In this post, Eleni Wood from the Open University provides us with some reflections on the Engaging Research training course run earlier this year.
The Engaging Research training was more like play than actual work, but the fact that the week was fun doesn’t mean that the skills and discussions we had during the training weren’t really valuable and important. Over recent years, the change in weighting of required research outputs has given importance to disseminating our science to audiences outside of our academic spheres. A lack of wider audience engagement can even impact on whether your research gets funded or not. As PhD students, at the beginnings of our academic careers, we are at an advantageous point where we can decide if we want to incorporate engagement activities into our work and really embrace this movement from the outset.
For me the answer to the question “should I spend time engaging people with my research?” is an easy one. I’ve always found communicating my science to a non-specialist audience very rewarding for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is just something magic about seeing the penny drop for people, especially when you’re explaining the bizarre and complex concepts behind the formation of metamorphism of rocks. But on top of this I have had some fascinating conversations, which help me work out what are the most important aspects of my research and have prompted me on how I could maybe direct my research in the future.
The workshop did a fantastic job of giving us skill sets that left us confident in our abilities to produce and star in our own short films. On the other hand, it also prompted interesting discussions about whether PhD students have time to engage. The main issue is that we are all time pressured and the main goal of a PhD is the thesis and accompanying papers. It’s very likely that you might feel like you have no time to squeeze in a talk here or a workshop there. However, the workshop highlighted that there are a multitude of different techniques and approaches you can use to engage people in your research. Your engagement and communication could be a simple as a blog post, or tweeting silly pictures of you doing your lab work (my twitter feed… all the time). Or go nuts and get creative!
On reflection it was a brilliant workshop, with some top class guidance, plus we ended up with some side-splitting outtakes. If you’re interested – particularly in short film making skills, or brushing up on interview technique – I’d definitely recommend booking yourself onto this workshop the next time around!
P.S. I’m now taking the plunge and starting up a new podcast all about fieldwork – stay tuned and wish me luck!
To hear about Jasmine’s experience of the course, check out her blog post here.