Inside Track - 29 February 2016 - Dr Charlotte Haigh

Dr Charlotte Haigh, Academic Lead for Public Engagement with Research, talks about the forthcoming Be Curious event.

One of the questions I often get asked is, ‘What is public engagement and why is it important?’  Public engagement (PE) describes the myriad ways in which the activities and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.

The University’s PE team focuses on public engagement with research, which involves activities where our staff involve the public in different stages of the research cycle: formulating research questions; conducting research; and/or disseminating the findings. We also working on providing more structured support and recognition for these high-quality, research engagement activities. We recognise that there are different forms of public engagement which are appropriate for different disciplines, different individuals and different public groups beyond universities.

Since September 2015, it has been a whirlwind of activity for the public engagement (PE) team at the University.  We embarked on a one-year Research Councils UK (RCUK) project to embed culture change around public engagement, working alongside the existing support for public engagement and patient public involvement received from the Wellcome ISSF funding.

One of the aims from both the RCUK-funded project and the Wellcome ISSF support was to create a centrally supported, high profile platform for members of staff and students to engage with the public. This is why the ‘Be Curious Festival’ is taking place at the University on Saturday 19 March. This is an event with a health and wellbeing theme, launched within the Leeds Festival of Science public programme, which provides researchers the opportunity to interact, share, listen and showcase their research with a public audience.

The event is free and open to everyone of all age groups. It will include interactive stalls in Parkinson Court, and there is a dedicated family room for the under-10s, talks throughout the day aimed at age 12 and above on topics such as back pain, the vagus nerve, living wills, dental surgery and precision medicine. There is also an opportunity for some of our postgrads to perform a three minute thesis with additional props and training. Visitors can also take one of five guided trails around campus: Brains, minds and bodies; Virtual health; Health and wellbeing through time; a Senses trail; and Engineering in health and wellbeing. It’s going to be an action packed day!

I would like to thank in advance all 250+ staff and students who will be involved in the event on the day and the task and finish group who have been involved in the organisation and coordination of the event. To everyone else not involved in the planning or supporting activities, then please do come along on the day and see what’s going on!  

Our plan is to run Be Curious again next year, so that will be an opportunity for more of our academics to get involved. Taking part in the event could even be written into a research grant as an engagement activity. We’re also thinking about changing the theme for next year, so suggestions are very welcome…

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