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Europe PMC team

 | 20 March 2013


Why I entered the Access to Understanding competition

By Emma Pewsey,
Department of Materials Science, University of Cambridge.

I’m a relative newcomer to biosciences – at school, physics
and chemistry were more my thing. However, starting a PhD on the corrosion of
metal implants in the human body meant I needed to brush up on my biology. It
was time to hit the medical journals.
It was easy enough to find papers. However, it was much
harder to determine whether they were relevant. Abstracts seemed to compete
with each other in squeezing the most technical terms into one sentence. I was
lucky – I had plenty of time to go and learn what they meant. Most people
Once I’d broken through the jargon, I found many of the
papers really interesting. I like interesting facts, and the majority of research
papers are full of them. Therefore, it’s a shame that they’re so inaccessible
to most people.
So I love the idea behind the Access to Understanding
competition. I was surprised to learn at the awards ceremony how many
non-scientists nowadays need to access research papers – from patient groups to
teachers. My own participation in science outreach events has also shown me how
much general interest there is in science. And making research more accessible
should be a priority for all researchers – after all, who wouldn’t prefer their
work to be read by thousands of people, rather than just a couple?
The competition also gave me an excuse to try some science
writing – something I’d been meaning to do for ages.
Looking down the list of articles to choose from, I saw one
I had to write about. Cortical thickness mapping to identify
focal osteoporosis in patients with hip fracture? Yes please.
You see, I have a guilty not-so-secret.
I love bones. They are the most fantastic objects in the universe. In
particular, I love how they adapt to the forces which we place on them in our
everyday lives to create a framework that supports our bodies that tries to be
exactly as strong as it needs to
be. But sometimes this goes wrong, and bones
break. Thanks to the Access to Understanding competition, I got to read a
fascinating piece of research that investigated why this happens in hips. If I
hadn’t entered the competition, I wouldn’t have read it. I wouldn’t even have
known it existed.
When I sent off my entry, I didn’t
expect I’d hear anything back about it. I was just happy that I had a new set
of interesting facts about hips to share with anyone looking for an interesting
fact. I am delighted that winning has brought attention on the work done by Dr
Poole’s group at Cambridge, and the range of work funded by Arthritis Research
UK. And of course, I’m thrilled with the trophy that now sits in my living
My next writing challenge is completely
different: a 60,000 word PhD thesis. I’ll make sure to include a lay summary!
Note: Emma recently won the 2013 Access to Understanding science-writing competition for her entry ‘Hip, hip, hooray!’ explaining research that investigated the causes of hip fracture in the elderly.

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