Biotech for Poets: Simplifying the Complex

July 14, 2017 | by Travis Marshall

The idea of enlisting science and technology experts to present talks about their work for layman audiences is something Will Murdoch, senior director of research and business operations for City of Hope’s Beckman Research Institute, first encountered as an undergraduate at Clarkson University.
 
“We did something called ‘Physics for Poets,’” he said. “We would try to take complex scientific topics and explain them in a way that a poet could understand them.”
 
The idea stuck with him, and Murdoch has since implemented it in his professional career at Rand, Amgen and now at the Beckman Research Institute, with a program called ‘Biotech for Poets.’
 
He created the program at City of Hope as a series of informal presentations that are optional yet open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the groundbreaking and complex work happening all over the campus.
 
“We have so many people here who work in administrative roles and other areas that directly impact the work that researchers and physicians do, and vice versa,” Murdoch explained. “Researchers can be eclectic, but when you spend time with them and hear them talk about what they’re passionate about, it lets you step into their world a little bit.
 
Biotech for Poets at City of Hope Will Murdoch Will Murdoch, senior director of research and business operations for City of Hope’s Beckman Research Institute
The first “Biotech for Poets” presentation happened last January, and was so well attended that Murdoch wound up having to book a larger venue.
 
“We had people from all over the campus, from IT to the cleaning crew who showed up,” Murdoch said. One of the presenters for that initial talk was Joe Gold, Ph.D., director of manufacturing for the Center for Biomedicine and Genetics.
 
“When Will approached me last year, I thought it was a really good idea,” Gold said. “I spoke about what happens in the manufacturing facilities, trying to describe why the science we do here is different than traditional research.” His talk included topics like CAR T-cells and the challenges of creating ways to move drugs across the blood-brain barrier in brain cancer patients.
 
Murdoch originally envisioned “Biotech for Poets” as a platform for communicating science and research knowledge, but now he’s considering expanding the format to include any specialized expertise that people have around City of Hope.
 
“We could have talks with the horticulturists who maintain our rose gardens, explaining about the history and how they benefit patients,” he said. “Or someone from philanthropy could explain how they work with large donors to help facilitate the work our researchers are doing. It fits well with City of Hope’s desire to enhance engagement.”
 
Asked if he has any suggestions for speakers planning to present a talk, Gold offered a piece of advice from his experience. “I think I tried to take on too many topics, so I’d recommend going into detail on one or two specific points rather than making it too broad.”
 
 

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