Based on the NCCPE definition, public engagement can be described as a two-way process of sharing the activity and benefits of higher education with the public towards producing mutual benefit. I got into public engagement for two reasons. Firstly, to share my research with the public. Secondly, to inspire young people especially girls to pursue science careers.
My first taste of public engagement was in 2017 as a volunteer for Soapbox Science, a global science outreach event which aims to promote the visibility of #WomenInScience (I wrote about my Soapbox Science experience here). Following on from volunteering at Soapbox Science Brighton in 2017, I was a speaker for the 2018 edition and in 2019, I was part of the organising team for Soapbox Science Lagos (Nigeria). I was also an activity demonstrator for the 2019 edition of Big Bang Fair South East which is the largest STEM gathering for school children in the region.
My Soapbox Science Brighton 2018 Presentation
Photo credit: Soapbox Science Brighton
I have found participating in public engagement rewarding in the following aspects:
It has made it easier to communicate my research to lay audiences. This was especially useful when preparing my university’s 2018 3-Minute Thesis competition where I won the People’s Choice Award.
It has helped me appreciate the wider impact of my research.
The opportunity to inspire scientific curiosity in everyday people on the streets who have no absolutely no idea what my research is about.
Boost to my professional profile such as features on the University of Brighton and Soapbox Science websites.
Here are my top tips for anyone considering going into public engagement.
Have a plan. How do you want the talk to go? Will you be using any props or electronic media? Tailor your talk to match your audience. Personally, I find it helpful to write a script as it helps me direct the flow of my presentation.
Prepare and practise – herein lies the secret to delivering a great presentation. Practising before a friendly audience who act as your sounding board could help ensure clear and concise communication with minimal jargon.
Enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, public engagement is supposed to be fun. You’ve done the science and prep, all that is left is to enjoy the show. Remember that your talk does not have to be perfect, it just has to get the job done i.e. communicating science.
Make room for surprises. No matter how prepared you are, things could still go wrong e.g. props failing or even an unexpected question from the audience. In such cases, quick thinking is needed. Case in point – see video below.
That’s it from me! Wishing you a fruitful adventure in the wonderful world of public engagement…