By Olivia Kirtley.
As a child, I grew up watching the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on TV and feeling a tremendous sense of excitement as these famous scientists submerged PhD students in ice water baths, cuddled lemurs and dissected brains, all in the name of public engagement with science. During my PhD, I’ve been on lots of courses designed to equip scientists with the wherewithal to take their research out of the ivory towers and into people’s everyday lives. However, it has rapidly become clear to me that if your research doesn’t go whizz or bang, you are somewhat out of luck. For those in health research, this can cover rather a lot of areas, e.g. sexual health, alcohol and substance abuse, and indeed much of mental health research.
One day I lamented this fact in a meeting and one of my supervisors asked “Well, what public engagement would you like to do?”, to which I had to answer, “I don’t actually know”. So far removed does my research seem from all of the activities that are catered for within the existing public engagement courses I have been on, that I am not even sure what opportunities there would be. I cannot make a jelly cell to talk about psychological distress and there is no plush cuddly microbe for emotional pain. For me, this raises a question of whether or not health science, or at least some areas, needs some more specialist assistance in making our research accessible to the public. Particularly for PhD students in these fields, specialist public engagement training catered to the unique needs of topics which are often felt to be “off-limits”, could be of huge benefit, changing the way they think about their research for their entire careers.
Continue reading this article at >> National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (https://goo.gl/yw2Zyo).
Olivia Kirtley is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Center for Contextual Psychiatry at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium and Honorary Research Fellow in the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at the University of Glasgow.