From researcher to communicator: Malene Overby reached the PhD Cup finals
Malene Overby is a postdoc at Health, and in the past month she has learned more about communication than she thought was ever possible. As a participant in this year's PhD Cup, she was coached by news anchor Kåre Quist from TV Avisen before the grand finale show, which was broadcast on Friday evening on DR2.
Inside Health talks to Malene Overby as she is making her final preparations for the battle ahead, and as one of five finalists, she has three minutes to communicate her research to a packed DR Koncerthuset in a spectacular TV show.
On 20 March, the 30-year-old researcher was told that she was one of the five finalists in the PhD Cup 2023. Since then, she has been through an intensive communication course.
"It's been a crazy experience, and I've really learned a lot in a short time about communication. Not just on developing a good pitch or a good presentation, but also on how to capture the audience’s attention from the stage through body language, articulation, charisma and much more," says Malene Overby.
Moves research from the laboratory to society
The PhD Cup is a collaboration between DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation), the Danish newspaper Information and the Lundbeck Foundation, and it is a competition in which five selected finalists compete for DKK 50,000 and go through media school sessions that focus on popular research communication.
The team behind the competition hopes to inspire early career researchers in particular to talk more about their research and to become better at explaining how their research can be applied in a societal context.
Her interest in moving research out of the laboratory and presenting it to the general public was why PhD in neuroscience, Malene Overby, signed up for the PhD Cup.
"As a researcher, you can sometimes become so preoccupied with the process and your results that you completely forget the big picture. How can the world use the PhD I’ve spent three years of my life on? It’s important to know this and to be able to communicate it – not just to other researchers, but also to your mum, dad, boyfriend, friend or the like. That's why I applied," says Malene Overby.
Help from a professional
The young researcher works with proteins in the brain, which affect the development of Alzheimer's disease. First, she prepared a communication text and a two-minute video and submitted these for assessment by journalists and communication staff from DR and Information, as well as a panel of judges.
After being selected as a finalist, Malene Overby had to make a short presentation video of her research. In this connection, journalist Kåre Quist visited the department and asked questions as a sort of introductory communication exercise.
It turned out that Kåre Quist, who many people may know from TV Avisen (Danish evening news), was to play a key role in Malene Overby's communication course when he was appointed as her coach.
"Kåre has taught me a lot about how I should own the stage with my body language, my articulation, charisma, etc. It's been a crazy experience and well out of my comfort zone, but I've really learned a lot in a short time," says Malene Overby and continues:
"I'm modest by nature, so my style of presentation is also somewhat subdued. Working with Kåre Quist has been a great experience, because he’s been good at coaching me on how I can radiate my passion for my research. My enthusiasm can sometimes be hidden behind a facade of formalities, so I've worked a lot on opening up."
Turns communication upside down
In the world of research, there is a tendency to start right from the beginning, go through numerous scientific steps and only then come to the results. However, according to Malene Overby, having to turn the process upside down was an important lesson.
"Opening with the results right away makes a lot of sense, but is the complete opposite of our scientific way of working. As a researcher, you often talk to people who already have knowledge of the subject or the research process, so you start at a completely different place. But on stage, it's good to start with a strong statement or a punch line that people understand, and that makes them want to hear the rest of what’s coming," says Malene Overby.
As a researcher, you often have your good old PowerPoint show to rely on, but at the PhD Cup, you only have yourself and a single prop on stage.
"I work with proteins in the brain and specifically with proteins that can teach us more about Alzheimer's disease. I’m very visual, and I want to paint a picture of what I’ve actually found out. When I was younger, we had these light chains connected in series - if one bulb didn't work, the whole chain didn't work - and that's actually a pretty good picture. I've found the protein in the brain that causes the light chain to go out sometimes. I use this in my pitch to move the research into a context that everyone can relate to," says Malene Overby.
"There’s no doubt I’ve gotten better"
Malene Overby has learned a lot about research communication and is certain that she will be using her new knowledge from the coaching sessions in her research and future career.
"Being good at communicating can be a huge advantage in relation to funding applications, and next time I have to give a presentation at a conference, I’ll definitely use some of the tools I've learned to catch the audience's attention. We’ve also focused on using social media actively such as LinkedIn and Facebook and on learning to talk to the press, and this should by no means be underestimated,” says Malene Overby and continues:
"I'm actually not into focusing on me and on who I am. But it’s part of the package when you want to communicate broadly about your research. In any case, I feel that I now have much more power and confidence that I can actually do this. There’s no doubt I’ve got better," she says.
The finals were broadcast on DR2 at 21:30 on Friday evening, and Malene Overby unfortunately didn’t win the contest. But when we asked her before the show, it didn’t seem to be paramount who ultimately won the DKK 50,000.
"Being part of such a huge TV show is an awesome experience, and I've been really looking forward to it, but I’m also a little apprehensive and nervous. All five finalists are completely different, and each of us has our own approach. Although it’s a competition, we still help, support, and learn from one another to get the best possible experience and show. At the end of the day, the experience and the sharp research communication is what it’s all about for me," says Malene Overby.