Tag Archives: research

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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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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Epic SciComm Fail, Mummy!

Dear Kids,

I am writing this missive to you, as I sit listening to your innocent games. It’s been a tough few months for our family, after I temporarily lost my sight at the end of last year and we found out sometime later it was due to an active lesion in Mummy’s brain, caused by MS.

I remember seeing the lesion on the CD of images, on that fateful day, as I sat by the Christmas tree. It was so large, I didn’t need a degree in medical imaging to understand that this couldn’t be normal or likely to be explained away as an artefact of the MRI process. As I zoomed in and out of the sliced brain images, I felt a dawning horror, but also a morbid fascination for the incredible technology behind the images.

I remember showing you both the images a few days later, when the initial shock had worn off and only the ‘Wow, that’s cool!’ wonderment remained. The contrast agent spilled out of the lesion like overturned milk, a bright white stain on the left side of my brain. I showed you the images as I wanted to explain what was happening to me, as a science communication exercise. My mantra of ‘you’re never too young to learn some science’ back fired spectacularly when I experienced your reactions to the abstract pictures.

Yes, I was able to now provide empirical evidence, to you, DS7, for my previous claims of being ‘Queen of the Zombies’ (a family meme I developed to ameliorate your fear of the bogey man and the dark) and you seemed mollified. What I wasn’t expecting from you, DD3, was the visceral reaction to the images. I considered you too young to see the images as anything more than abstract. But you reacted immediately with fear and loathing and proclaimed ‘Mummy, I’m scared of your brain! I don’t want a brain!’

Instantly, I knew I had made a science communicator’s biggest mistake, I had woefully misjudged you, my audience. I started damage limitation, by trawling the internet, to find a cutesy cartoon of the brain doing all the important work that keeps our bodies functioning, to show you. You, DD3, could not be pacified and I ended up having to take you to sit on my knee, whilst they infused IV corticosteroids ‘to fix Mummy’s brain’ at the hospital. I asked the poor Neurology Registrar to pick up the communication baton and explain to you that the brain was important. She struggled, as I had, under your uncompromising gaze.

Over the New year’s break, my sight came back, my right pupil returned to its normal size and my ‘Roid rage’ retreated. Many strangers (who I had made friends with, online) visited our home, to offer their support. You both seemed to adjust quickly to the new Mummy. But it breaks my heart to have you, DD3, role play everyday activities with me, that I’m often too exhausted to do now, in real life – like walking to the park and playing on the swings.

You both have now made career decisions based on my condition. You, DS7, have decided that cone shell venom could cure my MS (after watching an episode of Octonauts) – and hence want to be a research scientist, perhaps to work in my friend Charles’s Lab. You, DD3, have eschewed my dedicated grooming to become an Engineer and now want to become a medical Doctor.

How do I feel about you both wanting to have your futures defined by my illness? Non-plussed, to say the very least. Whilst I try to encourage you to question the world around you and cling to your current inherent wonderment, I want you to do that without the spectre of ‘fixing Mummy’s brain’ looming large in your collective consciousness. I want you to find your own path in this life, unfettered by such a filter. I want to have to same infinite world of possibilities that I had, when I was growing up.

My hope for you both? I just hope that as you grow up and away from your dependence on my care, that you also become somewhat complacent about my disease. I want the mundane minutiae of your self-obsessed teenage years, to replace your current worries for me. But I will support whatever decisions you make, as to your respective futures, for as long as my cognitive abilities hold. When you are much older (even though you, DD3, are eyeing off my diamonds already), we will have to discuss my future and my plans for a controlled and dignified death. I hope you will be well down your life paths by that time.

Love Mummy (aka Queen of the Zombies) Xx

(Image from ZomTeez )

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Critically endangered co-dependence

This week has been a fairly rough one for this normally optimistic person. I had an attack of the ‘what ifs’ (generally a sign of imminent over thinking, in my case).

I was having a typical grief reaction (which have become common enough in my life in the past few years, for me to recognise the process) but strangely enough, I wasn’t grieving for the future loss of my faculties, due to my recent MS diagnosis…I was grieving for the future I had expected to have…up until that fateful day, just before Christmas.

Now, as most regular readers are aware, I identify very strongly as an active scientific researcher. And my grief reaction was triggered when I started to consider the current ‘fight’ I’ve been engaged in as an EMCR for the past few years (common to many of my peers, like the wonderful Nikola Bowden ) and whether I could continue, in light of my recent diagnosis.

