Ah. Apologies for the long hibernation on this blog. Been sick and travelling – had a stomach flu in the beginning of April, visited my beloved snowy, rainy Finland in mid-April, went to Washington DC last weekend and got struck down by a regular flu for the first part of this week. I think I’ve done more than enough sickness for this year, now it’s time to get on with more interesting things!
The trip to Washington DC was about presenting Mindless Eating research to the general public at the Science & Engineering Festival. Brian was invited there by NIH and he asked Alyssa and me to join him. (Alyssa’s interning at the lab, she’s incredibly smart, resourceful and good-hearted, and knows everything about psychology and nutrition already.) We set up a booth with half a dozen activities for people to try out to illustrate research findings in practice – for example, how plate color influences the amount we eat, how 1170-calorie Subway sandwich is perceived as having less calories than 540-calorie Big Mac because of Subway Health Halo, how transparent containers and jars make us eat more than opaque ones, and how more variety (colors or types of food) makes us eat more.
The booth was amazingly popular and I think that people, kids and adults alike, really left it with an increased understanding of mindless eating traps and how to avoid them. Alyssa’s lively and engaging way of presenting the research was the most important thing in making that happen. I did my best to support her and I had some interesting discussions with people as well. Overall, the experience was great, since it felt like we were managing to educate people in a way that felt interesting to them.
I also learned during the trip that there are only two major challenges that a researcher faces:
- Get it written. I’m sure we’re all familiar with writer’s block. Nowadays, I’m trying to keep in mind what Ernest Hemingway said: “The first draft of everything is crap.” Just get something on the paper and hone it afterwards.
- Get it submitted. At some point the honing needs to stop. Getting over the fear of rejection is hard, but rejection is a regular and expected thing on the academic playground. Just submit, get it back with comments, revise and resubmit or revise and submit somewhere else.
They actually have an excellent system here at Food & Brand Lab for keeping track of papers and journals. They maintain an Excel sheet with a list of all possibly relevant journals from various fields and a list of all papers with their statuses. For each paper, they work out a priority order for target journals (for instance, 1. Nature, 2. JAMA, 3. Preventive Medicine, … 10. Obscure Journal of Research Not Accepted Anywhere Else). That way, if/when a paper gets rejected, there’s no need to revisit the process of figuring out where to submit it. It can just be submitted to the next journal on the list.
That’s a good process to increase efficiency of the publication pipeline. But it’s not enough to just do research and publish in academic channels. If we want to have societal impact, the real challenge is explaining the research results to the real world so that normal people can understand and use them. That’s also something they do here really well: each published article gets its own outreach page, which explains the results in a not-too-academic manner and has links to all press about the research.
Making sure that the press doesn’t twist the findings into something totally unrecognisable is also good.