a different light than he had 3 weeks before (when advising me to stick to Pozible campaigns and Philanthropic foundations) and stated perhaps I should seek stakeholders from the local area to put in a ‘One Health’ ARC linkage project with my collaborators on my M. ulcerans work. (The disease which is the subject of Mighty Maggots campaign) ….so looks like I will be spending the next year door knocking my local Councils and Boroughs to get them to put cash aside in their next budgets for an attempt at an ARC linkage…on which I will be CI-C or D. I am hoping that as this grant type requires strong communication with non-research stakeholders, that my newly minted ‘Track Record’ of direct engagement to involve people in my research, will actually count for something in the traditional Grant framework.

During the meeting I had my iPad open and kept pressing ‘refresh’ on the Hips 4 Hipsters page. Just before leaving the meeting, I noted that I had about $1,500 in pledges left to gather to reach the ‘jackpot’ pay over point. I had plans in place to enact the next day in case it was looking like going ‘belly up’ as I had received a promise of a traditional ‘funds transfer’ from one of my collaborators at the eleventh hour. This allowed me to contemplate using some of my existing research funds to temporarily ‘fill the gap’ in my campaign, due to the inability of said collaborator to use a university credit card to pledge directly, due to auditing concerns. I then got in my car and drove home.

Arriving home, I took up my usual position on the sofa, surrounded by the kids…with an aperitif in one hand and the iPad in the other, to resume awareness raising on Twitter for the campaign. And then…..everything went a little surreal and crazy online. Within an hour or so of arriving home, I had received several large pledges that had sent Hips 4 Hipsters over the line. To say I was ecstatic and relieved by turns, is an understatement. The messages of congratulations immediately started flooding my Twitter notifications as some of the 180 newly minted biotech investors messaged me with their own excitement about the campaign’s success. And with 26 hours to spare!

And in the time since Hips 4 Hipsters ended…a similar style of ‘crowd sourced’ direct engagement campaign, The Longitude Prize was won by the Challenge of fighting Antibiotic Resistance. There is now £10 million GBP on offer to anyone who comes up with the best idea to tackle this issue.


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Budget blow out, shifting goal posts or ‘Don’t my taxes pay for that?’

So my mental fortitude is currently being tested as I have entered the ‘valley of death’ (see previous post) of my crowd funding campaign. I also have had major and inconvenient goal post shifting for my undergrad course at work (which I am completely powerless to stop) in the past couple of weeks. This, coupled with jet lag and a nascent head cold has taken my focus from spruiking my campaign. Which has in turn led to a spiral of self loathing about being an academic joke and a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.

Ahhh…the fetid stench of imposter syndrome is strong at times when I am at a low ebb like this. But as usual, I gird my loins with a metaphorical nosegay of ‘posies’ to ward off such malodorous miasmas and push on. But not before making a plaintive inquiry to the Twitterverse as to why Hipsters seem so much less loveable that the Mighty Maggots

The only person to offer up comment was the producer/presenter of my For Science podcast James Purser, the owner of the angry beanie (@purserj). James pointed out that it could be part of the 2014 Budget hang over which has dented general consumer confidence in Australia at the moment. But then a more horrifying thought occurred to me…it may have more to do with the ‘announcement’ of a new Medical Research Fund ironically to be paid for by the end of free at the point of care GP visits by the introduction of a $7 Co payment on each appointment (including childhood vaccinations !?)

Leading scientists have condemned the move here and here and some have questioned the veracity of the proposal and whether something due for roll out in 6 years time will actually happen….I must say, I am cynical. I think they will take the money and run and I will likely never see a red cent into my research funding coffers. If approved by the Senate, It is also disaster for Aboriginal health

But then I had a PTSD flash back to a conversation I had with a mother of a child who had the disease that was the subject of the Mighty Maggots campaign. She did not see why she should put her hand in pocket to fund my research as ‘Don’t my taxes pay for that?’. After going home and crying for the rest of that afternoon (and swearing to retrain as an Accountant) , I realised that this is a common perception and some what justified.

But since the budget announcement, it is fair to say that most Australian tax payers could be justified for thinking the same now. And this movement of the goal posts of public sentiment in relation to funding medical research may have spoked my wheel for my current campaign. I will have to find a more global audience for my pleas for pledges.



