STFC launches Interact 2017 Evaluation Report in partnership with UoB

University of Birmingham, together with STFC, Institute of Physics and SEPnet are proud to launch the evaluation report from Interact 2017. Interact 2017 was a symposium whose aim was to cultivate a community of engagement practitioners within the physical sciences who develop high quality STEM engagement and encourage a culture of strategic and reflective practice.

The symposium was a success with over 120 physical scientists from across the UK attending and sharing best practice. The symposium is also measuring its impact on these scientists through a yearlong evaluation process, the baseline of which can be found in the report.

In addition to this, the report showcases the rich landscape for Outreach and Public Engagement that currently exists in the physical sciences across the UK and sets good measures for its continued development.

The symposium also featured plenary speakers Prof Alice Roberts (University of Birmingham), and SEPnet’s Prof Jim Al Khalili (University of Surrey) talking about their careers as engaged researchers and science communicators.

30 parallel sessions were on offer at Interact 2017 and most of these were delivered by physicists. This shows how the Interact partnership is promoting best practice across physics departments in the UK.

If you missed the day and would like to get a feel for it, check out his video from the Institute of Physics which features SEPnet’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, Dr Dominic Galliano.

For more information, feel free to contact the UoB Interact team members: Dr Caroline Gillett & Professor Cristina Lazzeroni by dropping us an email: engage@contacts.bham.ac.uk

 

 

RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund – continuation funding for 2016-17

We are thrilled to announce University of Birmingham has been successful in securing continuation funding of the Research Council UK Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF). Funding has recently been confirmed for a further 12 month period from August 2016.

The RCUK CSF provides flexible funding directly to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to help create a culture where excellent public engagement with research is better embedded within the HEI and appropriately included within its policies, procedures and practices.

“The institutional-level funding complements the support provided to researchers via the project and grant-based approach of individual Research Councils and RCUK PER programmes, as well as policy mechanisms such as the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research, the UK Charter for Science and Society and the Manifesto for Public Engagement. The inclusion of public engagement within Research Councils ‘Pathways to Impact’ and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) also provide drivers to encourage HEIs to value, recognise and support public engagement with research.”

We also look forward to working more closely with RCUK and fellow CSF institutions, as well as key players such as the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) to share best practice and collectively champion for PER to be better rewarded, recognized and valued.

To read about our plans for year two visit this page.

In praise of storytelling – three ways that communication has made me a better scientist

 a Neuroscience Doctoral Candidate, Penn State College of Medicine talks to THE CONVERSATION about how science communication has made her a better scientist. You can read the full article over at THE CONVERSATION, but we have a quick overview below:

“Scientists are often told to reach out to general audiences about their research for the public’s benefit:

We need to establish trust! Taxpayers deserve to understand where their money is going! We need to clear up misconceptions about GMOs and vaccines and climate change!

While these arguments are absolutely true, many scientists find this hard to do. Science communication can become a time-consuming side job. And for many, such a responsibility to the general public can be extremely daunting.

But it’s okay for scientists to practice their communication skills for non-philanthropic reasons, too. Despite my initial college lab experience, telling stories as a science communicator today has made me a much, much better scientist in a few unexpected ways.”

1. I read more and write more. So I read and write better.

While it’s impossible to know everything that’s going on at all times, being a science communicator has helped enormously. Scouting for story ideas or researching for a piece means I’m constantly coming across new findings, new methods and new hypotheses. Being active on social media, particularly Twitter, has introduced me to the diverse work of my journalistic peers, too.

But perhaps the best part is this: writing is significantly easier and infinitely less daunting than it used to be. Sitting down to write is hard, and finding your voice is harder. But the more one writes – whether a short, snarky blog post or a 12-page grant application – the easier and better it gets.

2. Simplifying my work makes for better conversations

Here’s a confession that many scientists may relate to, but few may admit: when I attend a talk outside my field, I’m lucky if I understand 50% of what is going on.

The purpose of science communication is to simplify, but not dumb down, your work so that the average non-scientist can understand it. Nowadays, when I design posters or oral presentations, I aim to do the same thing regardless of whether I’m introducing my work to scientists or non-scientists. My research posters, in fact, are almost laughably simple. Well under 200 words, with large, blocky figures, at first glance they may resemble a high school science project – certainly not a typical graduate student’s work at an international conference.

Since applying what I’ve learned from being a science communicator, my conference poster experience has completely changed. I’m frequently bombarded by a non-stop stream of scientists from all different fields, never having more than a free minute or two to sneak a swig of water. The best part is that because they understand what’s on the paper, our discussions can go deeper.

3. Unique opportunities and credibility

Since college, I’ve wanted to attend the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, the largest gathering of neuroscientists worldwide. This year, I got to do just that thanks to a travel stipend through the SfN Science Journalism Student Award – something I couldn’t have done if, obviously, I hadn’t started my quirky little hobby. In a roundabout way, I was able to attend an event I would have never been able to afford, and I returned to the lab with fresh ideas for my own research.

