Impact in 60 Seconds: A Past Winner's Experience and Advice

Impact in 60 Seconds: A Past Winner's Experience and Advice

Guest blogger Emily May Armstrong was the winner of the Best Individual Entry in the 2018 Impact in 60 Seconds competition. In this post, they share their experience making a video for the competition and offer advice for this year’s entrants.

I never thought I’d find myself with a burgeoning love of videography or storyboarding, yet here I am, and the Impact in 60 Seconds competition was part of what brought me here.

The competition was mandatory for people in my Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) stream, so I dutifully attended the introduction and promotion session with the rest of my cohort. Walking away from the session back to the lab, I’d somehow already storyboarded the majority of my video in my mind, and I frantically scribbled it down as soon as I had a spare moment.

I use next-generation sequencing technologies to understand epigenetic regulation of tissue specific transcription in plants, which are generally the two of the most un-engaging things possible: sedentary green things and big data. But I learnt in A-Level psychology that human beings are hard-wired to pay attention to people and faces, so I used  that for my video. My project is essentially the opposite of ‘people and faces’, though, which made it slightly more difficult to navigate.

I decided to increase accessibility and engagement by not showing a single piece of data and using common plants alongside people (and my friend’s dogs). But I needed to create something engaging with all of that, and in under 60 seconds, which basically seemed impossible.

Image of a vegan salad bowl with various fruits and vegetables such as avacado, chickpeas, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers.  Image from Anna Pelzer on  Unsplash .

I started off with a uniting statement about food: after all, if there's one thing that unites us, it’s that we need to eat. Then, to make plants more personable, my friends (unfortunately for them) got covered in salt, soil, sunlight, and water. The idea here was to underline how different we are from plants, but how crucial they are for our survival.

Once I’d finished filming, I was convinced I had enough material for 60 seconds – wrong! Turns out I had 30 seconds at best, and still wasn’t sure about what I wanted to really say. So I turned to stop-motion animation using whatever I had in my flat at the time (which turned out to be the ingredients I bought for a vegetable soup, a sad bunch of daffodils, and a load of wool I’d been meaning to donate). The stop-motion was easy enough itself, but manually editing the photos into 0.2 second frames took a fair amount of time. Even then, I still didn’t have enough material, so I had to ask people to send me videos of them enjoying food (delegating gets you far!)

When I’d muddled together all of the disparate parts into a video, I needed to work out what I had to say. That wasn’t especially easy, so I wrote about 6 different scripts before settling on one that covered the video properly. I recorded it on my phone and added it in. Finally came the music, which a friend of mine composed for a university project and fit perfectly.

Here’s the final result:

I had to continually remind myself to make it simpler: if you’re aiming a video for the general public,you should probably be designing it so a primary or secondary student can understand it. Anything more, and you run the risk of losing your audience.

Quick Tips

I learned a lot through the process of making the video, so for those entering this year, here’s some advice:

  • Write your script multiple times, then make it simpler. It’ll seem almost too simple, but stick with it. It’ll be more understandable to people without experience in your field.

  • Come up with the weirdest idea you can, and don’t be afraid to recruit people (and their pets).

  • It takes longer than you think to do a good job, so don’t leave it until the night before!

  • Don’t be afraid to start again with a new idea as you develop your skills.

  • There are good phone editing software out there; you don’t need to use complicated interfaces. I used DaVinci free editing software.

  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone by trying new techniques and skills.

  • Your process won’t be the same as mine. Do what’s best for your research topic!

If you have any more questions you can get me at, @emilyXarmstrong on Twitter, or at

If you’re interested in the competition, more information can be found by self-enrolling onto the Moodle. An information session will be held on Tuesday 6 August 2019 from 2:00-4:00pm in the PGR training room on the 1st floor of No. 11 The Square, and there’s still some time to sign up for it by emailing

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