Andreas Ohlin works with tiny, tiny children. He won the final of the Swedish Researchers’ Grand Prix in 2013 with his presentation on how a simple method can drastically increase a premature baby’s chance of survival and a normal life. In an interview, Andreas talks about his experiences and the reasons why researchers have everything to gain by participating in the competition.

Andreas Ohlin

The Researchers’ Grand Prix (RGP) is a competition in which participating researchers have only a couple of minutes in which to captivate an audience and jury with an entertaining and educational presentation about their research. Andreas Ohlin won the RGP in 2013 with his presentation on how a simple method can prevent premature babies from getting infections. VA (Public & Science) called Andreas to find out what has happened since he won the RGP, his thoughts on the competition and what led him to participate.

“I had heard about the 2012 Researchers’ Grand Prix and thought it sounded like a fun event and an opportunity to raise awareness about the care of premature babies,” says Andreas.

Since the beginning of the year, he has been Director of the Children’s Clinic at the University Hospital in Örebro, where he also lectures about infection control and conducts research on a part time basis. When VA spoke to him, he’d just given lecture about his project to dialysis staff, who intend to adopt the method that Andreas presented at the RGP.

”I was not prepared to stand there in my hospital scrubs just to get people’s attention”

“I’d never participated in this type of event before,” says Andreas. “But in the spring of that year, I received the prize for best oral presentation at a scientific congress and it inspired me to sign up for the RGP.”

Over the summer, prior to the semi-final in Örebro, he watched the 2012 RGP presentations and noticed that many participants put on very energetic performances to grab the audience’s attention.

“So I decided to try to get the audience’s attention in a different way. In a way that reinforced the importance of my subject.”

Anyone who has seen Andreas’ presentation knows that he succeeded. He enters the stage to a sombre song by the Swedish rock band, Imperiet (When vodka made us beautiful). While Joakin Thåström sings the lyrics “As tiny, tiny children…”, Andreas, dressed in his hospital scrubs, disinfects his hands and stands with his arms outstretched so that the disinfectant drips off them. With a serious, almost grim smile, he looks out over the audience as if he is about to embrace it or completely surrender to its hands. There is a long pause.

“I was sceptical at first. I was not prepared to stand there in my hospital scrubs just to get people’s attention. But the theatrical coach, who helped us with our scripts and performances, helped me to create something that felt genuine and authentic, and to increase the drama by using the hand sanitiser and hospital clothing.”

Hello, my name is Andreas. And I work with tiny, tiny children

The rest is history. Andreas won the final and his research project about tiny, tiny children got a huge amount of attention. And it is not just winning the RGP that has increased the visibility of his project: the same week as Andreas won RGP, his project also won Örebro County Council’s Quality Award for the best quality work and in March 2014 he was awarded the Swedish Infection Control Prize for his efforts to raise awareness of infection control issues.

After winning RGP, he started a Facebook group to find out about disinfection routines at other Swedish hospitals. Now, nearly half of the Swedish hospitals that look after premature babies have switched to using the method that Andreas talked about in his presentation, and more intend to.

So what does the method involve? Prior to injecting premature babies’ with medication, instead of a quick wipe, the hub between the syringe and the tube is scrubbed for 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds that make a difference to a whole life.

Important to have university backing

“When researchers participate in the RGP, their presentations should answer two questions about their research,” Andreas believes.

“Why is this research important and what has it resulted in? It is not enough to just sell an idea.”

“However, you don’t need to be extremely skilled at giving oral presentations to sign up,” he stresses. “You don’t know whether you are any good at it or not until you’ve given it a go.”

“The presentation that I put together would not have won if I had not been given professional help with my script and stage performance.”

He also stresses how important it is for participating researchers to have the backing of their universities.

“I really believe that it pays for universities to work together with their researchers in the run up to the RGP. In Örebro, we started to prepare back in May to ensure that the script was ready months in advance, prior to the semi-final at the end of September. Örebro University put a lot of effort into the event and provided me with a lot of support.”

Three good reasons to give it a go

There are three good reasons why a researcher should participate in the Researchers’ Grand Prix, according to Andreas. Firstly, you learn a lot about presentation techniques and personally develop as a lecturer and performer. Secondly, it can lead to increased awareness about your research and has a much broader reach that just a scientific article. That was one of the main reasons why Andreas participated, to increase awareness about the care of premature babies.

“The third reason is that it is good fun,” says Andreas. It was painfully nerve-wracking in the hours leading up to the final. It is a presentation that must be word perfect. But the whole thing, from getting coaching from experts in drama and acting to meeting researchers in other fields, is great fun. Give it a go!