As people begin to recognise me as an “expert” in my field, I’m solicited for quotes and radio interviews. I’ve made a few odd dollars here and there for writing pieces, supplementing my lavish graduate student lifestyle. I even gave a TED talk in July – something I never imagined I’d have the chance to do.

While certainly not all scientists wish to seek out these types of public displays, it’s exciting to discover the countless venues for us to share our work with others.

So, scientists, here’s the bottom line: if you’re hesitant to reach out to the public due to lack of time, ambivalence, or just not knowing where to start, it’s understandable. It takes a fair bit of work, and it’s not easy. But if you want the chance to expand your horizons, improve your writing, enjoy unique opportunities, and engage more people – scientists and non-scientists alike – you might want to give science communication a shot.

In addition to making your work accessible to the general public, you might be surprised by how much your benchwork benefits, too.

Age Well 2015

Age Well went ahead as planned on Thursday the 10th September. This was the 6th annual event of its kind since it began in 2010. Once again, this year saw us move to a bigger venue as the event continues to grow in popularity with approximately 200 ‘delegates’ or attendees from the Birmingham 1000 Elders group –1000 Elders.

Age Well has become an annual public engagement event and is designed as a ‘thank you’ event in recognition of all the assistance the Birmingham 1000 Elders have provided over the course of the year in research studies, but also acts as an opportunity for researchers to communicate back to the Elders their latest research findings on how to age healthily.

PhD Student shortlisted for the Max Perutz Prize

Max Perutz LogoCongratulations to Dan Craig a PhD Student in the Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research (CMAR), who is the author of one of Fourteen ‘outstanding’ articles (“Fighting flesh poverty: an apple a day?”) that have been shortlisted for this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award, the MRC’s annual writing competition.

The winner, who will receive a £1,500 prize, will be announced at the awards ceremony on 22 October at the Royal Institution, London. Their article will also be promoted on the BBC News website.

The Max Perutz Award, which is in its 18th year asks MRC-funded PhD students to write up to 800 words about their research and why it matters in a way that would interest a non-scientific audience.  Since the competition started in 1998, hundreds of researchers have submitted entries and taken their first steps in science communication.

Dan is mid-way through his MRC-funded PhD ‘Determining the muscle anabolic and anti-catabolic potential of Ursolic Acid in Ageing’ and is supervised by Dr Andrew Philp (University of Birmingham) and Dr Phil Atherton (University of Nottingham).

University of Birmingham joins RCUK Catalysts for Public Engagement with Research to deliver culture change

The University of Birmingham is thrilled to have been successfully awarded the Research Councils UK Public Engagement with Research Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF).

Building on the successes and momentum generated by the Catalyst funding and the Beacons for Public Engagement initiative, this new funding will help to catalyse change by ensuring that engaging the public becomes an integral part of the research process. Specifically, the CSF will provide flexible funding directly to higher education institutions to help create a culture where excellent public engagement with research is better embedded within the institution and appropriately included within its policies, procedures and practices.

University of Birmingham is among ten universities (listed below with their Principal Investigators) that will each receive £65,000 funding for public engagement activities over the next 12 months:

  • University of Birmingham: Professor Michael Whitby
  • University of Cambridge: Professor Lynn Gladden
  • University of Glasgow: Professor Jonathan Cooper
  • Imperial College London: Professor Maggie Dallman
  • King’s College London: Mr Chris Mottershead
  • University of Leeds: Professor David Hogg
  • University of Liverpool: Professor Dinah Birch
  • University of Oxford: Professor Ian Walmsley
  • University of Southampton: Professor Judith Petts
  • University of Warwick: Professor Pam Thomas

Professor John Womersley, RCUK’s Champion for Public Engagement with Research and Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said: “Public engagement is an integral part of research and improves both its quality and impact. We know that researchers are more likely to participate in public engagement if they have the support of their institution. This Catalyst Seed Funding will support infrastructure and cultural change within the funded universities and help researchers to engage with schools and the wider community.”

Info courtesy of RCUK: http://bit.ly/1F0qzgx

PERC would like to thank RCUK for it’s generous investment and encouragement. More details of the proposal outlined in the RCUK bid will be divulged shortly.

PINT OF SCIENCE is back in 2015 and is coming to a pub near you in Birmingham!

Pint of Science Logo with GlassesPint of Science 2015 – Monday 18th May to Wednesday 20th May 2015 – www.pintofscience.com

Scientists carry out the most incredible and innovative experiments; growing brain cells in a flask, developing nano-particles to carry drugs around the body or trying to discover dark matter 500 metres below ground level. Yet, this sounds like science fiction to most people. Pint of Science is all about getting these amazing stories out of the lecture theatre or laboratory to people in a familiar, relaxed environment.