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Sunday, December 5, 2021

How your brain lists to your gut

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FameLab Ireland finalist Dr Roshaida Abdul Wahab debunked an important argument in her three minutes on the clock.

Roshaida Abdul Wahab is no stranger to rapid science communication. In 2018 he participated in the Universitas 21 3-Minute-Thesis competition and took home the People’s Choice Award.

This year he accepted the FameLab challenge and once again encapsulated a complex scientific topic in a digestible three-minute speech. Abdul Wahab made it to the national final, where Tammy Strickland won the opportunity to represent Ireland internationally.

When not communicating science, Abdul Wahab practices science as a researcher at the Conway Institute at University College Dublin (UCD) and the Wellcome-HRB Clinical Research Facility at St James’s Hospital.

Ahead of the FameLab international final, we spoke to Abdul Wahab about his experience in the competition and what inspired his work.

“I would like to change people’s perception based on scientific evidence”
– DR. ROSHAIDA ABDUL WAHAB

What prompted you to become a researcher?

I never thought about becoming a scientist. Growing up, I was exposed to the world of medicine as mom was the state nursing director and dad handled the hospital’s medical supplies. They are both retired but I remember following and observing them at work as children. Sometimes, Dad would bring home samples like an oxygen mask or a syringe and I would pretend to be a doctor and “cure” my teddy bears.

I got a scholarship to study medicine and a masters degree from Trinity College Dublin (TCD). During this time, I realized that one can be a doctor and a scientist, a term known as a ‘clinical scientist’.

So after medical school, I did my specialist clinical (pathology) training in Dublin hospitals, got a Ph.D. in UCD, then went back to the clinic and passed the Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists exam (FRCPath) Part 1. Currently, I am incredibly fortunate to have obtained a postdoctoral clinical fellowship in chemical pathology to simultaneously continue my research and specialist clinical training.

How was your experience with FameLab?

I decided to take part in FameLab as a follow-up to my stint in a global science communication competition called Thesis in 3 when I was doing my PhD. The preparation took weeks because my research is complex, but I wanted to simplify it without losing its content. At the same time, I wanted it to be fun and memorable. It is one of the best ways to spread the importance of your work to the public.

How would you summarize your FameLab presentation?

My presentation is about some of the underlying biological processes that regulate our appetite, how your gut is beyond absorption and excretion of food, and how it can speak to your brain.

Also, there are many factors that affect body weight, so you can’t judge a person by their coverage.

Why did you choose to focus on gut messaging for your presentation?

For centuries, there is an ingrained view that has been ingrained in our society that body weight is under voluntary control. I chose this topic because I would like to change people’s perception based on scientific evidence.

It is also relevant to my current research work which involves a collaboration between a multidisciplinary team that includes chemical pathologists and upper gastrointestinal surgeons from St Vincent’s Hospital (UCD) and St James’s Hospital (TCD) respectively.

What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in science communication?

The biggest challenge is how to reduce the complexity of a topic without losing its content and make it interesting and memorable. To overcome it, I’ve experimented with a lot of things along the way to see which ones work and which don’t.

What common misconceptions about science would you like to correct?

I think public awareness about science is better nowadays as we can get information at the touch of our fingers. However, the downside is that pseudoscience can sometimes disguise itself as science.

Although science has been wrong in the past – for example, how certain diseases were transmitted or the wrong position of the sun in the solar system – science accepts the inevitability of error and sets out to find and eliminate it. The opposite happens with pseudoscience.

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