Juggling your research and trying something new may seem quite difficult and daunting to even attempt.
But if you’re planning your next academic year and are thinking of trying something new, why not think about undertaking some public engagement activities. They are a great way to switch-up your routine and do something new with the added benefit of being a great development opportunity that can actually help your research.
What is Public Engagement?
Public Engagement involves non-academic audiences in your research and where possible, it’s using those opportunities to generate two-way conversations about your research.
Why do it?
Benefits to your research:
- Clarity of thinking: There’s nothing quite like having to explain, discuss or teach someone about your research to help clarify ideas and identify gaps in your knowledge. Discussion with non-experts also has the great advantage of making you drop jargon for plain English.
- Far from being a bad thing, well-directed questions and real-time feedback can be entertaining (essential for successful engagement!) and educational for both parties.
- Improve quality, impact and relevance of your research: It almost goes without saying, projects that have been shaped by conversations with the public can have greater relevance and impact. Successful engagement will generate interesting questions and offer useful real time feedback.
- New perspectives: When entrenched in your research day after day, it’s easy to lose perspective about why your research matters. Conversations with non-experts can remind you of this – and even offer fresh perspectives.
Benefits to your future
Without a doubt public engagement activities can enhance your CV in terms of transferable skills and give you lots to talk about in future interviews – whether you’re planning a career within or outside of academia.
- Confidence: Disseminating your work to a non-specialist audience is one of the best ways to develop your confidence of speaking about your research in public.
- Communication skills: Being able to take complex information and re-purpose it in an appropriate way for different audiences, is a great skill. Not only is this about what you say, but the way you choose to present to different audiences to maintain their interest. By being part of lots of different activities you will get to experiment with what works for different audiences – which is something very valuable in the jobs market.
- Dealing with diverse audiences: Related to communication skills and confidence, being comfortable with the diversity of audiences that public engagement activities can attract is a skill in itself. Especially if you’re involved in events that could literally attract anyone!
- Project management: When you get involved in public engagement events you may well be asked to develop your own idea about how to showcase your research for that audience. Along the way you will have strong examples of your ability to develop an idea from inception through to eventual completion.
Benefits to others
- Inspire non experts in your subject area
- Raise aspirations and inspire others
School children with no experience of Higher Education (let alone your research area) can be inspired by work done though public engagement.
- Generate public support
By demonstrating the value and impact of your research you will improve understanding of your research area, of the work of the University and higher education in general.
How to get involved
There are lots of opportunities available throughout the University; events are often listed on Engagement Manchester Blog. Also it’s worth talking to your Researcher Development team about specific schemes for PhD students in your Faculty. Here’s a round up of just a few University-wide opportunities specifically for PhD students…
- MAP (Manchester Access Programme) mentor – MAP is the University’s flagship widening participation scheme, supporting the progression of talented local sixth form (Year 12) students into The University of Manchester or another research intensive university. Applications open at the beginning of November and close mid-December. For more information, take a look at the MAP website.
- Widening Participation Fellow: A paid position where you write and deliver a range of activities for young people who are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in higher education. It involves giving workshops and talks, taking part in speed networking events and all sorts of careers events. Applications are still open for this year, but the closing date is Friday 17th August. Find out about it here.
- Postgraduate Research Summer Showcase: Held annually in June, the event invites all PhD students to present their work at an event open all staff and students as well as other stakeholders. It’s a great way to try out different ways of engaging people with your research. For more information about the PRSS click here.
Outside the University, interesting schemes include, the brightclub where comedy and postgraduate research meet, PubhD where you have 10 minutes to explain your research to a pub audience! If inspiring young people is where your interest lies – then check out the the brilliant club which places PhD students in secondary schools to deliver tutorials.
This is just a flavour of what’s out there – but gives you an idea of the breadth activity going on. For more information visit Public Engagement at Manchester or check out the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement and Vitae.