Etienne Hirsch: The Curious Boy in the Garden/Le garçon curieux dans le jardin

French neurobiologist Etienne Hirsch recollects his use of Claude Bernard’s scientific methodology from boyhood to adulthood in his journey to alleviate Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.

Etienne Hirsch is a neurobiologist involved in research on Parkinson’s disease and related disorders. He obtained his PhD in 1988 from the University of Paris VI (Pierre et Marie Curie). He is currently the director of the Insitute for Neurosciences, Cognitive sciences, Neurology and Psychiatry at INSERM and the French alliance for life and health science Aviesan, the associate director of the research center of the Institute of Brain and spinal cord (ICM), head of “Experimental therapeutics of  Parkinson disease” at the ICM at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris and since November 2015 in charge of the research aspects of French national plan on neurodegenerative disorders . His work is aimed at understanding the cause of neuronal degeneration in Parkinson’s disease and is focused on the role of the glial cells, the inflammatory cytokines and apoptosis but also on the consequences of neuronal degeneration in the circuitries downstream to the lesions. He is member of several advisory boards including, French Society for Neuroscience (past-President), Scientific Advisory board at INSERM. He obtained several prizes including Tourette Syndrome Association Award in1986, Young researcher Award, European Society for Neurochemistry in 1990, Grand Prix de l’Académie de Sciences, Prix de la Fondation pour la recherche biomédicale « Prix François Lhermitte » in 1999, Chevalier de l’ordre des palmes académiques in 2009, Prix Raymond et Aimée Mande of the French National academy of Medicine in 2011, Member of the French National Academy of Pharmacy in 2011. He is author of more than 200 peer reviewed articles.

Virginia Dale: The Model of a Question

Dr. Virginia Dale realizes that the value of a question lies equally in the asking as well as the answering, while on a trip to the rainforest to conduct ecological models on land-use change.

Virginia H. Dale, PhD is a mathematical ecologist who uses a landscape perspective to understand patterns and processes. Her research interests include environmental decision making, forest succession, effects of climate change, land-use change, landscape ecology, ecological modeling, and sustainability of bioenergy systems.  She is a Corporate Fellow in theEnvironmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee and was selected as the 2006 Distinguished Scientist for the Laboratory, where she is currently Director of the Center for BioEnergy Sustainability.  She was among the members of the science community that contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Scientific Assessment that in 2007 received the Nobel Peace Prize. Virginia completed her PhD at the University Washington just in time to be able to join the first group on ecologists entering the “Red Zone” after the eruption of Mount St. Helens. She continues to monitor vegetation reestablishment on permanent plots she established there more than three decades ago. She often refers to herself as a disturbance ecologist, for she studies natural and human changes on many landscapes. Virginia has enjoyed sharing her expertise by service on national scientific advisory boards for five federal agencies (the Environmental Protection Agency and US Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and Interior) and on several committees of the US National Research Council. For thirteen years, Virginia was Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Management and still serves on the editorial board of several journals. Virginia has been active in her community as a scout leader, soccer coach, and protecting ecosystem services and was selected as a Top Citizen of Oak Ridge. Her son is an aerospace engineer, and her daughter works on environmental policy and is mother to a vivacious girl and has a second child due in July.  Virginia enjoys traveling to visit family and to explore new areas and swims wherever the water is warm.

Michael Feuerstein: It’s in Your Brain

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Dr. Michael Feuerstein learns that surviving and thriving post-cancer requires more than medical treatments.

Michael FeuersteinPhD, MPH, is professor of medical and clinical psychology and public health and biometrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.  After his recovery from a life-threatening brain tumor he has devoted his life’s work to improving the quality of health care survivors receive through research and by disseminating scientifically informed knowledge  to health care providers and cancer patients following treatment.

Dr. Feuerstein has published a book for Cancer Survivors and their families and has edited three textbooks for diverse health care providers on the challenges experienced by these patients. In 2007, he launched a peer- reviewed multidisciplinary journal, the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, whose mission is to improve evidence- based health care in those living with a unique history of cancer and cancer treatment. He lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland with his wife Michele. They have 3 grown children (Sara, Andrew, Erica) and 3 grandchildren (Kiran, Maya, Zain).

Is there anybody out there?

Researchers are under increasing pressure to communicate the results of their endeavours more widely. But how can we begin to establish a meaningful dialogue with an audience we don’t know?

My name’s James Harle, and in my capacity as a writer for Research Media I work with researchers and research-performing organisations to help share their work in an accessible and impactful way. It can be a demanding task; research is inherently complex after all – if it weren’t, we’d all be doing it – and many investigators are only used to explaining what they do to similarly expert colleagues. In my experience, however, there is no topic so obtuse or abstract that it can’t be made accessible (at least in principle) to a given audience.

And therein lies the crux of the matter: powerful communication – the kind that not only puts a message across but makes it stick, makes it memorable – begins with knowing your audience. When you know the person you’re talking to, you understand their experience and frame of reference; when you can speak directly to someone’s experience, you can engage their interest, and there is no limit to what you can make them understand.

