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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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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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Interview transcript given to Nayanah Siva, to be prepared for the Lancet.

N: I understand you have used crowdfunding to raise funds for your research, could you tell me a bit about the research projects you are working on and how much you raised for these through your campaigns?

M: I have run two crowd funding campaigns in the past 18 months or so, and was one of the first ‘beta’ testers for the Pozible-Deakin ‘Research my World’ partnership, an initiative by Professor of Media Studies, Deb Verhoeven, at my university (which has only just entered the top 500 rankings, and is not the equivalent of a ‘red brick’ university [group of Eight on Oz] per say!)

My first campaign focused on a local endemic disease, skin ulcers caused by a flesh eating mycobacterium (M. ulcerans) My colleague (Dr Michelle Harvey, a Forensic Entomologist) and I proposed a pilot clinical study to use sterile medical maggots instead of expensive plastic surgery to debride (remove the necrotic flesh) of these wounds. We offered paintings done by the ‘Mighty’ Maggots as rewards to our donors. (No maggots were harmed in the creation of such masterpieces!) We successfully funded this study to the tune of $10,000 AUD. We are still trying to source ‘extract of maggot’ so we can test for pre-existing maggot allergy in the patients (at the request of the Human research ethics committee) and hope to start recruiting on this trial soon.

Because this disease is local to a small Geographic area (near my home) I ran a campaign that had many community engagement aspects (stalls at local markets, school visits, Rotary Club talks). I had also concurrently applied for small philanthropic grants from Local Community Foundations, which were also successful, perhaps due to the local media interest in our campaign, here in Geelong (a Regional Town in Victoria, Australia), and along with some substantial private donations, meant that I garnered a total of almost $55,000 AUD for this research.

My Second (recent) campaign, focused on the issue of the growing threat of Antimicrobial resistance in bacteria. It was called ‘Hips 4 Hipsters’ and the premise was that my current undergraduate students, may be facing a world without antibiotics that work, when they are ready for hip replacement surgery when elderly, given the current rise in antimicrobial resistance. Ironically, I noted that after I started this campaign, the British ran the Longitudinal prize, which was won by the same emerging health issue. I managed to raise $12,400 AUD on this campaign, but some of my supporters from the Australian Science Establishment have offered ongoing support for obtaining ‘traditional grants’ on this topic, so again, the ‘ripple’ effect of the impact of a campaign can be hard to quantify, as it increases exposure of ECRs to the wider scientific community.

I did no ‘real life’ community engagement on this second campaign and ran it entirely on one social media platform (Twitter) whilst blogging about my experiences in real time, (Drmelthomson.wordpress.com) as to provide a reflective record of my journey, for those who may follow behind. Dr Ben McNeil from Thinkable was one of the earliest supporters of my efforts in both my campaigns and I am now mentoring Dr Martin Rees in his Thinkable campaign. (He was recently mistaken by a Melbourne newspaper as Baron Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal!)

N: Could you also tell me a little about what type of people/groups were sponsoring you, colleagues, the general public, etc?

M: In my first campaign, I actually had quite a few friends, family and colleagues (even a couple of students!) pledge, but the most engaged group in the concept of using ‘mighty maggots’ was retired Sheep farmers, who were glad that maggots were doing something useful, instead of eating the rear end of their sheep! (Fly strike is a major agricultural issue in Australia)

In my second campaign, I had a ready made legion of fans of my science communication activities via Twitter, which I added to during the 45 day Campaign, by spending a week on a Rotation Twitter account (@RealScientists) to amplify the ‘signal’ of my message. I also had some local Australian ‘super tweeters’ who decided to retweet my campaign to large number of followers on several occasions and these people probably clinched the success of ‘Hips 4 Hipsters’

N: Why did you decide to raise funds through this platform for your research?

M: I was offered the opportunity by my University, and as an ECR who had not yet been successful at securing traditional funding, I realised that I had nothing to lose and had the perfect ‘attention grabbing’ project (Maggots tend to engender morbid fascination).

I decided to do it again, as I need to fund a new project with a ‘bench to bedside’ focus, so could communicate about the research process, leading to the development of drug therapies (and why ‘Big Pharma’ was ignoring antimicrobial R&D!)

N: Have government cuts in science funding affected you?

M: Yes, indirectly, as the usual economic levers of ‘supply and demand’ have increased the competition for traditional research grants in Australia, and hence have skewed the metrics to favour the small elite, who have been supported by the existing system for many years (and hence have the track record to show for it!) And as I spent 12 of my training years in the UK, I have many helpful local mentors, but no ‘Patrons’ willing to support my grants by adding their competitive track records to my applications.

N: Are you hopeful that crowdfunding will be a successful method of raising funding for young researchers.

M: I think there is a role to play for crowd funding as a model, in conjunction with other grant funding schemes. It allows ECRs to raise their profile within the community and gives them a platform on which the interested parties can ‘adopt a boffin’ directly for a particular disease, by making a small (or not so small!) donation. My average donation was around $70 AUD range $2-$1000 AUD. The amounts achievable are very low compared to the cost of conducting medical research, so it is unlikely that this method will be adopted as a ‘replacement’ for traditional grant schemes. But the level of community engagement and possible ‘ripple’ effects, cannot be quantified.

N: Do you have any concerns about crowdfunding for scientific research?

M: Many people are concerned that the current government will stop funding some aspects of scientific research and replace it with such campaigns. (A recent example was the Climate Change Council in Australia, who was at odds with the current political milieux and hence had funding removed, only to run a highly successful crowd funding campaign to continue it’s work.)

I also received negative feedback from many disgruntled tax payers, who quite rightly asked ‘Don’t my taxes already pay for medical research?’ And hence were offended to be asked to contribute out of their after tax income, for such things. And as the new $7 co payment was introduced to ostensibly pay for a ‘Medical Research Future Fund’ during my last campaign, I was surprised I was successful in that climate.

People also wonder about crowd funding ‘Fatigue’ and it losing it’s appeal as the market becomes flooded with platforms and projects. Time will tell.

N: Is there anything else you would like to highlight?

M: As someone who is seen as a ‘trail blazer’ in this field in Australia, I would like to report several ECRs from highly successful Medical Research Institutes have told me stories of when they approached their superiors to get permission to run crowd funding campaigns. Many were not sanctioned to run these campaigns, for fear of damaging existing philanthropic relationships. And so encourage their researchers to engage only via carefully scripted media interactions, with the non scientist communications officers in control. I find it sad that these institutes are not prepared to trust their own innovative scientific staff to communicate their message directly to the public, as the main benefit of these interactions (as I see it) is the unfiltered ‘access to boffins’ without the veneer of ‘spin’. These interactions are genuine and allow the flawed and human process of research that happens in these Ivory towers, to be communicated directly. (Ie it takes a long time and has many hurdles!)

Actual Article here

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And…..RELAAAAAAAAAXXXXXXX! Then reflect.

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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