It is important to build a network of other researchers and academics around your research interests. However, it is also valuable to bridge out of your immediate network and make connections beyond it. It can be useful to make connections with the wider research world and look for potential inter-disciplinary collaborations. It is also important to present what you do more widely and to increase public understanding of your research area as public support underpins much research funding. Widening your networks and can also often led to new and unexpected opportunities beyond your immediate academic field.
Engaging with the general public around your research area is challenging. Explaining your specialism to people who know nothing about it requires excellent communication skills and a good understanding of your own area.
There are a large number of opportunities to engage with the general public, for example:
- giving talks at local and national organisations about your area
- running or contributing to adult education courses
- contributing to open days and other outreach activities
- taking part in writing or poster competitions
- joining a scheme like Science Ambassadors or Researchers in Residence to go into schools
- writing a press release about your research.
Engaging with the general public will have a number of personal benefits including:
- forcing you think carefully about your project and work to increase its clarity and its place in the bigger picture
- increasing your personal confidence
- the opportunity to earn money for talking about what you do
- developing your presentation and networking skills.
There are also a number of wider benefits to engaging with the public:
- encouraging public support and understanding of research and researchers and debunking some myths
- increasing the visibility of your subject to government and other funders
- it is often a requirement of your funding.
When talking about your research to the general public:
- avoid jargon and specialised language
- focus on one key message at a time
- think about the possible application of your research
- try and relate what you have done to your audience's situation and interests
- don't assume that your audience is stupid
- seek advice when you are dealing with the media.
The Vitae public engagement discussion space features articles from a range of perspectives. For example, Sarah Davies wrote about 'Public engagement a love story of our times' charting the increased recognition of public engagement in policy over recent decades, and Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Manchester wrote about the importance of public engagement to HEIs and research institutes. Join the discussion at www.vitae.ac.uk/publicengagement
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