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Unto the valley of death…of crowd funding science

I have been very happy for the response my hips 4 hipsters campaign has attracted so far…considering I haven’t started to push it as yet (due to my absence from Australia at launch time, which limits my availability to talk to local media and podcasters). And thank you to you, dear reader, if you are one of my 40+ supporters so far.

But I also know that after the initial flurry of pledges, there comes the inevitable lull in proceedings which I like to call ‘the valley of death’. It caused me and my colleague untold misery last time during the Mighty Maggots campaign, mostly as we were in the first cohort of researchers to try this ‘new’ funding source and no one had any idea if it would fly or how it would play out. Scary times indeed.

The scariest thing last time was the response from the Pozible brains trust, who had only ever experienced failure from these kinds of ‘slow burn’ projects before and were quietly freaking out at this point of the beta testing. A traditional creative based crowd funded project with substantive rewards (such as a book, CD, tickets to a show) would usually be at 50% funded by the end of the first 2 weeks of a 45 day campaign.

Thankfully, the benefit of hindsight means that I have experienced this before and hence are able to enter this time (which could be as long as 3 weeks!) braced for the imminent neuroses that will descend. But even though expecting this to happen can take the edge off my doubts, they are still there….whispering with maleficence from the back of my mind, every day that passes with no messages of pledges sent to my work email.

I hope the ‘first timers’ concurrently running campaigns from the Research my World cohort are still having fun communicating their research to the wider world and are too busy to listen to their inner demons.

Picture Credit..from an interesting article about science and policy


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Evangelical about crowd funding science…..I am the prophet.

I am reflecting today on the wonderful time I had in the last couple of days during my visit to Swansea University, at the kind invitation of Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott who invited me to come for a ‘tweep up’ (See, this is the best example of using Twitter for professional networking I can give you!)

I got to spend time with many people, including big Profs from the UK and Germany as well as the Mid-career researchers, their post docs and PhD students. I even got to meet the local Chapter of Science Grrls … Perhaps I need to start a Geelong Chapter?

During each of my meetings, I found myself armed with my iPad, showing people my Mighty Maggots and Hips 4 Hipster Pozible campaigns. And explaining that due to increasing funding difficulties in Oz for ECRs like myself, I had chosen to invest time and energy into these types of campaigns instead of the traditional once a year flagellation of Grantfest.

I found myself being listened to with varying levels of interest from polite indifference (Male Big Profs and Mid-career researchers, to whom I also had to explain the concept of the Profzi scheme)….to mounting excitement (female EMCRs with own labs but little traditional funding, like myself).

All of the people I spoke to are currently are engaged in many diverse science communication activities (encouraged by Hilary, who has done Soap Box Science) and as I pointed out, they could leverage these opportunities to enthuse people about their science (and then get the audience to put hand in their pockets to support such fabulous research)

And if I had a pound for every time I asked yesterday “Never mind selling your science to a panel of your peers via grants, if you can’t sell your ideas directly to the ‘man (or woman) on the street’ for £10, does your research have significance to the tax payer?”

Several people noted that the British are much more prone to philanthropy than, say….the Australian population, and perhaps that the current geek chic trend in UK popular culture (Brian Cox et al) could be utilised to work for their own benefit via crowd funding. Many people asked me ‘what do the people expect in return?’ And I explained project rewards as well as the ‘personal access to boffins’ concept and that people just like 6 monthly updates to see you are attempting to do what you set out to achieve.

To me, crowd funding campaigns have all the advantages of science communication with the possibility of the ‘win win’ scenario of getting some research cash to support your lab work. And the more extroverted researchers I met yesterday would be well suited to gushing enthusiastically about their research, given the opportunity.

Hilary also asked me to explain the concept to her and we spoke about the commercial aspects and tax implications and whether it was advisable for individual researchers to go it alone or get the support of their University, a topic covered in this piece and this piece and on the Pozible blog here.

I hope that introducing the concept of crowd funding to this group of dynamic people will see some of them have a go…or at least explore if it is viable for them. And as the funding noose ever tightens globally for research funding, I hope the seeds I planted in the minds at Swansea may find fertile soil. And as I said to one of the researchers…We could whinge about the funding situation (as we are wont to do)….or we could just do something about it to empower ourselves.

(PS if any of you suspect that I may be on some sort of junket … Rest assured that I also spoke about sciencey science in my time there and have come away from Swansea with new collaborations for both the Mighty Maggots AND Hips 4 Hipster projects….!)


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