Public Engagement: A PIPS perspective

Public Engagement: A PIPS perspective

Public Engagement: A PIPS perspective

Hi, my name is Miriam. I’m currently in my first year of my PhD at the University of Birmingham and my PhD involves understanding the regulators of autophagy in human embryonic stem cell models. As part of my PhD programme, the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Partnership (MIBTP), I have the opportunity to take a three-month placement outside of the laboratory setting to gain new skills and insights into an area of interest. I chose to join the Public Engagement department at the Babraham Institute for my Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS). I first heard of the Babraham Institute through my friend Jaspreet who completed her PIPS with the Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation team here last summer.

Before starting here at the Institute my own experience of public engagement with research was limited. I had volunteered with Marrow and Anthony Nolan during my undergraduate degree, signing up people to the stem cell register. This gave me some experience in communicating the science of stem cell transplants with potential donors, although this was not directly related to public engagement. However, I was excited to learn more about how an ever-changing research landscape can be reflected in public engagement and how events can be designed for two-way engagement. I had also never visited Cambridge before joining the Institute!

My PIPS experience started off busy with many off-site trips to schools in the Cambridgeshire area. In schools we delivered workshops as part of the Institute’s BioInspire programme. I lead parts of these workshops, which put me a little out of my comfort zone! The students were great and interacted with the workshop with lots of interesting questions, especially when discussing sensitive topics such as the ethics of using animals in research.

A Group Leader, sitting down and gesturing explains a task. A researcher and four students surround her, listening

The highlight of my placement has to be Schools' Day, an Institute-wide event where years 10 to 13 students can undertake a project with a research group. It was fantastic to see the students take over the whole Institute and gain insight into life in a research environment. They were able to have valuable hands-on experience in a lab setting and it was particularly good to see how involved everyone at the Institute was with this event.

I created my own teaching resource describing the technologies available at the Babraham Institute’s Genomics facility, whilst linking this information with the 6th form biology curriculum. In addition, I conducted a literature review of the current public engagement landscape and how audience targeting can be used to increase and widen participation with research. Throughout my placement I developed skills in resource development, evaluation and furthered my understanding of the research funding landscape. I also improved my confidence in public speaking!

Science is for everyone, and I appreciated seeing the inclusive approach the public engagement team takes to designing and running events. I especially valued the aim to provide opportunities for students from underserved communities with their Research Access Programme and In2Science placements.

My PIPS placement has definitely increased my curiosity in public engagement with research and feel I would like to make it a more integral part of my research career. I’m excited to see how I can get involved in my university and apply everything I’ve learnt from the Babraham Institute. I’ve left this experience with a greater appreciation for the hard work and effort required to undertake these larger, long-running events.

I would like to thank Fergus, Mike, Susan and Peter from the Public Engagement team for giving me such a wonderful placement experience. I truly felt I got to see so many sides of public engagement, and Cambridge, in such a short period of time!