Dr Flavia Flaviani is a Senior Bioinformatician at our the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. Flavia recently visited Bishop Thomas Grant School in Streatham to talk to some of their year 12s as part of a special careers lecture for the Biology class. Flavia was asked to talk about DNA and how genes affect health, as well as her own career journey.
Claire O'Neill, R&D and BRC Public Engagement Manager, has been working with the Head of Science to set up lots of activities with the school and she asked if I'd like to get involved. As my work fits in so well to the DNA theme, I was delighted to carry out this talk. I've done a few public engagement activities in the past including running an I Can Be session but I was still a little nervous about this as I wanted to make sure I got it right. Claire and I worked with the school to tailor the talk so that it was appropriate for the class. I wanted it to be interesting to them but not too beyond what they've already covered. I was also really keen to get across the fact that my career path was not linear and neither are most of my colleagues! I wanted the students to know that it's ok to change your mind and to discover new areas they are interested in and to move into new fields if that works for them.
Claire was in touch with the teacher at the school and she mentioned that they had covered the DNA and genetics disease such as cystic fibrosis. I started off talking to them about the structure of DNA and asked them about what they already knew. I then talked about some genetic illnesses such as haemophilia (which Queen Victoria passed onto her heirs!) and why it only affects males. I also shared my favourite fact that calico cats (which are white with large orange and black patches) should always be female because the gene is carried on the X chromosome.
I also talked about my own career, why I became interested in science and why I still love it so much.
I took some wonderful "giant microbes" of a blood cell, a nerve cell and a brain cell. I used them to explain that we are all made up of cells just like these and changes in one can effect another. I also took a model of model of DNA and got the students to help me build it.
I honestly think that public engagement is about giving back and provide others with opportunities to see a career that they might not have thought off or be expose to. There are some subjects that can feel “dry” but are actually incredibly interesting and exciting. I think that it is important to show the love we have for our work and showcase the options available. By promoting our work and engaging to the public it challenges to explain our work in a clearer language. I think this is a great learning experience and it is different every single time, and can only have a positive effect on my work.
The school visits are just one example of the patient and public engagement activities that our team can help researchers and our local communities with. You can read more about the team and their work here or contact Claire O'Neill if you would like to take part in future activities with the BRC.