ResearchFest: Celebrating our cohort!
Yesterday was one of the best days of my PhD, or even my science career so far. I took part in an event called ResearchFest, and it was awesome.
The brainchild of Lindsey Brown (the participation manager), it was set up to celebrate the participants who have given their time, effort and (sometimes) body parts and fluids for a birth cohort; Children of the 90s. I’ve blogged about the cohort before, so you can read that for more information, but briefly, Children of the 90s, also known as ALSPAC (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) was set up in 1991. Every pregnant woman in what was Avon, with a due date between April 1991 and December 1992 was asked if they wanted to take part, and more than 14,000 said yes. They, their children and their partners have been followed up ever since. What resulted (and data collection is still going on) is a uniquely wide-ranging and rich datatset, which has been used to investigate a huge variety of questions, from what causes peanut allergies, to whether you should lie your baby on their front or back to cutting edge genetic and epigenetic research.
But today wasn’t about researchers giving each other a pat on the back. The purpose of the conference (or more accurately festival) was to convey research findings and ongoing studies to the people who make it all possible: the participants. Not only that, but the day was designed to be interactive, so the participants themselves could ask the questions they wanted answered, and offer suggestions as to how the cohort can develop.
The day itself went off without a hitch: a gorgeous sunny day in Bristol didn’t put people off attending, and the informal mix of talks, interactive events, multimedia and communal spaces seemed to work well. I’m definitely an academic, as I went to all the talks, and missed out on some of the other exciting things that were going on. The talks I saw were of a very high calibre, from Jean Golding’s excellent plenary, to explaining the genetic information we have, and how it’s used, a discussion of obesity and confounding, and a great talk from Sue Ring about the samples that were collected, and how they can be used. Who knew a tooth was like a treestump?! Also, along with one of my PhD supervisors, Marcus Munafo, I gave a talk myself about how I use the Children of the 90s data, talking about tobacco and cannabis, and why CO90s is so useful for investigating substance use. I felt honoured to speak at ResearchFest, and the questions I was asked after the talk were thought provoking and could potentially lead to more research, I certainly hope so.
The day ended with ‘Question Time’, hosted by Adam Rutherford (who’s Dimbleby impression is the thing I’m most sad I failed to catch on camera, uncanny…). Delegates at the conference had been putting questions in boxes all day, and these were put to member of the Children of the 90s Executive Board and researchers. Again the calibre of the questions was great to see, it’s really lovely to know that the participants in Children of the 90s are engaged with the direction of research. Of course, we had a self-selected sample of participants, those who aren’t engaged wouldn’t come to an event like this, so that’s something we perhaps need to consider in the future.
I’d love it if this could become a regular event, feeding back the findings to the cohort (without whom, lets be honest, there would be no research), and asking their opinion as to where we should be heading. Although next time, I want to get round all the exhibits as well as the talks! I’m most sad about missing the film the Teenage Advisory Panel (TAP, a group of the participants, the Children of the 90s themselaves) made, about the cohort. I was present at some of the planning meetings, and if any of those ideas ended up making the final cut, it will have been a masterpiece. Did anyone see it?