The Intern Series - Bridge Careers in Translational Research

TRI's Digital Comms and Marketing Officer Carla interviews QUT Intern Carly Booth and Clinician Researcher Dr Ingrid Hickman about the importance of bridge careers, particularly in nutrition healthcare.

In translational research we talk extensively about the process of translating scientific research findings into usable health outcomes, but there's another type of translation that occurs every day in multidisciplinary teams. The communication between unrelated and differently skilled fields - eg a scientist and clinician, a journalist and a researcher, a commercial investor and PhD student - these conversations require complex information to be converted into a common language.

In this podcast we look specifically at the communication between nutrition scientists and the general public, which sometimes occurs through a communications professional. Communications staff have long been considered a bridge between a subject matter expert and those who are not experts but are impacted by it in some way - ie the audience - but are communications skills enough to accurately interpret science and inform the community?

Existing science communication, in particular in the medical space, is often a twisted and inaccurate version of a discovery with an oversimplified agenda - ie, the 'cure' for cancer or the 'end of suffering' for arthritis patients. Important and crucial discoveries are ignored if they don't meet the goals of media, which is to attract and engage an audience who are already bombarded with information online, on television, via the radio or social networking. 

In translational research, the importance of bridges between knowledge silos is even more signifcant now with the noise of social media. Almost anyone can publish an article or post an opinion online and if it is repeated often enough, it can be established as fact in an often dangerous way. 

So what exactly is a 'bridge' career?

Bridge career paths aim to communicate and connect information from one industry to another from a multidisciplinary perspective. The aim of these bridge roles is to ultimately close the communication gap - just as QUT Intern Carly aims to be the bridge between media and communication and nutrition science.

Carly came to us via referral from QUT's intern program due to her unique choice of dual degrees - a Bachelor of Communications and a Bachelor of Nutrition Science. As part of TRI's social media club, we had been working with Dr Ingrid Hickman, Director of Research with the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, on a strategic approach to communicating evidence based nutrition information. Carly was the ideal bridge between our areas of expertise, providing Ingrid with a dedicated resource to investigate appropriate channels and projects to start a communications plan. 

Over 10 weeks, Carly worked with Dr Hickman and the TRI communications and marketing team to assess the risks, investigate keywords, research key influencers and produce a podcast series to demonstrate to other researchers how simple it can be to get started. 

A skilled 'bridge' can translate the information directly from the source while polishing it and organising it to be interesting to the intended audience. The bridge can offer suggestions which educate the subject matter expert to seek out audiences and understand how to make their findings relevant to the community and their lives. It is important for researchers to learn communications skills without wasting valuable research time. A solid relationship with a bridge can reduce double handling and streamline the dissemination of scientific information to a non-scientific audience. 

Ingrid emphasises how important it is that researchers explore not one but a whole range of methods when communicating their research findings.

"Traditionally, we're all trying to publish in scientific journals, but we want to try other ways of disseminating information so it reaches the public more quickly - using things like podcasts and other forms of social media engagement"

Although the bridge careers that Carla, Carly and Ingrid discuss in this podcast may not exist as specific professions as of yet, it is always important to expand your skillset as much as possible. So just like Carly, keep studying, keep immersing yourself into new environments and be on the lookout for bridge career opportunities in the future. 

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Dr Ingrid Hickman (PAH, Mater) and Carly Booth (QUT)