The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, presented the awards in a ceremony at Merton College, recognising excellence in Public Engagement with Research across three categories: Projects (either for Collaboration, Consultation or Communication purposes); Early Career Researchers; and Building Capacity.
Watch this short film about the inaugural awards, featuring Prof Liz Tunbridge:
I am honoured to receive one of the inaugural Vice Chancellor's Public Engagement in Research Awards. Given that most of our research is publicly funded, scientists must be able to explain how this money is used and make a compelling case for the benefits of science to society. In a political climate in which expertise is distrusted it is particularly essential for researchers to reach out and engage with meaningful dialogue with as wide a cross-section of the public as possible.
- Professor Elizabeth Tunbridge
Professor Elizabeth Tunbridge from the University’s Department of Psychiatry won in the Early Career Researcher Category.
The Vice-Chancellor said: “We want to create a climate in which we can embed public engagement even more deeply into our research practices…Our aim is to ensure that Oxford acquires a reputation for engaging the public that equals our reputation for research. I encourage you to take inspiration from the inaugural winners of the University’s Public Engagement Awards and reflect on opportunities to engage the public with your own research.”
Could you tell us more about your public engagement work?
ET: I see public engagement as a core part of my research. I have been fortunate to present at numerous events, including the Cheltenham Science Festival, the Hay Festival, and at Café Scientifiques, most recently at the Royal Society. I developed an event – “The Neurococktail Bar” - for the Science Museum London Lates programme, which I will be running at the Oxfordshire Science Festival and the Royal Society’s Summer Exhibition in the coming months.
This event has proved extremely popular and successful at stimulating dialogue between neuroscientists and a broad cross-section of the public. I also write for The Conversation on aspects of molecular psychiatry; my articles have been read over 38,000 times and have generated debate on social media, as well as coverage by the mainstream media.
Why do you think it's important to do public engagement?
ET: I love discussing my research and its implications with as wide an audience as possible. Doing so provides an opportunity to take a step back and consider its wider societal implications. Genetics-focused research, particularly in the area of mental health, has significant societal and ethical relevance, and I have found it to be of great interest to many people. Discussing these issues has helped me to clarify my own ideas and opinions, and made me a more considered and conscientious researcher.
Discussing my research with non-specialists makes me, and my lab members, better at communicating complex scientific ideas in an accessible manner. This skill is invaluable in my day-to-day work, be it writing papers and grant applications, or preparing conference presentations.
Finally, like most scientists, I love talking about my research and so I find public engagement events huge fun!