Public engagement: in our researchers' own words
Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.
National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement
We strongly believe in sharing our passion for research.
Our postgraduate researchers engage pro-actively with the wider public through outreach and public engagement activities at schools and science fairs and by using media to make higher education more accessible. If you'd like our support for your event, please contact email@example.com.
The “Metabuddies” scheme is a bespoke programme developed by XM2 postgraduate researchers to engage year 9–12 students with research and learning at higher education institutions.
It can consist of a series of visits to local schools to:
- discuss daily life as a researcher;
- give a seminar on metamaterials, including a talk on specific research areas;
- answer pre-prepared Physics questions from the students;
- initiate and support a research challenge for small groups of students. This involves a 3-week independent group activity, including designing a poster on their challenge, followed by a visit to the University of Exeter to present their work.
Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can support students at your school.
In June last year, one of our CDT researchers, Lauren Barr, took part in an international outreach event in Exeter – Soapbox Science. This is what Lauren had to say about the event, after all the adrenaline had worn off:
"Imagine you are standing in the middle of a bustling city centre on a Saturday afternoon, perched on top of a small wooden box that used to contain soap, with nothing but your voice and a few objects to grab the attention of busy shoppers hurrying past. That’s the challenge of Soapbox Science!
Luckily, it was exciting scientific research I wanted to talk to people about, and plenty were more than happy to spend some time listening to what I, and the 11 other female scientists, had to say. In fact, around 1200 people stopped to listen over the day, with many more catching a glimpse as they passed by.
I spent one hour (although it seemed to fly past) on The Box, talking about a concept I have been studying during my PhD – chirality. This is a property of objects that have no mirror symmetry, such as our hands and our DNA. I had a selection of props to help me explain this idea, including examples of molecules made of the same atoms that are arranged to give opposite chirality, making them smell completely different! This illustrated that chirality is very important when it comes to molecules that we eat or breathe. Then I explained how we can tell if something is chiral when it is too small to see, by using circularly polarised light, and talked about how we can use metamaterials to better understand how this works.
I had a lot of fun, but I think the biggest challenge was adapting the way I explained the physics, based on who had stopped to listen at that moment. I tried to give each person a little fact that they could understand straight away, or catch their attention with a question or challenge, so they might stay and listen a bit longer. I was really impressed with some of the questions I got from very eager audience members, and so pleased that many stayed to listen even when the rain started!
The event runs every year in Exeter in June, and if you would like to take part I’m happy to offer some more information and advice!"
Learn more about Soapbox Science: www.soapboxscience.org
The Brilliant Club is an award winning chairty which aims to increase the number of pupils from under-represented backgrounds progressing to highly-selective universities by mobilising the PhD
community to share its academic expertise with state schools.
Liam Trimby, XM2 PGR, successfully passed an interview and a 2 day training course to volunteer for the Club. Here's a summary of his experience:
"I created my own highly applied 6-week course in electromagnetics pitched at A-level difficulty, and was assigned to a group of 12 year 10 students in Yeovil whom I taught for 2 hours every week for 6 weeks.
My motivation: Teaching undergraduate classes has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my PhD. When I came across the Brilliant Club I was curious, and then became very interested once I learnt I could design my own syllabus full of experiments.
I was also in exactly the same position as these students when I was their age, and I really like the idea of widening participation in university education for students from under-represented backgrounds.
This involved teaching theory and conducting experiments to see how well theory matched reality. The students built: lemon batteries, electromagnets, DC motors, a mag-lev train, an AC generator, and a basic railgun.
It was my responsibility to give feedback and to set weekly homeworks, as well as a major 2,000 word assignment similar in style to a piece of undergraduate coursework, which I subsequently marked. One of the assignments was genuinely excellent, and would probably pass even at undergrad level!
All of my students graduated from my short course with a ceremony at Bristol University.
I think the most enjoyable part was conducting the practical experiments because the students were so engaged and excited with what they were doing.
What I have learned… ?
… how challenging it is to know exactly how much a student has understood, and what they are still uncertain over! I think my ability to determine someone’s understanding is what improved most."
Visit the Physics at Exeter youtube channel for short videos like this one explaining key concepts and questions in physics.