Our second Research at the Heart of Brum event took place on Saturday (6th July, 2019) as part of the amazing CoCoMAD Festival (Cotteridge Community Music Arts and Dance). If you’ve not heard of CoCoMad before, you might be surprised to find out that it’s now in it’s 23rd year and attracts more than 6,000 people to hang out, party and learn in the beautiful setting of Cotteridge Park.
Although lots of University of Birmingham researchers have gotten involved in bringing a bit of science to proceedings over the years, this year was the first time we’ve organised an institution-wide delegation, but it won’t be the last! More than 30 researchers came along to deliver activities and talks under our Research at the Heart of Brum banner, and engaged around 2,000 people.
We’ll update this page soon with some more quotes and feedback from the public once we’ve had time to crunch the data, but in the meantime, why not get a feel for how things went by checking out the photos below and taking a look at our #HeartofBrum Twitter feed.
For any researchers feeling inspired, our next Heart of Brum outing will be in Welcome Week on 26th September, so why not drop us a line and get involved?
Guest blog post by Jonathan Hall (@jhgeol), Doctoral Researcher in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who received a large grant from the UoB PER Fund to support his Fire & Ice project. Featured image (above): Jonathan Hall delivering leaflets to local entrepreneur Martin Varga at Tungulending .
Earth Science PhD student Jonathan Hall and MSci Geology student Matthew Allison travelled to northern
Iceland in late March to deliver their University of Birmingham PER funded
project, titled TheTjörnes Story: Fire and Ice, which
involved engaging with local community members and tourist facilities to
promote and increase the profile of the world-class geology of the Tjörnes
Jonathan and Matthew undertook a
fieldwork season in summer 2018 mapping the geology of the Tjörnes peninsula
and collecting rock samples for geochemical analysis, as part of their research
projects. During this fieldwork period, they initiated discussions with local
community members about their research and the significance of the Tjörnes
peninsula as an unparalleled geological archive into past climatic events in
the North Atlantic region.
Martin Varga, a local
entrepreneur who owns a guest lodge, café and community hub called
Tungulending, which is located centrally on the peninsula and is a popular
destination for outdoor adventure and educational tours, expressed his interest
in collaborating to produce accessible resources outlining the importance of
the geology, geological history and its present-day utility for scientific
research aimed at visitors and the local community. Martin described how over
5000 visitors explore the peninsula each year to solely experience the geology
and to investigate the unique fossil layers exposed in the low-lying cliffs. He
described his frustration at a lack of information or resources for these
visitors and supported the need for accessible and educational literature
focused on the geology and the fossil-rich strata. Martin believed printed
leaflets would be the most suitable form of media and an appropriate first step
to help inform tourists and the local community to promote the Tjörnes geology.
Upon returning to Birmingham,
Jonathan submitted a UoB PER grant application which successfully secured
funding to produce and deliver leaflets which included vital information on the
location, rock types, fossils, past environments and geological history of the
Tjörnes peninsula. A map was also included highlighting sites where visitors
could observe significant geological features, such as ancient lava flows and
petrified tree remains. Importantly, the leaflets incorporated his research
findings and included diagrams and up-to-date information derived from his current
paper (In Prep.). Jonathan collaborated with an Icelandic graphic designer, Elena
Schneider, who is based in the nearby fishing town of Húsavík, to co-design the
leaflet; Elena formatted the typography, layout and colours to give the leaflet
a distinctive and appealing Nordic theme.
Jonathan and Matthew returned to
Tjörnes in March to deliver the printed leaflets to Tungulending and other
community, educational and tourism outlets. Whilst in Iceland, they presented
and discussed their research and leaflets with a community committee, including
representatives from local businesses, government and the University of
Iceland’s Research Centre in Húsavík, in order to highlight the
international scientific interest in Tjörnes geology, the relevant research
undertaken at the University of Birmingham and to discuss opportunities for
further public engagement. The Tjörnes
Story: Fire and Ice has been a great project to develop important public
engagement and science communication skills for an international audience.
