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The 2023 Sir Paul Curran award for academic journalism goes to Barbara Sahakian

Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge receives the award from Sir Paul Curran, at the event at Bayes Business School.

Barbara Sahakian, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge and author of Bad Moves and Sex, Lies, & Brain Scans, has spent her academic career finding out what makes us tick.

If you’ve ever wondered about the effects of drugs on cognition, the benefits for the brain of better diets, recovering from gambling addiction, Barbara has explained it. She’s also tackled subjects such as why having friends boosts your cognitive ability, how reading can counteract the effects of difficult upbringings, how an imbalance of brain chemicals plays a role in OCD and how much sleep you really need.

In fact, Barbara has published 47 articles on The Conversation, including translations into Spanish, French and Indonesian, that have amassed a whopping 4.6 million pageviews across the globe since her first article for us in August 2013 – not long after The Conversation launched. For her prolific output of highly readable articles and fascinating topics, Barbara demonstrates the power of The Conversation’s platform for academic writers, and for non-specialist readers, and is a worthy winner of the 2023 Sir Paul Curran award.

The Sir Paul Curran award for academic communication is awarded every year to an academic who has shown exceptional skill, dedication and engagement in communicating their knowledge to readers.

Besides her editorial commitment, what also really stood out when we were considering the winner of this year’s award was Barbara’s commitment to the PhD candidates and early career researchers on her team, who she has encouraged to write and to communicate their research. It’s an exemplary attitude from a senior academic and we are grateful that someone with experience and influence spends the time to encourage these public engagement skills and to bring others up with them.

Miriam Frankel, senior science editor for The Conversation and Barbara’s longtime editor, said:

Barbara is an exceptional author to work collaboratively with. She is always open to writing about new and interesting topics, from the science of LSD microdosing to vaccine passports and how sleep, friendships and isolation affect the brain. It’s been a pleasure working with Barbara, she is imaginative in her ideas but extremely rigorous in her execution – and always has patience with editors’ questions.

Professor Sahakian takes stewardship for the year of the award’s vintage silver cup, presented by Sir Paul at an event celebrating our authors’ work last week.

Speaking after receiving her award, Barbara recalled:

One of my first articles when I was quite young was actually for Vogue magazine. That was on bulimia nervosa before people really understood what it was. I tried to communicate that because I knew a lot of women had it, as I was running clinics, and that helped women who had bulimia come forward and get help. So I realised how important it is for the individual, but also for a society and community, to convey these important research findings to everyone so they can make use of them – and so our research has relevance. I think that The Conversation does this brilliantly.

Barbara thanked Sir Paul, for his role in helping launch The Conversation as founding chair of the trustees, Miriam Frankel for her editing and editor Jo Adetunji also for her support. She added:

I find the quality of your editors is just fantastic, and it makes the quality of the articles so much better and more enjoyable than they would otherwise have been. So I’m very grateful – thank you very much.

Highly commended

We also have two highly commended academic writers this year.

Amy Brown is Professor of Child Public health at Swansea University, and author of a number of books helping new parents navigate the early years. She has written 38 articles which have been read 1.9 million times.

Grace Allen, Education and Young People Editor, said:

Amy is really skilled at clear explainers and advice pieces and isn’t afraid to take a bold stance. In particular, she wrote a sensitive, thoroughly researched analysis of a research paper on GCSEs and breastfeeding which had received a lot of fairly overblown media coverage. Amy was able to explain the findings in context and in doing so reassure potentially worried readers: a really valuable piece of journalism on an emotive subject.

Renaud Foucart, Senior Lecturer in Economics at Lancaster University Management School, writes articles that dive into economic behaviour, business psychology and economic policy, exploring everything from the psychology of economic betrayal, the absence of Europe’s tech industry, and the implications of Russia’s war for its economy. He has written 34 articles which have been read 823,700 times.

Renaud was nominated by a number of business editors, including Pauline McCallion, who said:

He writes about quite complex topics but understands the need to simplify concepts for our audience, provide further explanation and proper sourcing.

And also Luke Salkeld, who wrote:

Renaud writes brilliantly and regularly on a wide range of topics, working with a wide range of editors. His copy is excellent and he’s unfailingly great to work with.

The final nominees:

Chantal Gautier, Lecturer and Sex Therapist, University of Westminster

Louise Ashley, Senior Lecturer in Sociology of Work, Queen Mary University of London

Magda Osman, Principal Research Associate in Basic and Applied Decision Making, University of Cambridge

Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Leeds Beckett University

A huge thank you to these, and to all our authors who have contributed their time and expertise to make The Conversation what it is.

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