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CamAWiSE Media event with Don Powell

Mail AttachmentOur much-anticipated ‘Media’ event took place on 14th June with media consultant, Don Powell, helping a group of us to peek behind the scenes of a press office.

Previously of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Don was their first Press and PR Officer in January 2000, just as ‘genomes’ were hitting the headlines.

Don gave out a selection of newspapers and asked us to consider “What is News?” We all selected one story of interest to us and considered what made us choose that story. Was it pithy, sad, funny and/or did it resonate with us personally?

Much fun was made of certain newspapers but we were made to question our own views. A press officer would be unwise to discount these papers due to their huge circulation figures (the Daily Mail Online has a massive audience for example). We learnt that taking out technical jargon is not dumbing down science stories – it simply helps the journalist to talk in laymen’s terms at times!

How to engage with journalists was very interesting and I was able to compare how things are now to how they were when I worked in trade magazines over 10 years’ ago. Changes in technology mean that journalists are stretched and are often writing for at least two titles or are covering one huge subject themselves. Building relationships is key as is giving journalists what they want: interesting stories, ideally with a case-study, and publish-ready graphics. Don suggested looking at the New Scientist for an example of what is being published and how.

No stranger to a press release, Don took us through the content and timings of a news release in detail including the importance of lining up the possible questions and answers that you may well get if a story is picked up. As well as good content, usually contained in the first two paragraphs, the key message was to make it visually exciting for the reader.

Don’s own litmus test when getting people to be succinct about their work is if they can describe it to his (93-year-old) mum in three easy to understand ‘steps’ or sentences.

It was fun to hear people try this and we waded in with some good old q and a’s to test the theory. Why is methane rising? And why does it matter? Two of the questions fired at a volunteer speaker!

Don wrapped up the evening with a note on embargoes and advice on his own timings: plus why he sends releases in advance to key journalists and why third party endorsements are so essential.

And the end result of all this hard work with the press releases is hopefully the interview. Skills for being interviewed were touched on – get some training was the suggestion and be honest, open and truthful but also be in control: don’t be tempted to fill a silence!

What makes a good press officer and why bother to communicate well? Don asked these two questions to conclude the session. My take-home message was that the good work that we are all doing should be shared with as wide an audience as possible and that to do so well means drawing out the essence of the story.

And the same could be said about a journalist’s ‘reason to be’ too.

Thanks to Don for such an illuminating and fun event.

Gayle Sullivan

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Thank you!

‘Building a Business Case for Diversity’ online game evening with Dr. Suzanne Doyle-Morris – by Gayle Sullivan

 

'New Opportunities Building the Business Case for Diversity'
When I first heard about the work of Dr. Suzanne Doyle-Morris: ‘serious games’ workshops to explore issues around subjects, in this case ‘Diversity’, I was intrigued.

On 17th May, I got to have a go myself as Dr. Doyle-Morris, former member of CamAWISE, author and a professional business speaker, travelled from Scotland to run a workshop using an online role play game as a springboard for live discussion.

Why ‘business’ case for diversity? The reason it is ‘business’ is that this is quite simply the best way to explain to people in business that it makes sound financial (as well as moral) sense to operate from as diverse a platform as possible. Suzanne had plenty of statistics to back this up but back to the game!

Our task was to work in threes to help ‘employees’ in an online game to make decisions about how to investigate diversity issues in their workplace and how best to implement changes to better meet the demands of today’s consumers. As in all the best decision-making games (and sometimes books) there were a number of endings, based on which answers you chose.

There were lessons along the way including the importance of keeping the men in the discussion (around issues including women/men ratios). “Don’t just tell people what to do” was the advice of an experienced person there to help the male, who had little – if any – experience of diversity studies. People will have their prejudices but the key lesson I learnt was not to wait until you have the perfect plan: get on with it and start the plan. Don’t wait and stall for small, petty reasons or the fear of being accused of tokenism by people nervous of change. ‘Buy-in’ to these issues is important but so is ‘focus’.

As this was an interactive workshop, attendees also shared examples of how they’ve seen these issues handled before: it was very interesting to hear issues around equal pay and maternity leave from participants.

