What I do in a nutshell and how to do the same for your research
December 2, 2017

As scientists, many of us get the question: "What do you do?" Depending on the audience, I am sure many scientists can spend 3 minutes or hours on the answer. Although many of us are guilty of giving an answer that may not be representative of the true nature of our research, I am going to attempt to honestly answer the question "What do you do?"

There have been multiple videos that attempt to describe a scientific concept, like CRISPR Cas-9, to a 7 year old, 14 year old, college student, grad student and CRISPR expert (Biologist Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty - CRISPR | WIRED). I think the idea is interesting but I believe that catering to one audience over a text format is more effective, although I am not opposed to the idea of a vlog one day.

I'm going to assume that everyone reading has at least a high school understanding of science. The ultimate test I find when trying to explain what you do is to perform the parent/grandparent test. If you can successfully explain what you do to your parent or grandparent,  you're on the right path.

If you can explain your research in under 3 (#3MT) minutes to a non-scientific audience, you are on the right path to communicating your research more effectively. I am going to attempt to guide you through writing your research in under 200 words, roughly 2 minutes of speaking.

The first topic I like to introduce is the problem. As in many academic journals, you always present the "why" to your research. The same is true for speaking to non-scientific audiences, you need to entice them as to why you are pursuing this academic endeavor.

My research specifically focuses on the regeneration of the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament. Although many people know the acronym more than the full name, so I usually state that it's a ligament in your knee. Although this can be difficult if you are researching an obscure topic, there is always way to find an analogy or a common subject that most non-scientific audiences can understand.

The next topic I like to bring up is how your research is going to solve this problem. At this point, you may get questions like, "what else has been done?" or "what is currently done?"  However, most people are going to just want to know about what you do.

In my case, I am working on synthetic (or polymeric, depends on the background of the audience) scaffold that is going to support cell growth. Then next, I'm going to subject the scaffold to tensile (I like using hand motions here) forces to help the cells grow and turn into the cells that I want to have on my scaffold. Finally, this scaffold will be implanted into a rabbit animal model and tested against the gold standard.

For those extra curious souls, the current gold standard for ACL reconstruction is to remove the torn ACL and replace it with either the patellar tendon or quadriceps tendon. Although these surgeries usually are good in the short-term, not having a real ligament is detrimental in the long-term. In the past, it was thought that using a solely synthetic ligament would be able to restore function to a torn ligament. Although many attempts were made, they usually failed from the body recognizing it as a foreign material and initiating an immune response that resulted in the failure of the artificial ligament. The approach that I am pursuing hopes to mimic both the structure AND function of the native ACL .

I hope that helps anyone in their own attempt to explain their research and as always feel free to contact me if you want to know more!

Until next time (I'm hoping there will not be a 3 month hiatus until my next post)!

Written by
Nathan Holwell
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