I joined AstrobiologyOU in January 2020 as Lecturer in Astrobiology Education. The core of my role is to build, implement and evaluate development, teaching and training resources for both formal and informal education and opportunities that integrate the research of AstrobiologyOU.
A key objective for the education workstream in AstrobiologyOU is to ensure that the group is embedded in an ethos of engaged research. Engaged research, for the Open University, encompasses the many different ways that researchers meaningfully interact with stakeholders over any or all stages of a research process, from formulating the research question, to collaborative research, to co-production and dissemination of knowledge.
For me, this means engaging with a wide range of publics and stakeholders, including researchers, teachers, educators in ODA countries, special interest groups, informal educators and members of local, national and international communities in the co-production of resources.
A further objective is to support AstrobiologyOU's researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of our engagement and to support colleagues to plan for the generation and evidencing of social and economic impact from their research, for example in funding proposals.
This role is a happy return to the Open University for me. From 2013-15 I was a post-doctoral researcher with Open University Catalyst for Public Engagement with Research. As one of a multi-disciplinary team, I focussed on how researchers use digital media and tools for planning, enacting and evaluating public engagement with research, and supporting the University's development of its concept and practice of engaged research.
As a specialist in public engagement with research and science communication, I have worked alongside and supported researchers in the sciences, life sciences, health and well-being studies and the humanities.
Chronologically, my research has focussed on:
My PhD (completed 2012) considered the potential of open science practice to be a medium for public engagement with research.
I furthered my interest in engaged research in my work with the Wellcome Centre for Cultures & Environments of Health (University of Exeter). The Centre’s vision was to conduct transdisciplinary engaged research focussing on collaborations and co-creation that brought together professional researchers and people with first-hand experience of the issues being researched to create innovative engaged research communities.
My teaching interests focus on engaged research, engagement through digital and traditional media, writing for different audiences and embedding engagement in scientists' practice,
I spent two years (2016-17) at the University of Western Australia as a Lecturer in Science Communication. With just one colleague, we delivered teaching on units from first to third year undergraduate level to approximately 1000 students a year and re-started the UWA Masters in Science Communication programme.
Before that, I contributed to teaching on the University of the West of England, Bristol Science Communication Unit's (SCU) MSc in Science Communication. At UWE, I led the development of a new online continuing professional development course Science Communication: Connecting people, Creating Events. We knew that scientists and science communicators from around the world wanted to connect with the experience and skills of the SCU, but we also knew that the costs, both financial and time, made this impossible for many people. An online course, that participants could fit around their work and home commitments, offered an opportunity to satisfy participants’ needs and extend the reach of the SCU. People & events became the first UWE wholly online course open to participants from outside the university, and in hte five years it has been presented, participants have included museum professionals, science communicators, research scientists, industrial scientists, scientists and communicators from NGOs and private businesses, and arts practitioners. The challenge of initiating the course was to support colleagues to draw on their own skills, and combine them with colleagues’, to create content and deliver it in the most effective ways for the online context, while ensuring that the online course offered its participants an equivalent experience and depth of connexion as a face-to-face activity. We created content in self-directed learning activities, narrated presentations, forums and wikis, and delivered through forums, wikis and live online seminars.
Outside academic life, I’ve been a volunteer in the international Café Scientifique movement since 2003, when I started the cafe scientifique in Bristol. Café scientifique offers the chance for members of the public and working scientists to meet in informal, non-academic venues to have a conversation about the latest research and issues in science and technology.
Since 2010, I have led the national and international network of café scientifique, as volunteer website host, advising, supporting and mentoring new café organisers around the world, and developing and maintaining the website. During 2020, as most cafes around the world were paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, I drew on my experiences of digital engagement and online teaching to support existing cafe organisers to move their cafes online, and to support new cafe organisers (in Canada and Australia) to start new cafes that were 'born online'. Organisers have responded creatively to this new space and many have found their cafes' geographical reach has expanded, as they have welcomed speakers from far afield, and participants from around the world; one cafe hosted by the Leeds cafe scientifique included participants from New Zealand!
I have hosted cafes in towns and cities around the UK and abroad, both ordinary cafes and special events at science festivals and other occasions, such as the ESRC’s Research Methods Festival. Pre-coronavirus, I was a regular invited host at cafés scientifiques organised by the Royal Society. I used my cafe experience as a consultant to the Open University’s SUPI project, supporting the development of Research Cafes in schools in Milton Keynes, advising teachers, students and speakers and consulting on evaluation mechanisms and in a workshop for the Bristol Synthetic Biology Group, which focussed on community engagement in research issues in this sensitive topic.
From 2014-17 I held an International Engagement grant from the Wellcome Trust to support the Café Sci East Africa project. During this time, I worked closely – by email, Skype and phone – with the Project Co-ordinator, who was based in Uganda, to design, deliver and evaluate a schools café programme that responded to the needs of school students in remote areas in northern Uganda living amid challenging social contexts.
Honorary and adjunct roles:
2020 - present: Honorary Research Fellow, Wellcome Centre for Cultures & Environments of Health, University of Exeter
2017 - present: Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, University of Western Australia
2015 - present: Associate Lecturer in Science Communication, University of the West of England, Bristol