Despite the fact that chlamydia is the most common notifiable STI among young people in Australia (a disease that is required by law to be reported to government authorities), it is not a conversation topic that you’re as likely to happen upon in the Dining Hall as Foucauldian discourse.
Ormond gives us the opportunity to become well-rounded individuals in both social and academic settings and this is most evident at the dining table. But there is an inherent imbalance towards the subject material of Arts disciplines, and consequently, we lose the knowledge that could be added from other courses. Surely, if the Panopticon is relevant to our lives, then the nature of a prevalent disease, like chlamydia, should equally engage our attention. This begs the question: how do we as Biomed students offer more.
To the start the conversation, there needs to be a shared level of knowledge. The challenge for the explainer is that it is tempting to show off with an extensive, jargon filled answer that isn’t engaging at all. It can be difficult to know where to start as we take for granted many definitions that have different connotations to the general public. Most people are familiar with the word protein as a healthy part of red meat, but for scientists, proteins are a vast subgroup of molecules and each protein has a very specific function. For instance, specific proteins help chlamydia to enter human cells, and then chlamydia produces a different set of proteins to harness the energy supply in cells and contribute to chlamydia’s growth. As such, the explainer can’t make assumptions about what people know, and must be mindful about the terms they use.
However, conversations about science don’t have to be lectures – the most exciting part is asking questions and challenging someone’s knowledge. More broadly, science can challenge social perceptions and stigmas to enact behavioural change. A key issue with chlamydia is that it isn’t always treated before serious long-term consequences take effect because people don’t get regular sexual health checks. The question becomes why aren’t people more motivated to get sexual health checks? How can we communicate this information more effectively? How can we address these problems in our society? Scientists can often be disengaged from the clinical or social reality of welfare, as such we need more people to engage with these topics to build the public debate.
Science is an icebreaker because it equips you with factual insight into socially awkward or grotesque topics. Scientific knowledge empowers the speaker to comment on difficult topics impartially. It may come off as insensitive or bizarre when someone speaks with passion and affection about a disease or body part (“I love cancer!” – Danielle Simkus, 2013), but it stimulates discussion of humanitarian issues. Chlamydia infects the female body uniquely: it can hide inside cells, using specific proteins to leach human energy for up to a decade without producing noticeable symptoms, but causing infertility. However, other structures within the chlamydia bacteria can be targeted by antibiotics, and the infection can be resolved. Understanding the disease processes helps to make the information objective, which makes uncomfortable conversations on topics much more approachable. A basic conceptual understanding of these diseases can make you much more comfortable when speaking to a GP about sexual health.
Science should have a place in Dining Hall chatter. Ormond has busted the myth that science students are antisocial and out of touch. So, we can be confident that science students will answer questions with zest and genuine interest. This article focused on chlamydia, but the biomedical field is rich and varied. Seriously, when else in your life are you going to have the opportunity to ask someone in the Servery line about the hormones that are making you feel that hungry?