Collaborating with Martin, Elena and other local community stakeholders proved
an exciting prospect, providing inspiration and support, and cumulated in a
successful project which benefited all participants. Discussions are currently
ongoing to seek support and secure additional funding from the Icelandic
Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to develop additional resources,
including visitor notice boards, in order to continue this project to highlight
the significance of the Tjörnes geology.
As well as being a chance to look to the future of engagement and learn new skills, PER Day is also a great opportunity to celebrate and reflect on some of the amazing PER projects already underway. For PER Day 2019 not only were we celebrating the Institutional achievement of being awarded a Silver Engage Watermark, but we also presented our Light of Understanding and Alice Roberts PGR Awards for Excellence in Public Engagement.
The Alice Roberts PGR Award for Excellence in Public Engagement
For 2019 the Alice Roberts PGR Award was presented to Sophie Louth (Formulation Engineering), a participant on the Research Communication and Public Engagement PGCARMS Advanced Skills PGR module who developed a brilliant project called “Hands Up”. Hands Up was a school workshop on medical engineering getting young people to build and test their own limb prosthetics
The judges noted Sophie’s extremely thoughtful and diligent approach; carefully considering the safety requirements of using power tools in a young person’s event whilst ensuring that the workshop would be fun and give participants a really meaningful opportunity to get hands on with her research. The PGCARMs assessment panel were also really impressed with her application of public engagement theory and logic modelling and her use of evaluation.
The Light of Understanding Award for Excellence in Public Engagement
The Light of Understanding is our new Institutional Award to recognise individuals and groups who are carrying out amazing public engagement work. The Award is named after a quote by Sir Peter Medawar, Nobel Laureate and Alumnus of University of Birmingham, who was also a pioneer of research communication and storytelling.
We wanted to create an Award that not only rewards brilliant work, but catalyses more activity and acts as a beacon to be passed to other researchers. Therefore, winners of the Light of Understanding are rewarded with a grant of £2,000 to spend on further public engagement activity that helps spread their good practice to other researchers.
The award was judged by an expert panel consisting of Public Engagement Committee Chairs, Prof Alice Roberts and Prof Ian Grosvenor, Prof Tim Softley, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Helen Featherstone who is a leading national public engagement expert. The panel were so impressed with the number and quality of applications to the scheme, that they decided to award a special commendation to PhD student Liam Crowley (Biosciences) for his portfolio of work promoting the work of our forestry institute, BiFOR, and in particular his work on the successful insect podcast, Entocast. Liam received £250 to spend on further PER activity.
The 2019 Light of Understanding was awarded to the Applied Memory lab who’ve developed a brilliant project call ‘Are You a Good Eyewitness’. The project includes a tourable exhibition which has been used to engage with over 2,000 children at the ThinkTank science museum in Birmingham and a website featuring lots of great images and videos that really bring their research to life. The judges were particularly impressed by their attitude towards involving researchers at different career stages including a team of 24 undergraduates. They also designed their activity so that they can use the data collected directly in their research and the experience has also affected aspects of how they plan to carry out future research. The activity involved a large number of researchers and students, but was led by Prof Heather Flowe, Dr Melissa Colloff and PhD student Danielle Hett and Melissa and some of the students collected their award and told us a little more about their plans to us the £2,000 prize grant to further the reach of this project to children from areas of multiple deprivation.
Congratulations to all our winners! We can’t wait to see where you take your engagement next!
It’s still cold and frosty outside, but PER Team are focusing on Summer. And not just because our office heating is rubbish. We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve booked in our Summer festival tour with four dates around Birmingham:
17th August – Bullring Markets, Birmingham City Centre
We’d love to bring as much of our research activity as possible to the public through these events so please get involved. Even super simple activities work brilliantly and we can help with logistics and support so get in touch to register your interest today. We need to have a clear idea of numbers groups by mid April at the latest so don’t miss out!
