@Science_Grrl @gemgemloulou I'm currently 'application-bombing' all things science/public-engagement/communication/internships/jobs!
— lauren tedaldi (@LaurenTedaldi) November 29, 2013
The next morning I had a meeting with the Head of Department about setting up a blog and Twitter account for the department (something I’d not had the courage to bring up before) and sent out emails to Outreach, Public Engagment, Widening Participation and our Marketting department. I basically set out my interests, who I was and asked if I could perhaps spend a day shadowing them. Most got back to me pretty quickly with suggestions of who else I should speak to or explanations that watching them work would not be that exciting. However, our (lovely) public engagement department informed me that although watching them read and send hundreds of emails would be quite dull, I could potentially sit in on their following day of meetings with the Francis Crick Institute (aka 'The Crick') the next day. The Crick is a consortium of research organisations that will investigate cutting edge medical research as a partnership. Eventually they'll be based in King's Cross, London, but before they've built the institute itself they are running the Science Museum Lates in February and, as one of the Crick’s partners, some KCL research groups are presenting their work to the public. After checking with all the involved participants, I was allowed to ‘lurk’ at these meetings. This was quite exciting for me as the Science Museum has featured rather heavily in some recent life choices! I won’t spoil the surprises but there’s going to be some really exciting and entertaining work demonstrated at the event and I’d urge you all to go. It will be focussed on the future of biomedical discovery and will therefore be relevant to everyone as new advances and developments in medicine will effect us all, scientist or not.
During my public-engagement-sponsored loitering, not only did I get an insight into some of the varied work going on at my institution, something that is often surprisingly rare, but I also got to understand more about the logistics of such big public engagement projects.
The KCL public engagement department representative* wasn’t just there as a mediator but asked insightful questions to ensure that the real scientific messages weren’t lost in attention grabbing (but scientifically dubious) titles and experiments. Fundamentally, their experience lies in these events and they made sure that the researchers kept ‘on-message’ for the event and didn’t just present their research how they wanted to. This is a key point: If we want to discuss our reseach with the public, which I think we should, then we need to come at it from their point of view – What do they want to know about it? What are the key messages for them? This will probably not be them same as the key messages you want to get across for a journal but more general, although more concise and more about, dare I use the word, the impact of your research – i.e. Who cares?
A lot of question at the meetings focussed on logistics – Will I be on a stage looking down towards an audience or on one level? What equipment do you need? How many electrical sockets can I have? These questions were all tied up in how they could best present their ideas tailored to the event. It’s all very well to have an elaborate set-up but, if you have 45 minutes to prepare and it all needs to come home with you on the tube, you might rethink your plan to erect an intricate version of the large hadron collider made entirely out of cheese…. (BTW:I would fund this and would recommend halloumi - sculptable yet with some 'give')
With less than 90 minutes between meetings, the representatives from the Crick hotfooted it back to their offices in Euston on the bus and then all the way back to Waterloo. I got the impression that they’re really busy and commited to pouring their efforts into making this a very exciting event (see previous comment about 'You should definitely go').
In one meeting, I finally met a member of staff* who is heavily involved in all things public engagement/outreach-y in my wider department. She was exhausted from her involvement in getting an experiment sent into space the night before but was full of energy and enthusiasm for her next project. Before I’d left, she’d offered to let me get involved in another outreach event in March – timed to ensure that I could still be involved if my contract doesn’t get extended. Yet again, someone was going out of their way to help me and give me some advice. I was really touched.
My 'take home message' today is that if your interested in doing some work with the public, be that at schools, museums or festivals, tell your public engagment department, tell your Head of Department and pretty soon you'll probably find an exhausted (but fulfilled) member of staff who's more than happy to let you help.
Anyway, I've got to go, I've got an event to plan...
N.B. If you're already doing something with the public, make sure your institution knows about it as well, a big problem for co-ordinating this sort of work is that we tend to keep things 'extra-curricular' under our hats. By doing this, you make it seem like it's unusual and not worthy of promotion.
*I haven't named the kindly folk who helped me out this week as I don't want them to be inundated with requests for help that they will be too nice to turn down. Also, they're my friendly strangers - get your own!