PER Day 2016 – What we learnt and what we need to do moving forward

Written by Rachel Kahn*, third-year Medical Sciences student and PER Day volunteer


On the 15th December 2016, the Public Engagement with Research Committee welcomed postgraduate students, researchers and engagement funders to a day exploring how public engagement works here at the University, creating a space to open up dialogue and make suggestions of how we want the sector to be shaped in the future.

To begin the day, we explored some of the public engagement already happening at the University. We heard from some of our ‘Leading 2 Engage Champions’ in each of the respective colleges and what they do to create opportunities for engagement with the public. The insightful sessions provided stories of engagement, also highlighting the challenges faced in trying to engage, including the barrier to participation in particular communities. Our champions provide great engagement guidance and can always be contacted for further information regarding public engagement activities.

wt-3-aimsAn important part of the day involved hearing from some of public engagement enablers, to look at how the culture of public engagement with research is changing. We had representative from Research Councils UK, the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England. A number of important lessons were taken away from these sessions.

  • Chloe Sheppard from Wellcome spoke of ‘must-do’, ‘smart to do’ and ‘wise to do’ engagement and how to decipher between engagement that belongs in research costs, and engagement that warrants its own funding.
  • We had a look at how Public Engagement had developed over the previous ten years, highlighting some of the positive developments such as the increasing numbers of institutions embedding engagement in their wider strategic framework. Undoubtedly we still have some way to go, but this was great to show what has been done over the last ten years.
  • We also considered the idea of collaborative engagement between artists and researchers and the benefits of bringing these two sectors together.

Our afternoon panel included Dr Jenni Chambers, Chloe Sheppard, Kate Pryor-Williams, Professor Alice Roberts, Professor Tim Softley and Professor Saul Becker and allowed us to discuss what we want looking forward to the future. Some of the ideas spoken about included the idea of interdisciplinary engagement, access to funding for engagement, embedding public engagement in promotion criteria and bringing public engagement in as an essential component of the research cycle. It was clear that public engagement is a key agenda for a number of funders, but also across the university and we hope this continues to flourish over the coming years.

bertie-beeIt only makes sense for the day to finish with some active engagement and that’s exactly what we did. Our audience either created their own public engagement demo in 30 minutes, or were had a discussion about how to evaluate TV programming both worthwhile and enjoyable sessions.

Our third annual Public Engagement with Research day was successful, bringing people across disciplines together to discuss how we can further embed public engagement into what we do at the University. We hope you enjoyed the day and would love to hear further suggestions of how you think public engagement to continue to flourish here in Birmingham.



*About Rachel:

Rachel is in the third year of her Medical Science degree at the UoB. She has a passion for healthcare and medical research. Over the past year or two Rachel has been increasingly drawn into science communication and public engagement, something she has found rather fun!

In 2016, Rachel spent summer time interning at Wellcome Trust in their Engaging Science department and she has also worked behind the scenes at L’oreal’s ‘Women in Science’ awards as a reporter. She also writes for UoB’s student publication ‘Redbrick‘. If you are a UoB student looking to get some friendly advice on how to get started doing public engagement or would like to find out more about her internship experience, find her on Twitter @rachellk96.

[PERC wishes to thank Rachel for generously volunteering her time to help the PER Officer with the coordination of our annual event and for putting her reporting skills to good use handling our social media channel on the day! Many thanks, Rachel!]