We’ve chosen these locations and dates to make the most of British Summer (!!), but more importantly to engage key audiences like local communities and to maximise our exposure. For example, tens of thousands of people pass through the Bullring Markets each Saturday and CoCoMad is expected to attract over 6,000 people from communities close the campus, like Strichley and Cotteridge, but who rarely attend events on campus. In the Autumn we’ll be looking for new venues/locations so let us know if you have an idea for where we should pop up.
More information about Research at the Heart of Brum:
The University of Birmingham has been doing research that matters to Birmingham for over 100 years, but it’s not always easy to know about the amazing work that’s happening. If fact, you probably don’t know that we currently have around 2,500 researchers and thousands of other staff supporting them who are working on developing new solutions to all sorts of problems.
Some of our key research areas
Improving cancer diagnosis and
Transforming the way services treat
Developing sustainable cities with
minimal environmental impact
Exploring the mysteries of the
universe through gravitational waves
Creating safer and more efficient
Unravelling myths around migration
and supporting integration
Making the invisible visible with
Challenging the misconceptions of
And much, much more.
Research in the Heart of Brum is
about bringing our research to life so you can get hands-on with the pioneers
behind it and tell us what you think about the work we’re doing. So get
involved and be curious!
It’s November; the time for underwhelming Christmas markets and for Public Engagement professionals UK-wide to get together and partyshare best practice at the annual Engage Conference, which for 2018 has moved from Bristol to Edinburgh. And delegates from the UoB PER Team were in the mood for a large glass of ‘best practice’ last night as Professor Tim Softley (PVC, Research) and Dr Eliot Marston (Head of Strategic Projects and Partnerships in MDS, and long-time champion of UoB Public Engagement), accepted a Silver Engage Watermark Award on behalf of the Institution (if you’re interested in our acceptance video, see here, the UoB press release is hereand NCCPE blog post is here). The Watermark Award, sometimes likened to an ‘Athena Swann for PER’ recognises the commitment to Public Engagement at UoB and also challenges us to further embed it throughout the fabric of our research environment.
The NCCPE (National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement), which is the national body that assesses and grants Watermark Awards, praised our commitment to PER, recognising the incredible hard work of Research Engagement Officer, Caroline Gillett, and excellent support schemes, such as Leading to Engage (L2E) (which will be relaunching in the new year). But we know there’s more to do. We’ve created a Watermark Action Plan in which we have outlined a range of commitments to improve and expand our support for high quality engagement, such as a new Award (watch this space for details), more training opportunities, like our Creative Engagement which starts with Graphic Engagement on 6th December, plus much more that you’ll be hearing about in the coming weeks and months. So now we’re off to raise a glass or two to every single one of you who has been involved with doing or supporting engagement at UoB, the Watermark is for all your hard work in bringing amazing research to the public. Cheers!
But that’s not all we’ve got to celebrate – read on to hear about the 2018 winner of the Medical and Dental Sciences Early Career (PERCAT) Excellence in Public Engagement Award, plus of course our usual plethora of opportunities and events to take you into an engaging 2019.
Join the University of Birmingham Public Engagement with Research team (Dr Caroline Gillett & Dr Leah Fitzsimmons) for the first in our new series of standalone creative workshops aimed at showcasing how innovative collaborations between researchers and others artists/creatives/makers can open doors to engaging new audiences with the amazing work that researchers do.
This workshop focuses on ‘Graphic Engagement’ i.e. collaborations with graphic artists, illustrators, comic enthusiasts etc. You’ll hear directly from four University of Birmingham researchers already carrying out such collaborations, though all are at slightly different stages of development. Some are still starting out, whilst others are building on previous work that has been successful.
Prof Jonathan Reinarz (History of Medicine) – discussing his Forged by Fire project that covers research on burns injury and identity in Britain c.1800-2000.
Dr Christalla Yakinthou (Political Science) – discussing her short graphic novel which focuses on storytelling & conflict transformation in deeply divided, post-war countries.
Dr Tom Dunkley Jones (Earth & Environmental Science) – discussing his work with a manga artist to bring to life the evolution of the Earth’s climate & marine ecosystems.
