Doing research is an integral part of a university degree. In your undergraduate degree, your dissertation will usually be the first serious piece of research you do. As you move up the education ladder, research becomes more and more important and by the time you’re doing your PhD you have now become a full time researcher. While research is a very rewarding experience, it can sometimes be an isolated undertaking. Many people, including myself, sometimes forget that they need to consider their research within a real world context, and that research isn’t a purpose in itself, but should serve to address a knowledge gap or a problem which exists in the real world.
Engaging other people in the research process is something that the researcher must be proactive about doing however. Vitae is a UK organisation which champions the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes. One of their publications focuses specifically on the ‘engaging researcher’, by offering advice, as well as practical hints and tips about how researchers can engage with an audience.
One important aspect highlighted by the brochure is the fact that public engagement with research is a two way process which can benefit both the researcher and the people they engage. This is because the researcher can gain fresh perspectives on their particular topic, and may even identify new directions in which the research could go. For the people who are being engaged, their awareness of the issue which is the specific topic of the research grows. The brochure also highlights that engaging with research can help raise people’s aspirations, for example by inspiring school children who had not considered university or a particular field before.
A few ways to engage the public include:
- Presentations and talks;
- Stalls at open days or festivals;
- Articles in the media;
- Providing advice to external organisations.
In this post I have tried to offer a brief outline of the main things you should consider when, as a researcher, you are trying to engage with the public. If you would like some more in-depth information on this topic, you can visit the Vitae website and check-out the online version of the brochure.