Highlights from a rookie researcher’s first conference.

A few weeks ago I attended the conference Progress 2013 (http://progress2013.org.au/). The first of its kind in Australia, it brought together progressive left thinkers with not-for profit organizations, unions, private industry and experts in the health and environment sector. Its aim was to talk about the issues that will define Australia’s not-for profits and social movements for the years to come. As a recent graduate, this was my first ever conference and a chance to understand how people from all over the workforce come together to share skills, nut out ideas and most importantly – network. This blog post will cover some of the major highlights from the conference and touch on some of the lessons I learnt, from the perspective of a budding young researcher.

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Highlight no 1.
To begin, one of the major highlights for me was listening to rock star academic and expert on the social determinants of health, Richard Wilkinson (http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html), speak about the importance of understanding how income inequality affects health and wellbeing. Wilkinson, author of ‘The Spirit level’ and co-founder of The Equality Trust (http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk), researches the problems of inequality in society and produces evidence-based arguments to support social movements for change. In particular, Wilkinson drew attention to the problem that health and wellbeing in high and middle income countries is worse for all when the gap between the rich and poor is greater. Data was collated to demonstrate that even in high income countries as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), population levels of health and wellbeing are influenced by income inequality. Therefore, the average wellbeing of societies is not dependent on gross national income and the rhetoric of economic growth but rather the relation between each other within society itself. This trend also occurs in child health and wellbeing, mental health, drug abuse and obesity – proving the tangible effect that inequality has in society. Some factors Wilkinson attributed as the drivers of negative health in unequal societies include status anxiety, stress, mistrust and dominance caused by a competitive consumer based economy. Wilkinson therefore advocated for a more inclusive society where value is placed on the way we relate to one another and where possible to harness positive social relations, such as friendship. Although these insights seem somewhat intuitive, I was taken aback by how relevant it is to continue to produce evidence that highlights this problem. When considering health and wellbeing, Wilkinson makes us think about the less visible effects of how we relate to one another and re-establishes the importance of family, friendship and positive social interaction to maintaining a sustainable quality of life.

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Highlight no 2.

Another highlight was the talk given by Anat Shenker-Osorio, a communications expert and researcher who authored the book ‘Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy’. Her work looks at how people understand issues, such as the economy or climate change, through the words used to narrate them. Without getting too bogged down in detail, the gist of her research suggests that you can reliably persuade or change a person’s thinking about an issue depending on the words used to describe it. For example, immigration. A study was conducted to measure how people responded to immigrants depending on whether they were framed as either a burden or a resource. The findings showed that when immigrants were talked about in a positive framing, by expressing what they bring to society and not what they lack, people’s acceptance of immigrants were overall more favourable. Shenker-Osorio argues that by literally changing the words we use to speak about an issue, we can also influence how people think about it, having repercussions for politics and policy. Something to think about when writing the next report or talking at a conference about a sticky issue. Frame it positively and you will have people receive it much more favorably.

Highlight no 3.

Arguably one of the best parts of Progress 2013 however, was the chance to mingle with those I consider some of my professional role models. As I mentioned above, this was my first ever conference, so the task of introducing yourself to those you admire is quite daunting. However, after a few awkward first conversations I learnt the following things;

  1. Go with a plan. Since time is scarce at these events and the professionals you meet talk to so many different individuals every day, working out a plan of who you want to speak to and what you want to speak to them about prior to the meeting is essential. This way, you won’t get caught in a conversation about the weather and how good the muffins are, but instead get to use your limited time to your best advantage.
  2. Don’t be scared to introduce yourself. As daunted as you might be about shaking hands with someone you find just a huge bit intimidating because of their greatness, it never hurts to just introduce yourself and say you are a huge admirer of their work. A few times I saw rock star academics on their lonesome at the coffee table, probably because everyone was too in awe to say hi.
  3. When in doubt ask questions. When you have reached your small talk capacity and feel like the conversation is drying out, ask questions of them. People love to talk about themselves and asking them questions about themselves shows that a) you have a strong interest and b) that you are engaged in what they do.

Written by Hannah Morrice
Research Assistant, Jack Brockhoff Child Health & Wellbeing Program
The University of Melbourne
e: hannah.morrice@unimelb.edu.au

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Large reductions in child overweight and obesity in intervention and comparison communities 3 years after a community project

Research paper title: Large reductions in child overweight and obesity in intervention and comparison communities 3 years after a community project
 
Between 2003-2006 the Be Active Eat Well (BAEW) Obesity prevention programme was implemented in Colac, a rural township in the Barwon South West region of Victoria. The programme used a multi-setting, mutli-strategy approach to reduce unhealthy weight gain in children aged 4-12 years. Three years after completion in 2009, an evaluation was undertaken to measure the impacts of the intervention.
 
Working with our colleagues at Deakin Univeristy we are delighted that the findings of the study have now been published.
 
The paper discusses the significant results identified 3 years post completion of the BAEW intervention and the spillover effect in the surrounding areas. The main and interesting finding of the papers is that,compared with 2003, the 2009 prevalence of overweight/obesity was significantly lower.

The paper can be viewed here: http://goo.gl/HQYszV  

Is PowerPoint dead? No but your presentation just might be!

Important health warning:

Have you ever been presenting at a seminar or conference and noticed your audience exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms?

  • Constant yawning
  • Slumping in their chair
  • Excessive mobile phone texting, tweeting and/or Facebooking
  • Sleeping, and in some cases snoring
  • In the worst case scenario, not even showing up at all

If you answered yes to one or more of these symptoms, your audience is exhibiting Soporific Seminar Syndrome (SSS). This is a very serious yet common disorder with one in five people in Australia suffering from it. The scary part is YOU may be the cause of this!