Dr Amaury Triaud (Physics) – discussing how bandes dessinées (comic strips) and graphic design can bring recent Astronomy discoveries such as TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets to a novel audience, engaging them with the research content.
In addition, we are pleased to also welcome Pen Mendonça an independent graphic facilitator and cartoonist with over 20 years’ experience of facilitating public engagement. Pen has just submitted her PhD which developed the new mode of ‘values-based cartooning’ as a research method, employed here for a study of single motherhood. She will share insights on this alongside our researchers.
Image Credit (Header): Graphic facilitation by Pen Mendonca at Southwark Untold with Pempeople and LITC, Tate Modern, London 2018.
WHEN: Thursday 6th December, 2018
WHERE: The Civil & Mechnical Engineering building, room G36 – this is located in Yellow (Y3) the campus map visible here. More general directions on how to travel on to campus y bus, train or car can be found here.
TIME: 11:45-15:00, starting promptly at noon.
Further details can be found on the Eventbrite page HERE
Researchers at the University of Birmingham are looking for volunteers with an engineering background to support an exciting STEM outreach project for local primary school students. This is a national project to create the opening ceremony of an international manufacturing conference at the ICC on 18th Aug 2019. As part of the ceremony the organisers want to break the world record for the number of people playing a piano at the same time, currently 88. The Birmingham Conservatoire are partnering on the project and have composed a piece to be premiered as part of the record breaking attempt. Fitting this many people around a piano is a significant challenge, which it is hoped the children will help to solve by creating a device to allow people to press the keys remotely.
Volunteers will go into local schools to help children design and develop their devices during the autumn and spring terms this academic year using kits and resources developed by the organisers. All volunteers will also be offered full training, which will take place at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on the 21st October.
It’s mid-2018, which means that REF 2021 is looming large. If you’re a stranger to REF, or the Research Excellence Framework (lucky you!), then let me explain. There are around 162 Higher Education establishments in the UK in receipt of Government funding. Those establishments employ around 500,000 staff, including about 200,000 researchers and serve a population of around 2.3 million students, based on recent data. Different Institutions can be vastly different in all sorts of ways so central funding is allocated according to ‘excellence’, but how on earth is that possible to quantify? For one research area ‘excellent’ might be one paper every decade, but leading to a fundamental change to the way we live or understand the world many years hence. For others ‘excellent’ might be small, iterative changes to process that incrementally improve peoples lives, but whose ripples are (intentionally) almost imperceptible. Well REF tries to do just that. It takes into account the obvious things, like publications, normalises data as far as possible, like splitting subjects into defined groups, adjusting for staff numbers etc and then tries to divvy up who the most and least excellent are.
But REF also tries to take into consideration the wider research culture and effect of research on society, by assessing ‘impact’. Put simply, this is a measure of how big an effect the research has had outside of academia. Be it through engaging with the public and impacting behaviour, perceptions and attitudes or through commercialising research to make business more efficient or effective or in influencing policy to ensure that legislation is in line with the most up-to-date evidence. Now, whilst trying to fairly assess and compare over 150 fundamentally different institutions according to their publication records is very difficult, trying to also take into account and quantify all of the myriad possible effects on anyone and everyone outside of the walls of academia is nigh-on impossible. All of this means that the guidelines and process for REF are revised each time to try and make sure they’re fair and reflect current best practice. The Draft Guidelines for REF 2021 were published in July and are open for consultation until October.
So what does this mean for public engagement? Obviously public engagement is a key way in which research can have an impact on society it’s also a very broad church. This means PER can be difficult to define and in some instances can be tricky to evidence and evaluate in the same way as other impacts like, for example, business agreements. So it’s important that the REF Guidance around Public Engagement works well and positively reinforces PER as an intrinsic part of research excellence. The risk is, if the guidance makes it difficult for assessors to understand or recognise all of the types of brilliant public engagement and their importance, Universities who include more innovative types of high-quality engagement will do worse than those who minimise the inclusion of PER. That in turn could discourage institutional support for PER and diminish its perceived value. So on 14th September the NCCPE arranged a meeting for around 100 Public Engagement and REF heads from across the UK to get together and thrash out the new guidance.
