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

 

 

WT Engaging Science Conference 2016: Take home messages

PERC recently attended the Wellcome Trust’s Engaging Science conference help on April 20th, 2016 at Wellcome Collection. The event brought together researchers, public engagement and scicomm workers, creatives and more to discuss how science can be made more engaging for those who do it, for the public and for seldom heard audiences. Key topics included top tips for collaboration, improving diversity and dealing with ethical issues.

The take home messages of each of the sessions were captured live by cartoon artists, so take a look at the photos below! Many thanks to Wellcome for the invite to attend such an interesting and inspiring day.

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.

Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement cohort announced!

Thanks to everyone who expressed an interest in participating in our Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement pilot. We received lots of interest but sadly we could only pick five of you to take part this time around. PERC were really impressed by all the candidates that got in touch and we are already thinking about how we can involve everyone who got in touch in future activity, so don’t be disappointed if you didn’t make it this time! Other opportunities will be revealed soon…

Congratulations to the five researchers who will be paying-it-forward with public engagement!

Meet our cohort:

sophie cox

Dr Sophie Cox

Hello! My name is Sophie and I’m a Research Fellow in the School of Chemical Engineering. I currently work on an interdisciplinary Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded project exploring the introduction and added value that additive layer manufacturing can bring to the medical sector.

Having completed my undergraduate and PhD in Engineering I moved to the University of Birmingham in 2014, bringing my passion for public engagement with me. Since, I have become a STEM Ambassador and through their network I have connected with a number of local schools to deliver hands-on and career based activities.

In the past, I have worked as a mentor for the International Gateway for Gifted Youth, an online global educational social network designed to help young people reach their full potential. For a number of years I also helped establish and organise the first royal academy engineering summer school at the University of Warwick. This scheme involved lots of really fun hands on activities that I hoped helped to inspire the next generation of engineers!

I’m really excited to have been selected for the Pay-it-Forward scheme and can’t wait to get started!

elizabeth randall

Elizabeth Randall

I’m Elizabeth and I’m a PhD student in the PSIBS doctoral training centre here at UoB. My project involves developing new chemical imaging methods for use in pharmaceutical research.

After completing my undergraduate degree in chemistry I decided to continue my studies in the interdisciplinary field of biomedical imaging. It’s a very exciting area and one that is easy to talk to people about – most people know about MRI and CT scanners in hospitals.

I became a STEM ambassador 3 years ago and have since taken part in events like ‘meet the scientist’ at the Birmingham ThinkTank. I also supervised 2 secondary school pupils on a week-long project which introduced them to the work at our lab, let them carry out a small research project and gave them an idea of what it would be like to work as a research scientist. Showing younger people what science is really about is my favourite part of public engagement – and perhaps also dispelling some misconceptions along the way.

Finding alternative ways to explain things is of particular interest to me. As a spare-time artist and writer I have produced artwork for exhibitions about scientific research and written articles for university and national publications including the ‘Access to Understanding’ organisation.

I’m looking forward to getting involved with the Pay-it-Forward scheme and hope to contribute some different ideas!

shardia

Shardia Briscoe-Palmer 

Hello, my name is Shardia. I am a second year PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham. I am currently researching in the field of Gender and Development focusing on Masculinity, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS related Stigma and Discrimination. My other areas for research include Gender & Development, HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination, Disability studies, sexual health and young people.

I am currently writing an article for the European Journal of Political Science (EJPS) on ‘Challenges facing minority PhD Politics students: women, BME groups and disabled people. I am a member for the Political Science Association’s Equality and Diversity committee. Being part of this group led me on to becoming a research assistant for the BME Ambassador project at the University of Birmingham were at present I co-ordinate the peer mentor scheme. #mentoringisgreat

Along side my studies I am employed by the Terrence Higgins Trust, a national HIV and Sexual Health charity, where I works as sex and relationship education (SRE) co-ordinator in the Midlands.  I recruits, train and support young people in to becoming Peer Ambassadors in Sexual Health (yes I get to talk about sex all day). I am currently planning a Young People’s Sexual Health Conference which will be held in February 2016.