It has often been said that there is some virtue in being able to explain a concept in simple enough terms that your mother (or grandparents, or a barkeep, depending on who you listen to) can understand it. So, in that spirit, let’s use my mother as an example: she’s a middle-aged beekeeper from Devon, with no formal training in the sciences. She doesn’t have any interest in, say, research that uses machine learning to uncover hidden networks within social media – but she does know a hell of a lot about bees, and a handy analogy can bring those two worlds together. I might tell her it’s a computer program that could determine which of her bees had probably been in contact with which other bees behind her back.

It’s easy to communicate effectively with an audience of one – especially if it’s your mum – but engaging the public usually means audiences with higher volumes, and this can raise issues. Specifically, the more people you want to talk to, the more general your frame of reference has to be. At Research Media, some of our most difficult clients are those who want to reach everyone. When you say that your audience is everyone, you are necessarily being lazy; 89 per cent of the world’s population doesn’t speak English, for a start. The fact is that a message to be read by ‘everyone’ may be heard by many, but will be too diluted to achieve any impact.

Another common stumbling block for researchers is falling back on communication methods that work for academic audiences. Too often, I come across scientists who are not prepared to give up (even for a moment) their project acronyms, their technical jargon and their citations. I won’t deny that these tools have their place; they are useful in communicating effectively and efficiently with your immediate colleagues. But the problem is that, put simply, your colleagues already know what you do – and this language won’t help anyone else get in on the action.

So, choose your audience wisely, as they should be at the centre of your communications strategy. When you aim to engage or to explain, begin by exploiting the commonalities between members of your audience; build your communications on shared and fundamental knowledge. Finally, avoid common mistakes that can distort your image of the people you are speaking to. The truth is that, complex as your work may be, it is for the benefit of the general populace – and it won’t be as far from their comprehension as you think.

Richard W. Hartel & AnnaKate Hartel: Father & Daughter, Co-Authors

Richard W. Hartel and AnnaKate Hartel, father and daughter, offer their different perspectives on writing collaboratively. 

Snap 2016-01-27 at 13.15.18

Richard W. Hartel and AnnaKate Hartel, co-authors

Richard’s Perspective:

“Would you like to write a book together?” I asked her.

Seemed like a logical thing to ask her since she was planning to get English and writing degrees.  Although initially she was hesitant, she finally agreed to do it and we started writing together.  Mostly it was my stuff that she contributed to, until the day she agreed to write one of her own, on cake preferences.  That didn’t go so well since we have very different writing styles. Over time, we figured out those differences and made Food Bites work out – it was great to see it published.  I think we were both pretty happy that we had worked together to get something in print.

After finishing Food Bites, we took some time off from writing together, even though the idea for the next book began to take shape. I took a sabbatical at the college she was attending to work on two books, one of which was Candy Bites. One chapter in particular came together that year – the one on the Baby Ruth bar in the movie, Caddyshack.

For this chapter, we conducted an experiment to test whether a Baby Ruth bar actually floats. We put college pool water on our kitchen counter and tried to float a variety of different candy bars.  The only one that floated was the 3 Musketeers bar.  The Baby Ruth bar sank immediately, proving that the moviemakers were taking unscientific liberties to jazz up the scene.  For us, it was a fun way to work together and we got an interesting chapter out of it.

It took several more years before we compiled enough new chapters to complete Candy Bites, but we’re pleased with how it turned out.  So pleased, in fact, that we’ve started working on ideas for the next one, Chocolate Bites (forthcoming).

How did I get to this point, where I can write books on ice cream and candy? Actually, a lot of people ask me that question these days, but my research work is on candy, chocolate and ice cream, so it’s a natural step for me.

My career certainly wasn’t something I mapped out and planned as a little kid.  No, my career has been a series of stumbles and uncertain steps, at least until I got hired at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  This is where I’ve really been able to blossom, in part because of the mentorship I received early in my career as a professor and in part because of the opportunities.  The University of Wisconsin, particularly the Food Science department, already had an established reputation in ice cream and confections before I ever started.  But my background was almost ideally suited to this environment.

In my first year, one professor put his arm around my shoulders and said “Rich, you know something about sugar, so I’m going to introduce you to the candy and chocolate industry.”  The next year, another professor put his arm around my shoulder and said “Rich, you know something about crystallization, so I want you to work on this ice cream project with me.”  Twenty some years later, I’m the expert.

Why do I write?  I don’t know, probably for the same reason I like to teach.  It forces me to learn new things and to focus my thoughts in such a way that others can understand them. Although sometimes it can be extremely frustrating, like when the words don’t come together very well or when my ideas are all jumbled, when the words do fall into place, there’s no better feeling of accomplishment. My wife says I should get a hobby, but really, my hobby is writing.

But I also write, in part, because it lets me work with my daughter in some meaningful way.  Being able to say I wrote this book with her is a pretty cool feeling.  Not everyone has that opportunity and I feel pretty fortunate.