But how you ask? Your research is interesting, you are a great presenter and use more than one tone in your voice, you have accompanying slides… so why are you making your audience suffer?

Well luckily, I’m here to help!

Researchers have discovered the reason for SSS is Poorly Designed PowerPoint Presentations (or PDPPP). Luckily the condition can be reversed with a straightforward treatment – effective design. Please follow these simple tips so together we can rid the world of SSS.

1. Cut down on clutter

It is a common misconception presenters have that they need to put EVERY single word they are saying into their PowerPoint presentation. If it’s not every single word, it’s lines and lines of dot points. Your audience is trying to listen to you and read your slides at the same time. They are going to get distracted and confused if you have too much information and your slides are too cluttered. It’s even worse if you flick through your slides so quickly, they don’t even finish reading! Solution, cut down on the clutter. Chose one dot point that complements what you are talking about and stick with that! Better still use a photo. Your audience will have your full attention, and hopefully better understand and absorb what you are speaking about.

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2. Use large readable words

This point goes hand in hand with the last. There is no point having small text that people won’t be able to see at the back of the room. Instead of losing their attention, lose the clutter and write with large readable words. The text below is size 18 compared to size 90. As a rule of thumb, never go under size 24 pt.

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3. Pick the right colours

Colours that look good on your computer screen don’t always look effective on the big screen. Avoid using light colours on a white background and vise versa. Use contrasting colours for your background and text and avoid using more than 4-5 colours in total. If in doubt, stick with the basics – black and white! Finally, if you have the facilities, go and test your presentation on the projector.

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4. Maximise the use of photos.

I can’t stress this point enough. Do as the late Steve Jobs would of done.

Have you ever watched one of his presentations and seen the screen full of dot point and sentences? No. He uses one image to illustrate exactly what he is talking about. And it’s memorable!

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Image curiosity of http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life

If you do intend to use photos, don’t crop it and place it in the corner, squeezed in amongst your dot points, maximize its use. Make it a full screen image and incorporate minimal text around it, if at all.

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5. Use simple fonts.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Steer away from detailed and fancy fonts. They look messy and cluttered on screen and make it harder for your audience to read. Stick with a sans serif font like Gill Sans, Geneva or Arial to name a few.

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One last piece of advice, if you want your audience to engage more, set up a hashtag (for example #endingSSS) and encourage people to tweet with the hashtag during your seminar. People will be engaged (and not falling asleep), asking questions and promoting your research and research program.   

This special concoction of remedies will hopefully ameliorate the symptoms of SSS, acting through the PDPPP pathway. By eradicating Poorly Designed PowerPoint Presentations we will be free to live in a world where all presentations are engaging, enabling us to be inspired by our new learnings and tackle some real life health issues!

 

Written by Alana Pirrone-Savona
Media & Communications Officer for the Jack Brockhoff Child Health & Wellbeing Program
The University of Melbourne
apirrone@unimelb.edu.au

 

Connect with us on

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BrockhoffChildResearch

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrockhoffTeam

 

Beyond Bushfires: Community Resilience and Recovery

Beyond Bushfires: Community Resilience and Recovery is a five year study in partnership with community, government, emergency services and other service providers. This study, led by our Program, aims to profile the range of mental health, wellbeing and social responses to the Victorian 2009 bushfires over time. Multiple methodologies are being used to explore the medium to longer term impacts from the February 2009 bushfires and the interplay between individual and community factors.

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Community Centre in Steels Creek

We are very proud to announce that last week our Beyond Bushfires team had their protocol paper for the study published, detailing the study design and methodology. The multidisciplinary team and the contributions from government, agency and community partners ensures that we have a very strong, rigorous and respectful process for conducting the study and interpreting the findings from the mixed methods, including social network analysis, epidemiological and qualitative approaches. The team has rich and fruitful discussions at every meeting and the findings emerging are useful to policy, services and community alike. We are now in the process of sharing and discussing the emerging findings with community partners and plan to publish the initial findings shortly in academic journals.

 

Professor Elizabeth Waters

 

To read the paper click here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/1036/

To learn more about the Beyond Bushfires study, click here: http://beyondbushfires.org.au/

Connect with Beyond Bushfires on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BeyondBushfires

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BeyondBushfires

Welcome to Research Connect

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‘Before, I have a lot of problem you know. I have a lot of thinking about my family you know. But I came to Ucan2 and got a lot of friends came, talk and speak like that… Before I come I can’t laugh – because I can’t. After I come to Ucan2, yeah I can laugh with my friends’

(Afghan male 26)

Hearing inspirational quotes like the one above changes our lives. It reenergizes our passion for research and health promotion and we remember why we do this job and why we love it. Those countless hours of planning, ethics submissions, draft upon drafts of papers, and the acceptance or rejection from journals are all part of the life of an academic, and all worth it when you hear a quote like this.

Here at the Child Health & Wellbeing Program, we work towards a vision of every child having the opportunity for a fulfilling and healthy life. Our research, through partnerships and an evidence-informed approach, aims to significantly shift population health and reduce gaps in child health inequalities.

Through this blog, you will hear stories from our team about why we carry out research in this field. What motivates and inspires our team and why they take these approaches to their research. We encourage others to engage in friendly debate about our topics and ask questions, whether you are a fellow researcher, a colleague or are just interested in child health research and promotion.

We will be covering topics such as mental health, disability, wellbeing, quality of life, oral health, obesity, health eating, physical activity, learning, development, disadvantage, vulnerability, equity, human rights and children and families in the contexts of disasters.

Please do share your thoughts and comments by commenting on these pages. We hope you enjoy our blog.

Liz Waters

Professor Elizabeth Waters is the Jack Brockhoff Chair of Child Public Health at The University of Melbourne.