Thursday, 1 May 2014

Why is public engagement important in STEM? Views of an early career researcher.

At the end of April I won a bursary to attend the Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2014.  This is a great opportunity to see scientists from a range of disciplines successfully engaging with the public about their work or the work of others in their field.

To enter the competition, I was asked to submit a 250 word article on public engagement in Science, Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM), and why I think it is important.  Here is my entry:

"This is a wonderful world, and we live in an age where we can learn about it through STEM.  Humans are naturally inquisitive, and the STEM community can help to answer questions people have.  

We start asking questions as children.  When I grew up there was much less public engagement in STEM  than today.  Without a discourse around my questions, my interest in STEM waned.  Fortunately for me, more recent public engagement reignited my enthusiasm, informed my career choices and broadened my topic interest around STEM.  Public engagement through the media and public events now informs my own children and as a result they know more about the world than I did at their age!  More importantly,  they are inspired to continue asking questions.  STEM public engagement has enriched my family’s engagement with the wider world.  

My family’s experiences are not unique.  The STEM community has a responsibility to engage with the public, partly because the public want it!  Public engagement is, however, more than just a one-way channel.  Relationships between the STEM community and the public are mutually beneficial.  Knowledge about the world helps us to make informed choices about the way we live and influences policy decisions.  Knowledge liberates us to challenge the status-quo. Public engagement encourages ordinary folk to get involved with STEM.  This contributes to a collective wisdom which informs future developments.   After all, 63 million heads must be better than one! And, most importantly, public engagement inspires us all to keep asking questions."

I have been involved with public engagement for our own service development within my local health community for 10 years. I believe that public engagement is a vital part of STEM, and of clinical research and development.  I am very excited about gaining this opportunity to learn from other scientists who are already successfully engaging with the public, and I would encourage others to do the same.

At a personal level, I love hearing about developments in STEM that are outside of my own research discipline, and I believe this broader interest enriches my work.  We can all learn from each other, and seeing other disciplines in action can sometimes give us a new perspective.  

I can't wait to go to the Cheltenham Science Festival, and I will attempt to review the events I see (as an effort to contribute to the public engagement effort)! 

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