The fight against Zika.

posted Feb 23, 2016, 9:20 AM by Nicola Wardrop

I was a panel member on the recent live Q&A session hosted by the Guardian Development Professionals Network: "What's the best way to tackle Zika?".

See here for a summary of the "best bits"

Spatial analysis of neglected tropical diseases for research and policy: practical introductory workshop.

posted Feb 5, 2016, 3:52 AM by Nicola Wardrop

I'm running a workshop in September this year along with Dr Ricardo Soares Magalhaes (University of Queensland) and Dr Nick Hamm (University of Twente). The workshop precedes the International Congress for Tropical Medicine and Malaria (which runs 18th - 22nd September).

For more information and registration, see the International Congress for Tropical Medicine and Malaria website.

Thursday 15 & Friday 16 September 2016, Brisbane, Australia.

This workshop will give participants a practical understanding of the concepts underpinning spatial analysis including predictive modelling of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), with hands-on experience in the application of a range of methods for describing and analysing NTD spatial data. These methods include the construction and visualisation of maps of NTD data from real-life examples, as well as the description of the spatial variation at different spatial scales. A range of sources for spatial datasets which can be used in epidemiological research (e.g. land cover, population density, climatic factors) will be introduced, and the linkage of spatial datasets will be demonstrated in computer based practicals. The statistical evaluation of hypotheses using epidemiological and environmental data will also be covered. Finally, a range of advanced statistical methods that can be used for the development of spatial models for both area and point-based data will be discussed, including the steps taken for model validation and the generation of predictive maps of infection relevant to inform further research and NTD control policy.

This workshop will be valuable for researchers and public health workers who are interested in the application of mapping, spatial analysis and geostatistical modelling to neglected tropical disease (NTD) data.

Date: Thursday 15 & Friday 16 September 2016
Time: 0900 – 1700 (both days)
Venue: Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, St Lucia campus.

  • Workshop only: A$750.00
  • Price of workshop if purchasing Congress registration: A$650.00
  • Student workshop only: A$550.00
  • Price of workshop if purchasing Student Congress registration: A$500.00

Workshop Organisers: Dr Ricado J. Soares Magalhaes (University of Queensland, Australia), Dr. Nicola Wardrop (University of Southampton, United Kingdom), Dr. Nicholas Hamm (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
Inclusions: Workshop attendance, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea catering, and post-workshop Networking Event including canapés and drinks.

New commentary: Integrated epidemiology for vector borne zoonoses.

posted Jan 29, 2016, 12:34 AM by Nicola Wardrop

My latest commentary has just been published by Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. It discusses the need for explicit integration of human infection, animal infection and vector information in epidemiological analyses of vector borne zoonoses. Human African trypanosomiasis in Uganda is used as an example.

Wardrop NA (2016). Integrated epidemiology for vector-borne zoonoses. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 110(2): 87-89.

New PLOS NTDs paper: socio-economic, behavioural and environmental influences on cysticercosis.

posted Dec 7, 2015, 11:34 AM by Nicola Wardrop

Our new paper, which examines individual level, household level and environmental influences on the occurrence of cysticercosis in pigs and humans has just been published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Wardrop NA, Thomas LF, Atkinson PM, de Glanville WA, Cook EAJ, Wamae CN, et al. (2015) The Influence of Socio-economic, Behavioural and Environmental Factors on Taenia spp. Transmission in Western Kenya: Evidence from a Cross-Sectional Survey in Humans and Pigs. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 9(12): e0004223. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0004223

Open Access data: Landcover dataset now available.

posted Oct 23, 2015, 1:32 AM by Nicola Wardrop   [ updated Oct 23, 2015, 1:33 AM ]

As part of my work in western Kenya, I created a landcover classification dataset. The full dataset, including information on how it was produced, is now available:

Wardrop, Nicola A (2015) Landcover classification: western Kenya, 2010. doi:10.5258/SOTON/383135 [dataset]

New WHO report on rhodesiense human African trypanosomiasis.

posted Jul 30, 2015, 12:53 AM by Nicola Wardrop

The WHO has just released a new report: Report of the first WHO stakeholders meeting on rhodesiense human African trypanosomiasis, Geneva, 20–22 October 2014. This report sets out the current understanding of the epidemiology and control of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, covering suitability mapping, mathematical modelling, diagnostics, treatment, vector control and elimination efforts.