Their first title, Food Bites

Their first title, Food Bites

AnnaKate’s Perspective:

“Think that might be something you’re interested in doing?” he asked.

I hesitated. “I don’t know, Dad. It sounds like a lot of work and what with classes and everything, I don’t know if I’ll have time to help,” I finally replied. I wasn’t lying, writing a book did sound like a huge undertaking, particularly right before my junior year of college. But it was something we’d always talked about doing, something we had planned for and dreamed about.

“We’ll use a lot of the articles we already have,” Dad said. “It won’t be any more work for you than writing those were.” It was like he’d already thought of all my arguments before we’d even started talking.

I sighed. There was no refuting that argument. “Okay, let’s do it.”

He smiled. “Good. But I don’t think we should include any of the candy articles. Save those for the second book,” he said. I shook my head. It was just like him, planning the second book before the first was even written.

“Sounds good. And maybe don’t include the boxed cake one,” I added.

The first time my dad asked me to help him write, I was in high school. He had been writing articles for the local newspaper, trying to explain food science to a general audience. A friend from the University of Wisconsin, where my Dad is a professor of Food Science, had been helping him but the librarian had other duties and I had always done well in my English classes.

I was ecstatic about it. Seeing my name in print, like a real writer! It was all I had ever wanted, since I was in the second grade. For a long time I didn’t think it would happen. When it came to reading and writing, I was a late bloomer. I went through several years of special reading lessons at elementary school. It was actually these lessons that solidified my desire to be a writer. I was fortunate to have them.

Our writing sessions were always relaxed and informal. Once a week or so, we’d sit around the kitchen table and read what he had written. I’d offer suggestions—a different word here, a change in verbs, or even a different avenue of thought. Sometimes, I’d ask questions. A lot of the science was too advanced for me and I’d need clarification. If I asked too many questions, he knew the article wasn’t ready and he’d have to work on it more. If it wasn’t clear to a high school student, it wasn’t at the level the newspaper expected.

During that first year together, we started to dream of the book. Any great idea either of us had was saved for the book. We visited candy factories and discussed the ramifications of automation. “That’s one for the book,” we’d say. I took a class in Latin American history and talked to him about the impact of sugar and cacao plantations. “That’s one for the book,” I’d say. We even went as far as taking pictures for the cover. It was just a big idea but it gave us something to aim for.

When I was a senior in high school, about a year into our partnership, Dad asked me to be the lead writer on an article. “I thought you could write the boxed cake versus home made cake article,” he said. “You could do a taste test in one of your classes.”

I accepted the challenge with relish. This was my opportunity, my chance to really show who I was as a writer. And, since this was less about science, I could make it all my own. I thought I was brilliant—what teenager doesn’t—and wanted to show off. The article I gave Dad was nothing like anything we’d ever submitted to the newspaper before.

That week, we gathered around the kitchen table as usual. “Here’s the article. I made a few changes,” Dad said, handing me a paper copy of what I had written. And it was completely changed! All of my brilliant turns of phrase, my irreverent style was gone! It was just like every other article we’d written together. I was crushed.

“But Dad, this is completely different. You said I could write this one and you’ve gone and changed it!” I said. I could feel tears coming. I’d worked so hard and now it was gone.

Calmly, he explained that we were a writing partnership and that meant that one article couldn’t stand out from the others. They had to be consistent. It was a science article, after all, and we needed to focus on that.

I didn’t take it well. I screamed and cried and vowed never to speak to him again. I made the family miserable for a week. The article came out and I saw my name first in the byline, ahead of Dad’s, but I still wasn’t happy. I neglected my English work and became obsessed with biology and geology. We still had our weekly article meetings, but I was less enthusiastic about them. The glow of seeing my name in print had gone.

When I went off to college, we stopped writing the articles. The newspaper we wrote them for was bought out and the new owners decided not to continue the articles. But the idea of the book never really died. We talked about it less frequently, but it was always there, in the back of our collective minds.

At college, I started taking many writing classes and tried out many writing styles. Reluctantly, I began to realize that Dad had been right. While my original essay may have been a better reflection of my particular style, it wasn’t in fitting with the tone we had cultivated by writing together. I was still disappointed, but no longer resentful.

And then, almost out of the blue, he called and asked if I wanted to write a book. It was almost like not talking about it was the secret to making it happen. The first book came together easily, just as Dad had promised. It wasn’t long before we were toasting to our success.

A few years later, he called again. “It’s time we did the second book,” he said.

I was out of college, working full time as a proofreader, and this time, I didn’t fight it. “Okay, let’s do it.” But I was more hesitant than ever. This time, there would be no articles to rely on and no excuses not to help write chapters. The sting of the boxed cake article was still fresh after all those years.

I had nothing to worry about. Even though there were still fits and bruised egos, we had learned from our mistakes. And while it was never as easy as the sessions around the kitchen table, it went smoothly. Our partnership matured and our books are better for it.