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Public engagement champions

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News media and social media
Communities and families
Schools

News media and social media

Jack Holman, Research Assistant, MRC/CSO Institute of Hearing Research (Scottish Section)

Jack Holman’s infectious enthusiasm for social media, Twitter in particular, has helped an initially sceptical MRC unit develop a new communication channel. From the initial idea and preparation of various reports to establishing an off-line account demonstrating the process, Jack has built enthusiasm for this medium and the engagement benefits it delivers for the MRC Institute of Hearing Research.

Jack has been fundamental to the success of the IHR account – @MRCihr – proposing opportunities and encouraging staff involvement. Since launching the account, followers have grown steadily and the most successful tweets are reaching audiences in excess of 3,500, while the interaction with followers continues to grow. The developing success of this account and Jack’s passion have encouraged further staff involvement, not least by the Director @maa10149, now a Twitter convert. Drawing inspiration from the exciting work of other MRC Twitter accounts, Jack has future plans to host live Q&A sessions and build better interactions with research participants.

Dr Ghada Zoubiane, Programme Manager, MRC Headoffice London

As programme manager for Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), Ghada Zoubiane has made exceptional efforts to communicate MRC research in this area to the public. Immediately following her media training, Ghada adopted a role as AMR spokesperson with enthusiasm, skill and aplomb. The MRC is trying to increase awareness of this issue and has been able to make great strides thanks to Ghada acting as the public face of MRC work on AMR in the media. 

Ghada’s media work has increased media coverage of AMR which has raised awareness and improved understanding of the value of this research. It has helped the public make sense of a fairly opaque issue. This in turn has improved the MRC’s reputation as a ‘go to’ organisation for comment on AMR and, as a result of our improved profile, Ghada and her colleagues have been contacted by various organisations, including charities, who have noticed our growing presence and who want to work with the MRC more closely.

Over the past year, Ghada has been interviewed by print, radio and television journalists, most recently on BBC News, reaching thousands of members of the public and setting out the growing problem of AMR and how MRC research collaboration and strategic vision sets international standards and offers hope for progress in this area. Ghada is always accessible and keen to help shape messages, and she works hard to tailor her language to a non-scientific audience whilst maintaining the MRC’s authoritative voice.

For her recent BBC News appearance, she was interviewed live in the BBC studio with only an hour’s notice. She was able to turn a relatively controversial story – on why GPs should be blamed for prescribing too many antibiotics – into to a much more positive one about the importance of collaborative research and how the MRC is tackling the problem.

Communities and families

Dr Jahangir Hossain, Clinical Epidemiologist, MRC Unit The Gambia

Jahangir Hossain is at the forefront of community engagement as he understands the value of the community in research. He is always keen to provide feedback to study participants to ensure they understand how their contribution to research will impact health. He follows up on the wellbeing of participants, making sure their feedback is translated into local languages as he cannot speak the languages himself.

Jahangir runs engagement activities which excite the community and his community days are always greatly attended. As a result, awareness of what the unit is doing has increased and the local community has a better understanding of who works in the unit and what the research is about. Not only are communities eager to attend, they are now keen to enrol on new projects.

Thomas Nicol and Sara Falcone, PhD Students, MRC Harwell

Throughout their training, Thomas Nicol and Sara Falcone – both doing a part time PhD as well as working in the unit – have been extremely keen and enthusiastic about public engagement, volunteering for almost every event MRC Harwell takes part in. Sara designed a new cat jigsaw activity to explain Mary Lyon’s work on X-chromosome inactivation, which was very well received on several occasions including the Oxfordshire Science Festival. Sara also took part in the ageing zone of the 2015 I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here competition – and won!

Sara and Thomas have been an inspiration others and the institute now has more staff taking part in and designing activities for public engagement events. This has led to a greater wealth of MRC Harwell’s research being communicated to school children and members of the general public.

Images of Thomas and Sara:

MRC Harwell: Oxfordshire Science Festival 2015
MRC Harwell: Diamond Light Source open days
MRC Harwell: Science Up Close at Harwell Campus

Paul Alexander, Research Support Manager, MRC Toxicology Unit

When Paul Alexander volunteered to join the MRC Toxicology Unit outreach committee he brought with him an energy and desire to communicate science and, importantly, practical support in designing and building new games and demonstrations.  Since becoming involved, Paul’s energy, innovation and organisational skills have helped to develop new and exciting activities which have enabled the Unit to engage hundreds, possibly thousands, of young people at over 20 activities during 2014 and 2015.

Overall Paul has been instrumental in transforming the unit’s outreach activities. His contribution to communicating the mission and research of the Toxicology Unit to public audiences has improved the understanding of the science. Paul will be at the heart of the committee as it continues to develop, creating and delivering new public engagement events and training a cohort of young scientist in public engagement, increasing our capacity to engage the public with the research of the MRC. 

Schools

Simon White, Senior Investigator Statistician, MRC Biostatistics Unit

Simon White is an extremely hard-working senior investigator statistician who has dedicated a significant amount of time and effort to public engagement work at the MRC Biostatistics Unit. For the last two years, Simon has created, managed and organised the unit’s activities at the Cambridge Science Festival. These activities have been an outstanding success, reaching hundreds of members of the public over two days from young aspiring children to interested adults. Without him, the unit could not have participated in Cambridge Science Festival or with other public facing events and forums.

Simon has had a major impact on the unit’s outreach activities; the unit now interacts with various non-scientific audiences, promoting our vital research and encouraging young people in particular to take an interest in biostatistics. Simon’s public engagement ideas have inspired other scientific organisations to produce similar activities at events across the UK, such as the Big Bang Fair. This is a clear reflection that Simon’s creative and innovative ideas enable a variety of audiences to understand and engage with statistics. 

Simon is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Ambassador and actively participates and leads public engagement events organised by STEM, particularly teaching basic statistics to primary school children. Simon also sits on the Royal Statistical Society's Education Committee.

As well as Simon’s public engagement work, he attends and engages with training courses and conferences on communicating statistics to the media, in order to improve how we promote our research in the press. Simon tweets about his public engagement and communication activity; many of his Tweets are liked and retweeted reaching out to hundreds of followers on Twitter and connecting with new followers.

Simon’s dedication to public engagement has had a positive impact in the unit. He has led staff meetings on the topic of public engagement, encouraging and inspiring his fellow scientists and the unit’s new starters and PhD students to commit more time and effort to public engagement work, and highlighting the benefits of participating in communication and outreach activities. He goes above and beyond to raise awareness and improve understanding of the unit’s research. Simon’s outstanding commitment continues to grow with ideas and plans for the MRC Festival of Medical Research in 2016.