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Using Communication to Show that Science Isn’t Boring

Published on November 21, 2020

Scientist, science writer, communicator, teacher and entrepreneur are just a few ways to describe doctoral candidate Rosie Dutt. Since she was a child, she has been curious about science and fascinated by the brain. “I would ask my parents why people behave the way they do? And why do we experience certain emotions?” she said. This led to her interest in neuroscience since she thought the brain was “super cool.” 

She did her first placement in a psychiatric facility at the age of 16, where she saw schizophrenia patients and bipolar patients. She was intrigued by how the mind can work on its own and the difference between the conscious and the unconscious mind. Rosie was lucky enough to conduct her research on such interests in numerous populations including the elderly and children. It was a general curiosity of understanding people. She’s an extrovert and is always talking and trying to understand the situation from different viewpoints. 

Hopping the pond

In the United Kingdom (UK) Rosie began her scholastic trajectory pursuing a BSc(Hons) in biomedical science degree at St George’s University of London (SGUL), where she specialized in psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience. Her interests in psychology resulted in her completing a taught Masters (MSc) in cognitive neuroscience at Durham University.  

During her master’s program she learned about “the different behavior models and how they can use various techniques to essentially understand the brain but also bodily signals. However, I became more interested in the brain and the functional and structural changes within it,” she said. This then led her to study a research masters (MRes) in bioimaging science at Imperial College London, where she was part of leading the first studies in the world to look at the impact of  a Traumatic brain injury (TBI) on a child's brain, psychology and behaviour

“It was a lot of work to recruit patients since they had to come in and get scanned twice, complete a three hour psychology assessment then clean and analyze the data,” she said. She received a distinction and an award for outstanding performance for this work from Imperial College London. This was in addition to her work at Durham where she worked on the first longitudinal study to confirm the four-mountain task can indicate a person transitioning from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) to Dementia

All these academic and research experiences made her want to pursue a doctorate degree in Imaging Science. There are only two colleges in the United States with this program and she chose to come to Washington University’s (WU). Here, her research works to look at network changes in the brain to see if there are some common markers that are related to psychiatric conditions such as depression, or anxiety, she said. Rosie is also developing a theory on how daily stressors and hassles play a role in such network changes in relation to mental health. 

As a doctoral student she is teaching a class, guest lecturing and occasionally writing science articles since she is a strong proponent of sharing science - as oftentimes science is confined to academic journals and papers, and remains very much in the science domain. “If you want to realistically change the world, communicating and teaching is one of the greatest ways to do that,” she said.  

She has a diverse background that comes from teaching anatomy and being a science instructor to a doctoral student and freelancing as a tutor, teaching in a psychiatric ward, drama school and teaching ex-offenders. By education standards she is a trained scientist who transverses several domains of science including psychology, chemistry, engineering, neuroscience, and psychiatry. However, she has a strong interest and propensity for teaching, as well as journalism, which encompasses the aspects of science communication, which is usually what scientists are somewhat lacking, she said. 

As a scientist she is also interested in science policy, exploring the aspects of how science can be applicable to the general public by exploring entrepreneurship and business as well. She said they all tie back into science but through the lens of science communication.

“One of my motivations for coming to the United States was their lack of teaching fellowships in the UK and the European Union (EU). They are extremely rare,” she said. She’s always been interested in teaching and being in the United States gives her that opportunity to explore this aspect of academia. She is also working on a teaching citation at WU, which she is thoroughly enjoying. “In regard to science, journalism, and editing. I’ve always loved writing and I didn't want to leave my passion of writing behind- I am able to do both!” she said. 

Her doctoral degree is engineering based which encompasses a lot of  coding and math, but she also wants to continue with writing, she said. During her spare time, she is happy writing a couple of articles to ensure she keeps her writing skills updated. A science editor told her, the key to science writing is to keep practicing. So she has been finding outlets where she can't write, even if it’s only monthly, she’s still writing!

The field of neuroscience is moving more towards a computational domain, she said. Before they would use animal models but now modeling and machine learning are very much becoming intertwined with neuroscience. Her research uses different machine learning approaches to develop models to investigate  if there are biomarkers of these mental health correlates which would then be used to predict if the same changes are seen in the population,” she said. 

She had the option to earn a doctoral degree in neuroscience but with the engineering focus she is learning a different skill set using math and coding. It fits into her goal of having a broad skill set as opposed to being one track, she said. The monotonous of doing the same thing every day would be boring, so she likes having different experiences and pushes herself to learn different skills. 

She is a rare student who likes to conduct literature searches to find out what kind of information is out there and to find the gap and fill the missing pieces. During her doctoral work has particularly enjoyed this aspect as she can appreciate  how her work will  contribute to making real change. But primarily, it was an understanding nature of the field. Seeing what previous scientists have done and knowing you’ve come a long way and there’s still a long way to go. This ensures that scientists will contribute to the world in a meaningful way which allows her to be motivated, she said. 

While she has been in the United States, she’s become interested in developing her interests in science policy, working with a food bank and working with a Hollywood start up to support women’s visibility in the media industry. She regularly looks for volunteering opportunities with various organizations by emailing them asking if they can use her expertise. 

Communicating Science

Rosie said her future interests include creating a television program to teach and share science, to show the viewers that science isn’t boring. Her dream job would be to stay in academia and teach intensive routes, along with sharing science to the world through talks, writing, supporting people by highlighting mental health,and making scientists realize they don't just do science, they can also communicate, she said. 

Even though she loves neuroscience, she also enjoys writing as a science journalist, being a science editor and supporting science policy. “I am not your typical scientist and engineer who typically has a one track-mind and is very mathy - I am involved in numerous other activities,” she said. 

I realize I am an extrovert in an introverted field of engineering, it’s a very different experience at WU but I am enjoying it,” she said.

She can utilize her writing with science in a way that can positively help science communication. Through her writing she is able to support other science writers since she knows how to write articles and interview scientists to ensure her writing is being done in a way that is useful to science and other women scientists. 

Back home in London she had considered being a journalist since she wrote a few articles for The Times and the Sunday Times. She also contributed interviews to the British Broadcasting Corporation Bitesize (BBC Bitesize). She was shortlisted for the best science story in the United Kingdom by the Association of British Science writers (ABSW) for her article on Charles Dickens exhibition, which was the first exhibition to share the links between Charles Dickens being the original science communicator. 

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