I am the Co-Founder of GEMS (Gender Empowerment Movement); a community interest company who conducts workshop, events, research and consultations to engage and empower young people in the community on issues such as domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, girls and gangs, self-esteem, human rights & democracy, etc.

I am really looking forward to getting involved in this initiative and can not wait to start planning and most importantly engaging the public.

katherine eales

Katherine Eales

Hello! I’m Kat and I am currently in my second year of my PhD in the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at UoB. My research is primarily in cancer research and investigates into the role of a signalling pathway within the progression of type of brain tumour.

After completing a Biochemistry degree and research assistant post in Neuroscience, I moved to Birmingham in 2013 to start a 4 year MRes/PhD course.  After completing the MRes year I decided that the area of cancer research is my heart lies as it such a valuable research area and one in which the public is so engaged with.

I believe that public engagement is such an important part of being a scientist in gaining public awareness of our research and building a great relationship with the general public. I became a STEM ambassador when I started my PhD and have so far participated in engagement activities such as being a judge for the NSEC competition at the Big Bang Fair West Midlands and also various events with Cancer Research UK such as hands on creative activities making ‘cell badges’ and ‘meet the expert’ at Birmingham ThinkTank. I love engaging with young people about science and will hopefully help to inspire the next generation of scientists!

I am really looking forward to participating in the Pay-it-Forward scheme and can’t wait to bring back some exciting engagement ideas and activities to share with fellow UoB researchers!

ruth

Ruth Wareham 

Ruth is a doctoral researcher in philosophy of education. Her main research focus is the legitimacy of faith-schools but, as a former primary school teacher, her interests extend to a variety of subjects relating to the philosophical nature of education.

Ruth completed her BA and MPhil in philosophy at Birmingham (1999-2004) before going on to train for a PGCE on Nottingham University’s SCITT (School Centred Initial Teacher Training) in Outstanding Primary Schools. She returned to the University to undertake a PhD and left teaching for a career in Higher Education in 2011.

Ruth currently works in a number of roles at the University of Birmingham, including Student Experience Officer for the School of Philosophy, Theology & Religion, Postgraduate Teaching Assistant in the School of Education and Research Network Administrator for the Beauty Demands Project (Department of Philosophy).

Through her varied experience of working in HE and mainstream compulsory education, Ruth has been involved with a wide range of public engagement projects and initiatives. These include: running philosophy workshops in schools on behalf of The Philosophy Foundation and The Royal Institute of Philosophy; working with the University’s outreach team and with the College of Arts & Law to participate in and organise Discovery Days, Taster Sessions and 6th Form Study Afternoons; running events as part of the University’s Arts & Sciences Festival and Community Day; and using social media platforms (such as Twitter and blogs) to increase engagement with the research of staff and students.

One of Ruth’s current projects is hoping to address public engagement in the arts and humanities and she is very much looking forward to seeing how her involvement with the Pay-It-Forward programme can help to address issues in disciplines other than science.

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.

Science communication: Telling it like it is

We’ve come across an interesting & well written blog piece from The Royal Institution, we highly recommend giving it a read. In the piece, their 2013 Christmas Lecturer Alison Woollard writes about the importance of science communication and public engagement. Below is an excerpt, but the article can be read in full HERE.

“My advice? Find out the questions before you prescribe the answers! Importantly, remember that engagement is a two-way process. It is about being interested in people and listening to what they say. Science is not an elitist club that most people cannot join – and public engagement should not be an overt ‘knowledge dissemination strategy’. Good science communication is a huge learning experience for the communicator as well as the audience – it certainly was for me.”

Being Human Festival: the UK’s first national festival of the humanities

Being Human is the UK’s first national festival of the humanities.

Between 15 and 23 November 2014, the festival will engage people across the UK with innovative research.

The festival will highlight the ways in which humanities research can:

  • inspire and enrich our everyday lives
  • help us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and the challenges we face in a changing world
  • provide world class knowledge that is vibrant, vital, and accessible to all

Over 35 research institutions from across the UK are set to participate in the 2014 festival, including researchers at the University of Birmingham.

For a list of local (West Midlands) free events visit THIS PAGE.