Vector-borne zoonoses talk at ISNTD Bites.

posted Jul 14, 2015, 2:34 AM by Nicola Wardrop   [ updated Jul 14, 2015, 2:35 AM ]

International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases conference on vector-borne diseases, March 2015 (ISNTD bites).
Integrating human, livestock & vector data in a unified epidemiological framework (using sleeping sickness as an example). Visit the ISNTD website for a video of my talk:

Some conference frustrations (and suggestions) from an ECR perspective

posted Apr 10, 2015, 3:47 AM by Nicola Wardrop   [ updated Apr 10, 2015, 4:51 AM ]

Over the past few years I have attended quite a few academic conferences, large and small, national and international, as speaker, poster presenter or merely an attendee. The more conferences I attend where I feel that I have been valued as a participant and have benefitted from the experience, the more irritating it becomes to attend one where I feel the conference has taken advantage of me and very many other early career researchers (ECRs). I shall explain what I mean by this, and then will provide some hints for conference organisers (albeit with the caveat that I have never personally arranged a conference) as to how they might provide a better environment for all attendees, including ECRs.

A bit of context - how conference finances work (in simplistic generalisations)

There are a number of invited/keynote speakers (and sometimes also session chairs) who are subsided to attend and who are generally senior, “big names”, who are intended to attract other participants. These speakers and chairs will usually not need to pay a registration fee and may also have their travel and accommodation paid for them. Then there is everyone else, including other speakers, poster presenters and attendees, who pay a registration fee to attend (as well as travel and accommodation), although I note that generally PhD students, and less frequently other ECRs, will have a lower registration fee than other participants. Registration fees vary widely, but a couple of recent international conferences I have attended had registration fees (for an ECR) of over £1000…on top of travel and accommodation costs. Other income is generated via sponsorship and exhibitors and the main outgoings are of course the conference venue and food (plus a lot of other costs which vary depending on the conference).

Is this an upside-down system?

Presumably ECR registration fees are not directly paying for the keynotes and chairs, given that there are other revenue sources, but it does sometimes seem like an upside-down financial system. The invited senior academics, who have greater access to pots of research and travel money than PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and junior lecturers, are either partially or fully subsidised. Meanwhile, ECRs, even where reduced registrations fees are available, often struggle to find enough funding to attend. At most conferences, I can put this somewhat upside-down funding situation to the back of my mind…so long as the event is well balanced, giving good opportunities to all attendees.

A few conference frustrations, from the perspective of an ECR

However, a couple of recent experiences have left me feeling incredibly frustrated, particularly when considering this upside-down funding system. Rather than creating a lengthy text about this, I will briefly list some of my main issues (which are all derived from personal experience) below, and then provide a few pointers as to how conference organisers might take better account of ECRs when planning a conference.

  1. Large number of invited speakers and session chairs (relative to overall attendance): this can make paying attendees feel that they are subsidising a meeting where a bunch of senior academics get together and talk about their work, and you just happen to be allowed to watch.
  2. Few ECRs selected to deliver contributed talks: as above.
  3. Poorly arranged conference handbooks “demoting” specific sessions: e.g. a recent conference I attended had a fully detailed programme for the whole week including keynote speakers, and organised sessions. Following this (and un-noticed by many on the first day or two), were the sessions with contributed talks, mainly delivered by ECRs.
  4. Names of speakers not included in the conference handbook for contributed talks: I shouldn’t even need to explain the problems for this one.
  5. Very large number of poster presentations (relative to overall attendance): it is impossible to find the time to look around all of the poster exhibits, and, unless the poster sessions are very well organised, poster engagement can be low when there are huge numbers of them.
  6. Poorly organised poster sessions: poster sessions can be amazing or they can be useless – where poster sessions are not well organised or structured, it is immensely frustrating for all those attendees who have put a lot of time and effort into creating their posters. As an example, if there are a very large number of posters, it is not suitable to expect all poster presenters to stand by their posters during all the breaks...who will be looking at these posters if most attendees are standing by their own posters?! And when will poster presenters have a chance to talk to the other poster presenters about their work? It does not make logical sense.
  7. Posters arranged too close together: when there is not enough space between poster boards, it is very difficult to enable flow of attendees through the area and to enable conversation about the presented research. No one likes to talk about research inside a crush of people.
  8. Overall programme biased towards a small number of large research consortiums: as for points 1 and 2, plus it is rather egotistical.
  9. Poor gender/ethnicity balance of invited speakers and session chairs: this one should be obvious enough.
  10. No attendees list: As an ECR, I have not yet had the opportunity to meet all other researchers that I want to, and if I don’t know who is attending a conference, I won’t know who I should be looking out for (and of course I won’t recognise them as I haven’t ever met them before).

