theshortread5
Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.

Information spreads fast through media coverage, citations, and social media. One of the biggest challenges facing us today is being able to explain the impact of research and helping shape the public perception of science.

Keith Bradnam

Keith Bradnam, Digital Strategy Manager in Communications Directorate, The Institute of Cancer Research, UK

Keith Bradnam is a science communicator who is passionate about Open Science, the Oxford comma, and adding milk first when making tea. He can be found talking about biology, genomics and the ongoing threat to humanity from the bogus use of bioinformatics, as well as various issues relating to science on his blog, the ACGT blog. Additionally, he tweets a lot of links to papers and other resources relating to the field of ‘omics’ assembly through his twitter accounts @ACGT_blog and @kbradnam

Keith first started his career as a genomics researcher, and have worked as an Associate Project Scientist in the laboratory of Ian Korf at the UC Davis Genome Center. In 2015, he decided to head back across the pond, where he now works as Digital Strategy Manager in Communications Directorate at The Institute of Cancer Research UK. 

What are you working on right now? 

We’re coming to the end of our current five-year communications strategy so it’s time to plan for what comes next. Five years is a long time for some aspects of communications, e.g. social media and search engine traffic now play a much more important role for us compared to five years ago, so there are lots to consider as we plan for the future.

Apart from this, I’m also currently setting up the infrastructure to deploy a new series of email newsletters, helping implement a new series of internal communication sessions for PhD students, and developing some new social media guidelines (amongst many other things).

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

Social media platforms never stop evolving. Features are constantly added, removed, and experimented with. As social media becomes an increasingly important method of reaching out to, and engaging with, key audiences, it can be a challenge to keep on top of all of these updates. 

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

I would love better ways of automatically generating insights into our digital audiences…ideally, such insights would be actionable and would be gained from anonymous user data. 

You can learn a lot from mining the data in tools like Google Analytics but I would like some higher level analysis that relates to our specific content, e.g. visitors who are interested in content relating to cancer type ‘X’ are more likely to also view pages relating to topic ‘Y’.

What are you most proud of in your career?

As a scientist it would probably have to be my involvement in the two Assemblathon projects (international competitions to assess how well different genome assemblers work). Beyond my lead-author role on the Assemblathon 2 paper, I think I’m more proud of coming up with the Assemblathon name and saving the the world from another tedious bioinformatics acronym!

As a science communicator I’m proud of my ACGT science blog for which I have written nearly 350 posts (admittedly not so many since leaving science research!) and my JABBA awards for Just Another Bogus Bioinformatics Acroynm.  

Finally, in my current role I’m very pleased to have been able to bring a more scientific approach to how we track and analyse various web and social media metrics. If we want to know whether having five carousel items on our home page (rather than three) will still generate clicks on the last carousel item, let’s measure it for a month and see what the data reveals.

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

I sometimes tire of scientists who never switch off and always want to talk about their work all of the time. I much prefer people who have a sense of the absurd and who can entertain you in discussion about oblique or unusual topics.

For this reason, I would nominate my former boss (and friend), Ian Korf. I have known Ian for almost 15 years and there have been many great meal-time conversations where we have riffed on the merits of things like ‘what would happen if basketball had three teams, three baskets and two balls?’ and ‘what is the best way to normalise scores in multi-event sports that would include diverse events such as sprinting and chess’.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career? 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! As a PhD student, I often felt too intimidated to ask questions in talks for fear of saying something stupid. In time I realised that other people would often ask the same questions that I was thinking about.

It can be a good exercise to always try to think of a possible question in every talk that you go to, even if you don’t ask them. Developing a questioning mind is a useful skill that can help your career as a scientist (or science communicator). 


Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution


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Who would you like to see interviewed for The Short Read? Let us know via contact@frontlinegenomics.com