Academics have long been accused of intellectual isolation – locked away in Ivory Towers, unable to find a ‘lingua franca’ with the layman. However, teaching and dissemination are fundamental roles of researchers.
Engaging with the public has numerous benefits to the researcher, their university and the public. Engaging with a wider audience promotes open, public discourse on your topic, it can create a swell of interest in your subject area, regardless of how complex your research may seem (the physicist Brain Cox is the best example). Public engagement can also give you a platform to inform the public about issues that relate to their everyday life (see Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Bad Pharma) and thus help countless people. Lastly, if nothing else, remember that funding bodies are increasingly interested in how well researchers can involve and engage the public.
Since entering the world of academia around a year ago, I have attempted to engage with the public as much as possible. Below are my suggested avenues, most of which I have done or am currently doing.
A direct, tangible and interactive way to engage with public. Initially I was held back by the inaccurate belief that no platform existed for me to speak. Below are the best ways for almost anyone to deliver a public talk:
- FameLab: ‘FameLab is a communications competition designed to engage and entertain by breaking down science, technology and engineering concepts into three minute presentations.’ My Famelab presentation is available here
- Skeptics in the Pub: A weekly discussion and talk is held every week debunking commonly held beliefs that are not upheld by evidence.
- 3 minute thesis: PhD (DPhil) students have 3 minutes to summarise their 50,000 – 100,000 word thesis! This competition is available at universities all around the UK and the world.
Teaching school kids
- I’m a Scientist, get me out of here! An online event where school children ask questions to scientists. A great way to educate and inspire young children.
- Engage with school teachers: Sarah Pannell is a biology teacher at Lingfield Notre Dame School, she is also an Honorary Fellow at the CEBM, Oxford. Together, she and the CEBM are developing and piloting EBM teaching material in schools – see the EinSTein project.
- Blog about conferences you attend:
- Blog about books you read:
- Blog about medical experiences:
- Blog about your academic conundrums:
My engagement with the public has been thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable. Ultimately, I consider it an academic’s job to disseminate research findings and inform.