So what happened? Well, we talked, and ruminated and discussed and confabulated and got passionate (yes, really, about REF Guidelines!) because this really is a tough thing to get right. But in short there were a few key take-homes:
Public Engagement is conspicuously absent. Whilst the few explicit mentions of PER are positive and seemingly intentionally vague, which leaves plenty of room for the inclusion of different types of engagement, this could also leave a lot of room for variation in how engagement is recognised and assessed.
Annex A could try harder. Whilst the inclusion of Annex A (essentially a great, big list of different types of indicators or evidence to support impact types, including engagement) was widely praised, the NCCPE suggested that separating these indicators into three categories and then re-jigging the table accordingly, could make the assessment of impacts, especially those arising from PER, more fair and consistent.
Not all engagement is created equal. Just like research, some PER is easier than others, and it doesn’t always correlate that reaching the most people, or getting those most feedback means bigger impact. Working intensively with a few local people might be more impactful than going on the radio to millions, but not always perceived as such. Some audiences might take much more work than others and sometimes engagement is about getting lucky or a sudden change in what’s newsworthy. The NCCPE suggest that equality and diversity issues and the rigour taken in the approach (as well as the robustness of the evidence) should be explicitly included in the guidelines. Though the response in the room was quite mixed, it was predominantly negative and it was instead thought that the focus should be on all claims being supported by detailed and robust evidence.
The REF 2021 Guidance Consultation is open until noon on 15th October and the final guidance will be published in early 2019.
The University of Birmingham has been doing research that matters to Birmingham for over 100 years, but it’s not always easy for those outside of the institution to find out about the amazing work that’s happening. Unless you work here or know someone that does, you probably don’t know that we currently have around 2,500 researchers and thousands of other staff supporting them who are working on developing new solutions to all sorts of problems. ‘Research at the Heart of Brum’ is a new initiative to connect members of public with our research through pop-up events where people can get hands-on with the work we do and meet the brilliant people who do the research. Our firs event will be on the 6th October 2018 and will take place on the main concourse of Birmingham New Street Station* between 11am and 3pm, and we’ll be holding a research market where we’ll be showcasing everything from mental health research to particle physics. So get involved and be curious!
Here’s snapshot of what to expect on the day:
Physics – did you know that researchers in Birmingham are world-leaders in work to understand how the Universe works? We’ll have a real working particle detector, you’ll be able to see live data from a Nasa mission and you’ll even be able to create your own black hole with one of the teams that helped with Nobel Prize winning research in gravitational waves.
Youth mobility – what’s the best way to support young people to make the best decisions in life? Help trial a new area of research and give your input with Dr Sarah Brookes-Wilson who will be bringing her prototype Youth Journey Cards.
Dentistry – we spend a lot of time cleaning our teeth, but not much time thinking about what that cleaning is taking away and what it might leave behind. Join our dentistry researchers to build your own bacterial biofilm, find out how to blast dental bugs away and learn how fillings are being made simpler.
Maths – what if everything around us was interactive through touch? Feel the force of our haptics research that is set to change how we interact with the world in the Birmingham of the future.
Mental health – we think being an adult is just about being over 18, but our brains continue to develop right up to the age of 25. Join our researchers to find out how we all interpret risk differently and how this can affect every decision we make.
Linguistics – what happens when words are not enough to describe a situation? Join researchers to experience the power of language and how finding the right words can help people to come to terms with experiences grief and loss.
Cancer Treatments – meet our Cancer Research UK researchers who’ll have all sorts of hands-on demonstrations to show how Birmingham research is helping to develop new personalised therapies and get them to those who need them most through clinical trials.
Psychology – the human brain can store some information for decades. So why does memory cause so many problems in the justice system? Eye-witness statements can be massively inaccurate even when the witness is certain about what they saw. Test your memory and find out why our brains play tricks.