‘Inspiring Stories’ with James Parkin

Postgraduate Researcher, Clinical and Experimental Sciences

This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.

I’m currently a 4th-year integrated-PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine . My research is all about particulate air pollution (PM2.5), which is linked to 7 million premature deaths worldwide. I’m particularly interested in the PM2.5 released from vehicles, specifically from non-exhaust sources such as road, tyre, and brake-wear. These non-exhaust emissions are now a bigger contributor to PM2.5 pollution than exhaust emissions, and early studies suggest they could be just as toxic. However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the impact of these emissions on our health. That’s where my PhD project comes in – I’m working to fill in this knowledge gap and learn more about the toxicology of non-exhaust emissions. 

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to present at the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) Annual Congress in Barcelona in early September 2022. I was awarded an ERS Young Scientist Sponsorship to cover my expenses. But that wasn’t the only perk – I was also invited to the first ERS Networking Excellence Training (NEXT) Program, which was an amazing experience! The event took place in a beautiful hotel in Barcelona, with delicious food and coffee available throughout the day. I got to meet and connect with early-career researchers from all over the world. The day included workshops on presentation skills, chairing at conferences, manuscript writing, and work-life balance, which were really helpful for my career development. Overall, the NEXT event was a fantastic experience and helped me feel well-prepared for my presentations at the main conference. 

In addition to a 5-minute presentation to a specialised audience of experts in air pollution toxicology, I was invited to take part in the ERS “Summer Slam” competition, which consisted of a 10-minute talk about my project to a non-specialist audience in a fun way. While I had presented at numerous other conferences in the past, the majority of these had been over Microsoft Teams (given COVID restrictions),  so I did not have much experience in public speaking. I was nervous, to say the least, but had wonderful support from my supervisor Dr Matt Loxham, and colleague Dr Lareb Dean both of whom also attended. My goal was to explain my research clearly and in a way that people could understand, without using too much jargon. I won the Summer Slam competition. This award is an honour and allows me to attend the next ERS congress in Milan for free! I was significantly less nervous by that point to present my 5-minute talk. Overall, the conference was a great opportunity to network with other researchers and professionals in the field. I had the chance to discuss my work with experts from all over the world and learn more about the latest research being conducted in other countries. In particular, it was great to meet and collaborate with members of the Epidemiology and Environment Assembly, with whom I have written an article about the ERS Congress Highlights, which has just been accepted for publication in ERJ Open Research. Taken together, attending the ERS International Congress was an amazing experience that allowed me to learn about novel advancements in respiratory biology, as well as providing a platform for me to share my research. 

I believe it’s really important to raise awareness about the effects of air pollution on our health. One way I did this was by participating in the Wessex Medical Research stand at the New Forest Show. I had a great time talking to people of all ages about air pollution and playing games like “Infection” and “Make your own lung.” I’m also planning to take part in the 2023 Southampton Science and Engineering Festival with some other members of the Brooke Laboratory. We’ll be playing some fun games like “People’s Pollution Lottery” to help inform the public about air quality and its connection to respiratory diseases. It’s a great way to make learning about air pollution fun and interactive! 

I am thrilled to keep exploring new ways to connect with wider audiences by attending conferences and events. I also plan to take some training to learn how to effectively share my ideas with different groups of people. One of the courses I’m looking forward to is “Getting Started in Public Engagement” offered by the University. My ultimate goal is to raise awareness about the dangers of pollution from non-exhaust vehicle sources and make this important information more widely known. 

Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.

University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint.

‘Inspiring Stories’ with James Parkin

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