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Student Engagement Spotlight

Each month we want to celebrate student engagement at Warwick by bringing you the story of what someone has been working on. If you have a great story you'd like to share please get in touch at 

October 2021 - Placements in Warwick Institute of Engagement

Over the summer of 2021 Tom and Nic, both PhD students completing the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP), undertook the placement section of their programme supporting the Institute of Engagement team. We've loved having them around to help, and valued their ideas and feedback to what we're doing and we'll miss them as they head back to focussing on their research. We asked them to share their experiences of working with the team.

Tom Page

Through working in the annual science festivals of Aberystwyth university I developed a strong interest in public engagement, particularly in my field of work, biological science. As part of my PhD scheme, I was required to carry out an internship. This struck me as a perfect opportunity to build upon my previous endeavours into public engagement. My experience from the science festivals was limited to working at in person at events, which involved demonstrating, explaining, and generally engaging with the public. I was lacking in understanding of the practicalities of event development, running and advertising, and other organisational aspects that all come together to make the events that I loved function. So, I reached out to the Institute of Engagement… and started working here back on 1 July 2021 for 3 months.

Since then, I have had the chance to work remotely on a variety of projects, culminating in me working on the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Much of my work has been on smaller projects such as website maintenance, creation of a padlet webpage detailing the variety of public engagement types and methods, and organisational tasks including creation of a calendar of dates relevant to the Institute, and equipment lists. However, as my internship developed, the Festival of Social Science was the primary project I worked on and afforded me the opportunity to experience the full extent of behind-the-scenes event organisation. I worked on data management, keeping track of event information and data. I was involved in advertisement, creating public friendly descriptions of events, and creating our festival webpage and maintaining information on such and the main festival site, including finding suitable advertisement images for each event. I liaised with individual proposed event organisers and other members of the engagement team, ensuring that contact was maintained, and that updates were communicated, and queries answered. Finally, I liaised with festival host university contacts ensuring that correct event information was uploaded to the main festival website.

As I mentioned earlier, I had only ever been involved in large events by working on the “festival floor” and had no experience of the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. This internship enabled me to develop a real appreciation for all the work that goes into organising events, how complicated it can be, and learn a great deal! In no small part to the great support provided by the Institute team, I obtained valuable knowledge and skills over my time at the Institute of Engagement. To mention a few, I learned basic website design through page building software, plus how to better market and advertise public engagement events and time them to maximise engagement. I also gained more understanding around what mediums public engagement can take and their advantages / disadvantages. I also experienced how to effectively liaise with people from a variety of professions within the university from academic event leads to marketing personal.

I was immensely satisfied with my time here at the Institute of Engagement and left with the knowledge that it will serve me well into my future and professional career.

Nic Briggs

Working for the Institute of Engagement (WIE) was an eye-opening privilege for the 3 months that I was a part of the team. As a biochemistry PhD student, public engagement is extremely important to my field. Our research ultimately impacts the health of the general public, and so being able to effectively communicate those ideas is critical for healthcare changes to take place.

Having little to no experience with public engagement before starting at the WIE, my first 2 months provided many opportunities to get involved and witness the engagement on a professional level. Being behind the scenes for several engagement events that were part of Resonate Festival and Pint of Science events revealed many nuances relating to effective communication of ideas, as well as managing the delivery of the knowledge and ideas that are on display. Understanding how to display information and talk the public through the ideas is a real skill and was fantastic to see it done so well by so many participants throughout these events. This leads into evaluation, the art of understanding how well people were able to engage with the material. This is critical for development of further work and events, which becomes increasingly important when dealing with more complex ideas or major datasets such as those seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the skills and strategies that were on display during my time with the WIE will prove extremely useful for me during my research. Being able to communicate the biochemistry of cell division in bacteria can prove challenging even to people within the field, given the enormous complexity of coordination processes that occurs within the cell. Having witnessed and interacted with some of the best public engagement professionals, as well as a behind the scenes team that could pull together any show, I feel I will take away many vital skills that will make communicating my research to fellow scientists and the wider public much more engaging.