Meet the Scientists: a Unique and Special Event

PCR’s Research and Communications Manager Dr Naomi Elster describes our first ever Meet the Scientists event, what we learned, and why we did it.

The Meet the Scientists event was one of my favourite days working for PCR, I was completely star struck meeting all of the scientists I had been learning about for the last few months. It was great to have the opportunity to sit on a table with colleagues, men affected by prostate cancer and the scientists and have open conversations about experiences and the research. It was very motivating and made me feel very proud to work at PCR.

Ellen Whatmore
Head of Events, PCR

PCR’s Research Journey: What we gained and what we didn’t want to lose

Last year, we spent over £2million in research in a single year, growing our funded projects by an incredible 175% – moving, in one giant leap, from funding 4 projects in 2 locations to funding 11 projects, in 7 locations. Our most northern project is now in Aberdeen, whereas this time last year, it was South London!

We were able to do this due to the generosity and dedication of our supporters, and the talent and commitment of my colleagues. As our income grew, we wanted to grow our potential for making a difference. People generously give to us so we can invest it in research to save lives and everything we do as a charity is driven by the impact we can have for families affected by prostate cancer. Growing our research so dramatically gives us even more hope that we can have a future where no family needs to fear a prostate cancer diagnosis.

When we were a smaller charity, our scientists had a sense of community. With a number of them even based in the same campus, they could very easily share ideas. We didn’t want to lose that. A researcher based in Newcastle isn’t going to bump into a Cardiff scientist in the corridor, so we would have to create opportunities to bring our scientists together.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the event and it was very enlightening to find out the amount of research being carried out in order to find treatments or cures for the dreaded prostate cancer disease. I must also mention that it was a privilege to be present with so many scientists and the lovely Research Centre staff.

Stuart Marshall
PCR Patient Representative

Putting and Keeping Patients at the Centre

One of the most meaningful things we achieved in 2019 was bringing people directly affected by prostate cancer – patients and their family members – into the heart of everything we do. We have involved patient representatives in our major funding decisions; have spoken to patients to gain a deep understanding of their priorities and make sure we are delivering what they want; have shared more patient stories; and have received valuable feedback on our patient booklet from the people it was written to help. Our Patient Panel were instrumental in helping us select our new projects, so we really wanted to give them the opportunity to meet the scientists we funded.

We’re also totally committed to being transparent, and we’re proud of our research and the scientists who carry it out. We don’t want to be the kind of organisation who only tell our community what we have done, after we’ve done it. We want patients to be able to see what we’re doing, and to share their perspectives with us, as we’re doing it.

It was very nice to meet staff, researchers, and patients at the event, definitely a very positive experience that I would like to repeat in the future.

Dr Jorge de la Rosa
PCR-funded researcher

A Unique Event

We organised Meet the Scientists as a unique, listening and learning event. We chose a roundtable format, and not to hide behind technology or powerpoint presentations, because we wanted everyone to feel comfortable, and on the same level. While there is a lot of value in public talks and Q&As, we wanted a different kind of event. Rather than have a scientist give a lecture, we wanted to facilitate two-way conversations between patients and scientists, so each could learn from the other. Although we had a number of different people, from different backgrounds in the room, we were all there for the same reason – we want the future to be brighter than the present.

We allocated staff and patients to tables, and rotated scientists, in their research teams, from table to table every 15 minutes. Prior to the event, we had prepared infographics and sent them to the patients, to introduce them to each project. We also had a list of suggested questions, in case anyone found it difficult to think of the first question.

One of my personal highlights of the day was the welcome given by Professor Colin Cooper, Associate Dean of Research at the University of East Anglia and Chair of our Scientific Advisory Committee, in which he encouraged “Patients – don’t be afraid of the scientists, because they’re not as clever as they think they are.”

I really enjoyed the day and found it very informative and interesting, thank you for inviting me. The event was very well planned and was a pleasure to attend.

Stephen Fish
PCR Patient Representative

It was wonderful to see how easily the tables fell into conversation. In fact, our challenge was that when it was time to rotate the scientists, so that everyone had the opportunity to meet all of our researchers, no one wanted to stop talking. At one point, we announced a coffee break and one of the tables didn’t move. Denise wandered over to check they’d heard the announcement, and they told her they wanted to forfeit their break so they could keep chatting!

The event was a success thanks to the people who attended, and how willing they were to engage with each other, and also the prep done by my very capable team, Denise and Kath. The only slight hiccup was that some of the brightest minds in science have difficulty with an instruction to move clockwise!

The feedback we received on the day and afterwards was wonderful, with people saying they had really enjoyed the event, that they thought it was unique and very innovative, and one person even saying it was the best conference he’d ever attended! Afterwards, patients and their families gave it a feedback score of 4.8 out of 5, while scientists gave the overall event a score of 4.4 out of 5! 20 out of 21 scientists said they felt more connected to patients and more motivated, and 19/19 of our non-scientist participants said they were more confident about understanding and asking questions about science and research!

It was a great pleasure to be at the meeting yesterday. The whole event was perfect and we learnt so much from it and hope to spread the word of all the work that goes on to our prostate cancer support group members and friends . They can see what happens to their donations and how all the scientists are progressing. Got back home at 11pm after a very special day . Thank you so much.

John and Hazel Goulding
PCR Patient Representatives

Will we do it again?

We will definitely be hosting another Meet the Scientist Event and hope to make it at least annual. We may also, next year, host at least one Meet the Scientist event outside London, as we were aware that some people had travelled a long way, and we want to make our events accessible to more people. (One of our Aberdonian scientists was disappointed to learn that his Oxford-based contemporary had trumped him by coming directly to the event from a transatlantic flight). If you’d like to hear about future Meet the Scientist events, or to get involved with any of our patient voice work, please email Kath at [email protected].

We will also be arranging more events to keep our funded scientists across the country connected, and we will soon be launching another grant call, to throw a few more research projects into the mix.

And one more thing…

The day would never have been such a success without Denise and Kath, who worked for a long time on the event. And, of course, without all of my colleagues, who made everyone feel welcome, and helped out with everything from handing out name badges to taking notes at focus groups. I want to thank them for making not only this event but all of the charity’s work possible.

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