So I have this problem. I started a blog to write about science, but at this point, I haven’t actually written much about science. For starters there is so much to read and write about that I’m not sure where to start, and secondly, I wonder who am I really aiming this blog at? Obviously I’m aiming it at you – but how much do you already know or want to know about music and the brain?
Let’s address these issues one at a time: firstly, the never-ending reading list.
With the start of this new year, I’ve seen a few great challenges on twitter to get academics reading more of the literature or stay on top of their reading lists
- #366papers encourages you to read one paper a day and tweet it out (or keep a reading list for others to see)
- #5papers aims to read 5 papers a week and write about them in a summary
I’m sure there are many more. I like the idea of both of these challenges, but realistically, I know I couldn’t keep up this pace (for starters it is already late January so I’m already behind); but I also know that reading is not enough for me – I need both read and write in order to understand what I’m reading……
So that brings me to the second issue: who are YOU, my reader, and what do you want to know? You are most likely educated, interested in music and the brain, but not necessarily with a background in the field.
All this got me thinking about the time I competed in the Three Minute Thesis competition, where graduate students have to present their thesis project with just one slide and in only three minutes. If you are a PhD Student, and your university is running this, then you should DEFINITELY give it a go.
I entered at my university back in 2014 (stoked to come away with 2nd prize!) and have continued to benefit from it.
I found that in presenting my project to a non-specialist audience I had to take a step back and see it from a different perspective. Ask myself what is really worth communicating? Why would someone outside my field be interested in my work?
In the end it came down to answering: What is the real relevance of my project?
It’s a valuable skill to be able to synthesize complex ideas into everyday language; something that is needed again and again in a research career (eg giving talks at general conferences, or preparing grant applications). It also requires that you have a firm understanding of the complexities in order to successfully communicate it…. as anyone who has tried explaining their project to their mum, or grandpa, or 6-year-old daughter can testify to. So it’s a skill that I want to hone this year as I continue to delve deeper into the literature in my own field.
So where am I going with all this? Well, I’m putting a new challenge out there
The #3MinutePaper challenge.
Take a paper from your field (not necessarily your own) and write a post about it that would take 3 minutes to read and would explain the content to a non-specialist audience. In a talk, 3 minutes would be about 400 words, but silent reading is faster so I think a rough guide of 600 words would be do-able. The post is not necessarily covering all the details of the paper but find the key points that can be drawn from it (a key take home message).
The more I think about it, the more benefits I can see from taking up this challenge:
- Get me writing about what I’m reading and thinking more deeply about it (as you really need to understand something pretty well to be able to communicate it simply)
- Improve my science communication skills (something that unless I MAKE time for, will always be pushed aside by more urgent tasks)
- Good way to get to know other researchers in your field (If they are on twitter, ping them when you tweet out the link, and you never know they may even retweet it to their followers – it is free “advertising” for them, after all!)
- Lastly, I’m sure there are ideas in fields beyond my scope that I may never get to read about or understand unless someone likes you, who are familiar with your own field, can explain to me, as a non-specialist. These ideas could lead to innovations in my own work. Hopefully the reverse is also true: insights from my posts of literature in the field of MEG and Musical Imagery / Cognition, may spark a few ideas in your own research. (For more inspiration check out Where Do Good Ideas Come From?)
So what do you think – are you up for the challenge? I’m going to try to post a #3MinutePaper once a fortnight (that’s just two a month).
Why not join me by posting a blog and using the #3MinutePaper and together we can help spread the word of the amazing science that is being done around the world!