Throughout the evening were statistics to illustrate the importance of the business case for diversity. For example, that 70-80% of consumer decisions are made or ‘heavily influenced’ by women or maybe more concrete, that by 2020, 53% of women will be millionaires (currently 46%).

We were fortunate to have insights from a professional business speaker and this game is just one of Dr. Doyle-Morris’ library of serious games workshops she’s created on diversity and inclusion issues since her departure to Scotland from Cambridge to set up the InclusIQ Institute.

Thanks to Suzanne and to all those who attended and contributed to discussions around issues of ‘Diversity’ and fairer workplaces in general.

Meet the Steering Group – Penny Coggill

What is your current profession/background?

I have just retired from working with a protein-families database, finding evolutionary relationships between proteins from all forms of life. I have started my own company to edit/proof-read STEM documents in readiness for publication.

What point in your life led you to pursue a STEM career?

My father was a dental surgeon interested in facial surgery after war-wounds and brought home what I found were fascinating illustrated textbooks, so when I got to High School I wanted to study all the -ologies, ie STEM. As it turned out I didn’t pursue a career in medicine but went into biochemistry and nutrition.

What is one of your biggest aspirations?

Simply to see parity in male-female numbers up to the very top levels in STEM. To help as many other women as possible to achieve their potential in STEM.

What advice would you give to aspiring female scientists and engineers?

Have faith in yourself. Go for want interests you and you wish to do and do not be put off by others telling you that you don’t have the right background or aptitude, or whatever. Never wait for someone to offer you promotion or suggest you apply for that professorship. Work out what your career path is going to look like in advance, ie how far you wish to go, and seek out the opportunities and the promotions along the way.

Always find people to seek advice from – these are often termed Mentors – to talk through your own plans with; and if they turn out to be good mentors then nurture them well. Don’t be afraid to go to the very top for advice either, even near the start of your career. On the professional front, become familiar with basic statistics and learn to program, even as a biologist.

How have you benefited from being a part of CAMAWiSE?

CamAWiSE is a support network, with frequent opportunities for networking/meeting people, hearing about their professional lives and making friends. The many workshops and talks on improving one’s personal image, outlook, technical abilities in giving presentations and chairing meetings more effectively have all benefited my career-profile.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I did, and sometimes still do, quite a bit of choral singing and I play the bass recorder. Learning to appreciate modern Art is ongoing and I have taken up knitting again…

Ask me about…..

Protein-evolution, British wildflowers, choral singing, and gardening.

‘Moving into management’ by Harriet Truscott

20150908--239It was another informative and entertaining session from Cambridge AWISE in April, when management trainer Kate Atkin joined us for a session on ‘Moving into management’.

From her attention-grabbing opening story about her first management role, the only woman manager in a well-known bank, to the team activity where she had most of us tangled up in string, Kate kept her audience engaged – and there was always a learning point to be grasped.

Several of us in the room had asked her to share her guidance on meetings, and particularly how to present a case effectively. Stepping back to ancient Greece, Kate called in Aristotle to aid us. Making a case, she argued, whether in an ancient Athenian law court or a modern boardroom, is a matter of three steps: ethos, pathos, and logos. ‘Ethos’, in these terms, is your own credibility. Are you a well known expert in the field? Have you held the job for a number of years? Have you carried out a relevant study? ‘Pathos’ is your ability to shape the audience’s emotions. As Kate pointed out, she’d used this very tactic at the start of the workshop: her story of life in the bank rapidly got her audience onside. And finally, ‘logos’, the logical argument. Put all three together – your own expertise, the rational argument, and an appeal to the audience’s emotions – and you’re primed for a successful meeting.

Other topics we covered included successful delegation, giving meaningful feedback, and turning difficult situations around through constructive conversations.

The biggest take away of the night, and one that those of us who never figured out the ‘string trick’ will find particularly memorable – if someone asks you to do a task, never shy away from asking them all the questions you need to do it!

Kate’s book, The Confident Manager, is available from her website, http://www.kateatkin.com.

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