The EPSRC is keen for research scientists to contribute to ‘sustaining future people flow into engineering and the physical sciences by enthusing young people about the creative process, issues, aspirations and outcomes of research.’
The Engineering Doctorate (EngD) (and increasingly the more traditional PhD) gives students the chance to spread their research message, communicate science and also raise general awareness of careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
There are several ways that students have been approaching this, from the traditional poster presentations to newer more quirky methods such as ‘science busking’ and mentoring schemes. Many EngD students fulfil the role of STEM ambassadors, actively encouraging young people to enjoy STEM subjects, and informing them about the unique career opportunities that are available to them. STEM ambassadors visit schools and events to promote these subjects.
‘I had my first taste of STEM busking and it was fantastic. Numerous students came to the stand, asked questions and were entertained and thrilled by various demonstrations. It was a bit like a magic show where the students would ask questions like “how did you do that?”, “how did you know?”, and after revealing the science behind the “tricks” they were excited for more.’
Grace Oppong, 2nd Year EngD Student
EngD students have been acting as mentors supporting school groups. Activities have included studying the role of a practising engineer and improving the energy efficiency of buildings in their school as part of the Go4Set competition organised by the Engineering Development Trust. Mentors help to motivate and inform young people by providing access to information and arranging visits.
As well as attending public engagement events run by Newcastle University and Vitae, who champion the professional development of doctoral researchers, many students actively write blogs. Blogs allow potential and current students to get a glimpse of what life is like as an EngD student and learn about general topics such as career paths. Some students act as STEM reporters, which involves going out into the community to film how science is reaching out to people who wouldn’t otherwise be engaged. These films appear on Newcastle Science City website.
Another scheme that students can get involved in is ‘Researchers in Residence’ which organises secondary school and college placements for researchers. This enables them to work with challenging and inquisitive minds, developing communication and management skills, whilst enthusing young people about research and gaining first-hand insight into what it is like to teach.
These varied opportunities allow EngD students to develop into modern researchers with the capability to participate in high quality, effective engagement with the public. At the same time, students are becoming more aware of public attitudes towards the conduct and use of research and the implications that research has on society.
If you are doing any type of postgraduate qualification, maybe its worth considering doing some form of public engagement? It looks great on your CV and is also really enjoyable. Go for it!