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New Generation Thinking

26 Jun, 2012
Dr Matthew Smith, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow

Dr Matthew Smith

Dr Matthew Smith is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde and works in the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, Glasgow. He was recently named as a ‘New Generation Thinker’ by BBC Radio 3. Here, he reflects on what he aims to achieve through the scheme and the importance of sharing research with as wide an audience as possible.

Many years ago, I volunteered as a DJ on university radio in Edmonton, Alberta. My programme ran Sunday mornings from 6 to 8am, and it is safe to say that it won’t go down in the annals of radio history. I typically scrambled into the cellar of a studio with seconds to spare, hastily selecting some music from the library on the way, and then proceeded to spend the next two hours trying to master the equipment, avoid dead air and not say anything too terribly daft. I wasn’t always successful.

Most of the time, I figured that my audience consisted of, well, myself, a perception which did little for my on-air professionalism. But every now and then, a listener would call in and, much to my amazement, thank me for playing a track they had never heard before. It was a wonderful feeling and it helped me get up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.

My thoughts strayed back to these radio days when I was named a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker a few weeks ago. The initiative, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is intended to give scholars in the arts and humanities the opportunity to convey their research to a general audience through radio programmes such as Night Waves, television documentaries and Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival. The ten of us selected will be paired with Radio 3 producers to learn the tricks of the broadcasting trade, and to transform our ideas into radio gold.

For me, the return to radio will be much more than a chance to build upon my humble broadcasting origins, it’s an opportunity to do something about which I am passionate: bringing my research to a wider audience. As a medical historian funded by the Wellcome Trust, I consider it part of my job to disseminate my research findings not only to other historians, but also to people connected to the topics I investigate. I am a firm believer that good medical history has the ability to inform medical opinion, empower patients and improve health policy. As such, I have written pieces on the histories of food allergy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, aimed at psychologists, nutritionists and teachers, as well as my fellow historians. With the help of Radio 3, I will be able to reach out to a much larger audience. Who knows who might be listening?

My first Night Waves broadcast, on the 25th of June, was about the history of ADHD, specifically, the link between the Cold War and the emergence of the childhood disorder. As my producer and I worked on the script, she urged me to be more direct with my language and to distil what amounts to a great deal of research into a few pithy sentences. Such straightforwardness is not always comfortable for historians such as myself, but it is good advice. If we want to have an impact on the wider world, how we communicate our ideas is nearly as important as the ideas themselves. It’s a lesson I hope I learn well during my year as a New Generation Thinker.

You can listen to Monday night’s edition of Night Waves on the BBC iPlayer – Matt’s piece starts around 27 minutes in.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ida Milne permalink
    2 Jul, 2012 3:39 pm

    Well done, Matthew, and they picked the right person to be a pioneer in the field of communicating medical history to the masses!


  1. Food allergy and hyperactivity: histories of medical controversy « Wellcome Trust Blog

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