The Engaging Researcher by Vitae

15 May 2016

As part of our doctoral training programme, we have to attend a certain number of courses every year. Honestly, many of the courses need a lot of improving to be worth the time that they take (a lot of the time it's stating the obvious - you may notice that from some of my notes below, and future posts about courses), but I try to be optimistic (as they are compulsory!) and take away at least one very useful thing. Here is what I learnt about public engagement on this one-day course from Vitae. Most of what is written below has been taken directly from their handouts.

  • Download a really nice graphic here which gives a concise yet detailed list of qualities that Vitae think make a well-rounded researcher. I would say this is the one very useful thing I took away from the day.

  • Three types of motivation for public engagement:

    • Transmit: to inspire, inform, change, educate, build capacity, and involvelment or influence decisions of the public e.g. science festivals, exhibitions, open days, websites.

    • Receive: to use the views, skills, experience and knowledge of the public to inspire, inform, change, educate, or build your own capacity or decisions e.g. surveys, focus groups

    • Collaborate: to collaborate, consider, create or decide something together with the public e.g. conversations, partnership working, open space events

  • Reasons why you may want to engage with the public:

    • Developing your skills

    • Stimulating research creativity and innovation

    • Enriching your career

    • Motivating - inspiring you and your research

    • Enhancing your research quality and its impact

    • Gaining new research perspectives

    • Raising your personal and instituational profile

    • Influencing and networking opportunities

    • Helping to build trust

    • Forming collaborations and partnerships

    • Enjoyment and personal reward

    • Increasing awareness of the value of research

    • Increasing student recruitment

    • Inspiring the next generation of researchers

    • Accessing more funding

  • There are three different learning styles. Remember to think about all of these when planning how to engage your audience:

    • Kinaesthetic

    • Visual

    • Auditory

  • Evaluation process:

    • Aim: what do you want to achieve? The big picture.

    • Objectives: what you need to do to achieve your aim

    • Evaluation questions: what do you want to know?

    • Methodology: what strategy will you use?

    • Data collection: what techniques will you use to collect your evidence?

    • Data analysis: how will you analyse your data?

    • Reporting: who will be reading your report?

  • The Disney Technique: a creative strategy

    • Dreamer > Realist > Critic

    • I quite like the idea of this and I think I do this a lot myself. I think big and then set realistic targets.

  • Networking is a key skill in developing yourself as an engaging researcher. Some of the benefits of networking:

    • Exchange information and keep up-to-date with new developments

    • Secure personal, political or mangerial support for your work

    • Identify potential areas for collaboration

    • Establish disciplinary, cross-disciplinary cross-instituational and cross-sector special interest groups

    • Get published and receive referrals

    • Explore career options

    • Raise your profile and that of your research

  • Simple tip: don't use jargon!

  • There are a large number of oppotunities to engage with the general public, for example:

    • Giving talks at local and national organisations about your research area

    • Running or contributing to adult education courses

    • Contributing to open days and other school outreach activities

    • Taking part in writing or poster competitions

    • Joining a national scheme like STEM ambassadors to go into schools

    • Writing a press release or blog about your research ;)

  • Consider the following very useful list of questions when engaging with any audience, as each is unique.

    • How do members of your public see themselves?

    • Where do they come from? What age group are they? How diverse is the group in terms of gender, ethnicity and disability? what would be your expectations of the household incomes, occupations and educational backgrounds of public members?

    • How much does the public already know about your topic? What does the public know about you? How do they view you?

    • What attitudes or misconceptions is the public likely to have about the topic? Has there been media coverage of the topic and should they believe everything they have read in the papers? What papers have they read?

    • What is your relationship to the public? What attitude do you expect the public to have towards you? What can you do to build a bridge between yourself and the public?

    • What kind of information is important to this public? How are they likely to use the information they are given?

    • What kind of approach will this public expect? e.g. formal, informal, academic lecture, conversational etc.

    • What motivates the public? What makes your public tick? What are they enthusiastic about?

    • What might you expect to gain from this public?

  • SMART objectives

    • Specific

    • Measurable

    • Achievable

    • Realistic

    • Time defined

  • Always have a 'wow factor' in your title or description to entice the public.

I hope these notes will be useful for someone!

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