Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement

Hands Passing Baton at Sporting Event

Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement is an exciting pilot opportunity for five UoB researchers enthusiastic about public engagement to take part in a pay-it-forward programme that will boost their own public engagement, mentorship and team building skills. The opportunity has two stages:

Stage 1:

Researchers will travel as a group alongside Dr Caroline Gillett (Public Engagement with Research Officer) and Jon Wood (Science Communicator) to participate in an all-day practical workshop focused on public engagement organized by British Interactive Group (BIG) on Tuesday 24 November in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The workshop will cover the Who, What, Where, When and How of running workshops for academics at various career stages. We’ll share good practise, learn from other people’s mistakes and develop a toolkit of example activities to use in our own training. Researchers are encouraged to bring along their own public engagement experiences to share and any challenges they’ve encountered too.


Stage 2:

Researchers will bring back the activities and training learned to together develop a practical public engagement workshop for UoB staff and students next year. Thus researchers will be able to put the training they have received at the BIG workshop in to real world practice, gaining valuable skills in workshop management and paying-it-forward to fellow colleagues and students. This second stage will be organized through informal meet-ups on campus to brainstorm ideas and prep materials for a workshop next year. The group will discuss how best to organize these meet-ups at a dinner held post-workshop on Nov 24th.



Caroline Gillett

Dr Caroline Gillett (Public Engagement with Research Officer)

Hello! My name is Caroline and I’ve recently re-joined the University as part of the RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund, taking on a new role as Public Engagement with Research (PER) Officer. I’m based centrally in the Planning Office but I also hot-desk across MDS, EPS and CAL, as I feel it’s really useful to integrate myself within the different Colleges to get to know people right across the University as part of my role. I’m hoping CoSS and LES will find me a free hot-desk soon too!

My colleagues in the Research Planning team lead the important work on impact for the REF agenda, working closely with researchers to build their impact case studies and research profile. I’ve joined this team to encourage researchers to think of public engagement as a useful pathway to impact. As part of our RCUK Catalyst Seed funding, I’m working on projects that aim to create momentum for culture change around public engagement with research. Pay-it-Forward with Public Engagement is one of the projects I’m piloting!

I’ve previously worked as a Public Engagement Coordinator delivering a major external facing project, Think Corner. This was a three week pop-up space in the city centre used to showcase University of Birmingham research to the public. I’ve also organized workshops and other events focused on public engagement such as the two day ‘Engagement in Research’ event which took place in June 2014. In addition to this I’ve also spent time volunteering, interning and working in the arts, where I have helped coordinate and deliver events and major festivals in liaison, production and programme coordinator roles.

My own research background is in Psychology. I have completed MRes and PhD degrees in Cognitive Neuroscience. My interests were in the cognitive and neural processes underpinning interpersonal movement also known as joint action i.e. what enables individuals to share motor representations, to predict actions, and to integrate predicted effects of own and others’ actions, thereby allowing people to coordinate movements together, for instance during synchronization.

I’m really thrilled to be helping develop our Catalyst Seed projects and to be part of this exciting new phase in the University’s commitment to public engagement with research! I’m looking forward to working with Jon (he’s great at what he does!) and also excited to meet the five researchers we’ll be taking with us!


Jon Wood (Science Communicator)

Jon is the Byrne Outreach Fellow in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. He brings workshops to schools and public audiences on all aspects of Chemical Engineering research.

His background is in Biomedical Sciences, Microbiology, Psychology, Neuroscience, and he has published research in teaching and interests in history. He is often invited to speak on how Science links with Arts and how to address gender stereotypes in science and engineering. Jon also regularly presents science for BBC at live events throughout the UK.

Having specialised in public engagement methods, Jon has first hand experience of many ways of translating your research. He has delivered public engagement training to researchers at all levels at University of Birmingham and for external societies. He is able to help you find your message, locate your audience and then explore innovative ways of bringing one to the other.

Our five researchers…

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 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 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.