By Kristina Gruzdeva

As a part of my training, I attended two very different public engagement events: a debate organised by the UoB and a talk in a local pub.

On 19 April 2018, I attended the Vice-Chancellor’s Great Debate aimed at bringing together professionals and academics to discuss topical issues. This time, Brexit was a theme of the debate. The event was open to everyone curious as to what the future holds for the UK.

I was excited about being able to attend the Debate because results of Brexit negotiations will directly impact the future of my family, and, at the same time, I wanted to learn about attitudes towards Brexit in the audience.

The panel of experts included Professor Anand Menon, Lord Michael Heseltine, James McGrory and Richard Tice[1]. Ritula Shah, journalist and news presenter on BBC Radio, was a debate moderator. The debate was built around several issues in the Brexit negotiations: the Irish border, UK higher education and migration. Right from the beginning, it was clear that Michael Heseltine and James McGrory favour saying in the EU, while Richard Tice supports hard Brexit. Professor Anand Menon took a neutral approach to the discussion. This was an unusual structure of a debate.

Throughout the evening, I constantly felt there was something missing. This event promised “to be a lively debate with questions from the floor”, but most of the questions were prepared in advance and the panellist answered only two unplanned questions. The chosen format left little room for spontaneous interaction between the panel of experts and the audience. In addition, I think, the moderator could have done more to stop one of the panellist from pushing his political propaganda.

On 12 June 2018, I attended a pub talk at the Gunmakers Arms brew which was organised by the West Midlands Psychology group. Rebecca Wheeler, a lecturer and a PhD student at the Birmingham City University presented her research on the techniques encouraging the witness to cooperate with police. The event was attracted about 10 pub visitors (manly men). There also was a group of PhD students who came over to support Rebecca.

Due to problems with the projector, the event started 40 minutes later than anticipated, but it did not spoil my experience. Rebecca started her talk asking the audience what they know about witnessing and whether anyone helped police in the past. Rebecca also joked about the night when she was putting the slides together and that created an instant emotional connection between her and people in the pub.

Rebecca used accessible language to describe the theoretical framework of her research and explained why the findings may be important for police. In my childhood, I was very much interested in Psychology, I even studied four Psychology-related modules at the undergraduate level; Rebecca’s talk reinforced my interest in this subject. The talk was followed up by a Q&A session where a former policeman criticised the research for being “fundamentally flawed” but, I think, Rebecca responded to his comment very diplomatically.

[1] For more information about the members of the expert panel please visit: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/events/events/VC-Great-Debate.aspx