Last spring, I was selected to be one of six Pain Research Forum (PRF) Correspondents at NeupSIG (7th International Congress in Neuropathic Pain) in London, United Kingdom.
"The PRF Correspondents program provides students and early-career pain investigators with the knowledge and skills they need to communicate science effectively to a wide range of pain researchers and to patients and the broader public. Working closely with the PRF editors, successful applicants will gain valuable science communications experience by conducting interviews and podcasts with NeuPSIG speakers, writing summaries of lectures and scientific sessions, and producing other content." (Pain Research Forum)
Aside from the incredible opportunity to attend my first pain conference in my DPhil, this science communication role allowed me to develop as a communicator, and was pivotal in in the expansion of the breadth of my science communication. Now that I've created this space to centralise all of my scicomm endeavours, I'm happy to share some of the work that I completed as a correspondent, here.
Listening to yourself for the first time on a podcast, whilst speaking with an esteemed Pain Researcher such as Dr. Stephen Waxman, at first sounded daunting. However, this was such an enriching experience for me. It really instilled a new sense of confidence in my ability to facilitate meaningful conversations with experts in a field that was I had so recently joined.
As someone's whose own work focuses on pain from more of an epidemiological perspective, in a common condition, it was intriguing to hear about the genetically-guided techniques that Waxman and his colleagues were using to better understand rare diseases.
I left my interview with Harriet truly inspired. She is a not only an Anaesthetic Registrar at the Imperial School of Anaesthesia, a neuropathic pain researcher, and Chair of the NeuPSIG Trainee Committee, but she also had just finished her DPhil when I interviewed her. I found the experience of interviewing her so humbling; she had just completed the final stage of her DPhil, when I had just began my DPhil journey 6 months prior.
One of my favourite things about this interview, was that there was little hesitation to address some of the more controversial topics that I asked about; at the conference, cannabis for pain management was a hot topic, so naturally I was curious to understand her thoughts on the matter. We also had great discussions about current (at the time) efforts being made to actively achieve gender equity in STEM, and some of the unique challenges faced by women in STEM.
This summary was a really fun one for me to write, mainly due to the fact that this article was written for a different audience; a general, non-pain expert readers of RELIEF. So, this meant that I was to take the complex and incredible advances that Professor Apkarian and his group had made in their studies of chronic pain, and make it easily understandable. While this was challenging, it was an incredible opportunity to highlight the fact that by targeting the brain's limbic system, the part responsible for emotion and learning, we can identify and treat those who are risk of developing long-lasting, chronic pain.
Another joy for me in writing this summary, was corresponding with Professor Apkarian after the conference to discuss his work, and the piece I wrote about it.
For anyone that is interested in developing their scicomm skills, with a specific interest in pain, the PRF Correspondence Program is one that I would timelessly recommend.
Perro, D. PRF Correspondent. “Advice to Young Researchers: Follow Your Passion and Buckle Up Your Seatbelt for Successful Translational Pain Research–A Podcast With Stephen Waxman. June 18 2019.
Perro, D. PRF Correspondent. “Early-Career Considerations for Pain Researchers, Science Communications, Gender Issues, and More: A conversation With Harriet Kemp. August 22 2019.
Perro, D. (2020, January 16). Stopping the Transition to Chronic Pain. [Blog Post] Retrieved from https://relief.news/stopping-transition-chronic-pain/