So, when a few of these problems come into play, I begin to wonder why I am paying so much to attend a conference which is paying very little attention to ECR research contributions, and is not considering how it could enhance the overall experience for all attendees. I feel as though I am being taken advantage of: I am paying a full registration fee, plus travel and accommodation costs, while the senior researchers are being subsidised, but I do not feel satisfied that I am really benefitting from attendance at the conference in the way that I should be.

A few suggestions

Based on all of this, I have a few simple suggestions that conference organisers may like to consider.

  1. Make sure you have at least one ECR on the organising committee, and make sure that you explicitly consider whether the conference is addressing their needs.
  2. Likewise, make sure you have a good gender and ethnicity balance on the organising committee, and take steps to ensure a good balance in invited speakers, session chairs and in all other areas. Ask for speaker suggestions from colleagues rather than relying solely on your own existing contacts.
  3. Try to keep a good balance between invited and non-invited speakers – yes, people do want to hear from the leaders of the field, but they also want to hear about the breadth of the field from a wide range of researchers at different career stages.
  4. Don’t schedule more than one invited talk by the same speaker…they generally end up giving (at least partly) the same talk twice.
  5. In conference advertising, if you use an acronym, always also include the full conference title. An ECR won’t necessarily know what ICCGHH means (I made that up by the way, so it probably doesn’t mean anything!).
  6. Try to provide as much subsidy to PhD students and other ECRs as you can, as it is often very difficult for ECRs to secure enough funding to attend.
  7. Carefully consider your conference handbook. All elements of the conference should be integrated into the overall schedule so it is clear exactly what sessions are going on when. Make sure full names are included in the handbook for all presenters, including poster presenters. If possible, also include an attendees list with full names and institutions.
  8. Try not to overlap different types of sessions in the schedule (e.g. a poster session while there is also a keynote speaker).
  9. Consider limiting the number of poster presentations.
  10. Otherwise, where there are large numbers of posters, the poster sessions should be well organised – posters should be arranged into different themes, with specific poster viewing sessions for each of the themes. This will allow poster presenters to engage more fully with others about their research. It is not acceptable to expect poster presenters to stand by their poster during all breaks throughout the conference (unless, perhaps, if it is a very small conference). Refreshments and lunch should be served in the poster areas to encourage participants to view the posters. Poster placement should be in areas where people are likely to be during the breaks, not hidden out of the way. Spacing should be enough to ensure all posters can be viewed by 2 or 3 people at a time.
  11. Think creatively about how you can encourage more engagement and networking throughout the conference. Speed networking events, ECR social events, informal social areas, short (e.g. 1 minute) oral overviews of posters etc.
  12. Make use of social media – for example, encourage the use of a specific conference hashtag to promote online interaction.
  13. When considering ECRs, please don’t think only about PhD students – post docs, research fellows, junior lecturers and assistant professors (and others) can also often be considered as ECRs.

Don’t forget, ECRs are the future of the field!

Some thoughts on a recent Podoconiosis field trip to Cameroon

posted Dec 3, 2014, 5:20 AM by Nicola Wardrop

I recently visited Cameroon with PhD student Seann Regan and an interdisciplinary team of researchers, for a study looking at the correlations between soil composition and occurrence of podoconiosis. Podo is a non-infectious form of elephantiasis, which causes significant swelling of the lower limbs, resulting in disability and stigma. Seann has written a blog about his experiences in Cameroon:

"Occasionally an opportunity presents itself, a brief phone call, a chat, a shared academic interest, and a proposal.

Occasionally you find yourself being led around North West Cameroon by an Ékpè Chief navigating forests and near impassible roads, eating exotic and questionable foods, crossing paths with corrupt army officials, and trying desperately to decode Cameroonian pidgin.

Occasionally you meet a Ju-ju...."

Find the rest of the blog on the Global Environmental Change and Earth Observation website.

European Network on Taeniosis/Cysticercosis.

posted May 8, 2014, 2:14 AM by Nicola Wardrop

I have recently joined the EU COST funded European Network on Taeniosis and Cysticercosis. The network aims to build a strong, extensive, multi-disciplinary scientific network to induce sustainable collaborations with the aim to advance knowledge and understanding of the Taenia solium (pork tapeworm) and T. saginata (beef tapeworm) cysticercosis/taeniosis disease complexes. For more information on the network, please visit the website.

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