As outlined in the previous post ‘Know your enemy’, many people have extolled me to keep up the ‘fight’. Some are referring to my health ‘battles’ but some are referring to my current EMCR struggle. I also get the standard advice (sometimes from the same people) that I ‘need to look after yourself as a priority’.

Now, I was already juggling a young family (including a disabled son), heavy teaching/service requirements as well as trying to eek out a semblance of a research career, in the absence of big grants that would allow me to employ staff (even part time) to help me wrangle my growing gaggle of PhD students.

As I think of these students, I now find myself making decisions that could be construed as ‘leaning out’ (in the Sandberg sense) as the result of my diagnosis. I have started making alternative ‘plan B’ for their future supervision, in case I find myself unable to stomach the continuing ‘fight’.

Now, engaging in this process led me to the slippery ‘what if’ slope of calculating the amount of resources allocated to me, to conduct research. Expensive labs (including the shiny new one I helped design…under construction as I type) and small (but cumulative) amounts of money for consumables for my students.

I began to realise the seeming futility of it all and the waste of research resources I would represent, currently…as an EMCR dabbler and most certainly in the future, if I did what is best (for my health) and I should extricate myself from the research component of my tenure. This dawning horror was almost too awful for me to contemplate…but I was considering it…even though the very thought, was causing a lump in my throat (I am welling up as I type…and I am not one prone to such histrionics, normally).

On the way home from work that day, I was able to blink back the tears long enough to reach a deserted beach. As I walked towards the water’s edge, the dam of grief broke and waves of sobs poured out of me, to be heard only by the hooded plovers (who’ve got their own problems).

I must have stood on the beach, body wracked with grief spasms, for a full 20 mins. Then my habit of reflection started to break through my visceral reaction. I began to ask myself: What are you grieving exactly? Are you grieving for your lost future self, snatched away by the shock of the MS diagnosis? Or are you grieving the loss of your expected future, which contained some delusion of a glittering research career?

Then I realised, that for me…these two things fairly much equate to the same thing. Almost immediately, I acknowledged that this is not a healthy mentality and perhaps has hallmarks of the mindset of an addict, or someone co-dependent on the validation given by an abusive relationship.

I arrived home later that evening, with eyes still raw from crying, though dry enough to pass muster from both husband and kids. As I sank onto the couch…my husband asked me what drink I wanted. ‘Gin’ was my one word reply. He was perplexed (as I am currently on Febfast and not supposed to fall off the wagon….particularly to use alcohol as an emotional crutch) so asked he again. My reply was ‘Gin’ once more.

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Crowd funding Science…it’s like giving birth, you forget the pain!

I have decided that my poor neglected blog could use some love and as I am gearing up for my (now annual?) crowd funding campaign, I thought it was an opportune time to dust off the blog and use it for it’s intended purpose. Musing about my own use of online interactive mediums to aid my external quest for scientific (evidenced based) enlightenment.

I have to admit, after running the successful Mighty Maggots campaign last year, I meant to reflect about the experience at that time. But I think I have only recently got over the Post traumatic stress disorder it induced…..clearly, as I am now making another attempt with Hips 4 hipsters which is so new, that link won’t be active until after 5th May.

I am again overloading myself horribly in a way that scientists frequently do for more traditional funding appeals…more commonly know in Australia as ‘grantfest’ (yes, it’s a hashtag….very active over Oct-March on Oz science twitter) and to add to this excitement and the complexity of the task, I am off to Europe for collaborators meetings and a conference on the eve of launching my campaign…which I am sure is causing some anxiety in some quarters with the Brain Trust behind the scenes, but such is my glamorous* life.

But I promised myself – and owe it to the dozens of people who are directed to me as one of the ‘go to’ people for science crowd funding in Australia (and now possibly further afield?) to actually put my experiences in writing this time. And as the community engagement aspects are likely to be online only, I will physically have a little more time to bash off a reflective piece or two on this, my poor neglected blog.

I hope my experiences and the description of how things go this time compared to last time…including my exponential growth** in savvy and strategy with prove an informative treatise for those to read, particularly those thinking (naively) of having a go at themselves.

* not so glamorous when you are taking small children who like to puke on planes on a transcontinental flight over two days each way

** my little microbiologist geek joke there (sorry)

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