Exploring the Key Components of Public Engagement

Megan Maunder is a third year PhD student in Mathematics, CEMPS at the University of Exeter. She is the beneficiary of an STFC studentship for a “Multi-Spacecraft Investigation of Solar and Heliospheric Plasmas”.  A strong believer in engaging the wider public in the scientific process, she runs a variety of outreach and public engagement sessions with the University’s Widening Participation Team and external groups. She is currently the Advocacy Team lead for the Royal Astronomical Society’s Early Career Researcher Network, working to creating more inclusive and accessible environments within Astronomy and Geophysics.

Throughout June the Researcher Development and Research Culture team ran events as part of a new series funded by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, exploring the key components of Public Engagement:

  • An Introduction Public Engagement and Evaluation for Engagement
  • Creative Engagement Methods
  • Co-production in Research
  • Impactful Public Engagement with Research

The four sessions were led by public engagement experts from across the University and showcased a range of disciplines, activities, and approaches including multi-disciplinary and co-produced public engagement case studies. A variety of career researchers attended, from those getting started to those looking to develop new projects and hone their expertise.

Here are some Top Tips from our sessions to help guide you:

  • Make sure to have an ‘elevator pitch’ Prepare a few sentences to describe your research in jargon-free language for a non-specialist audience. Having this ready to go is a good foundation for starting your public engagement journey.
  • Ask around, find out what projects already exist, and talk to those already involved. There are often meaningful funded opportunities for early career researchers to start their own projects or get involved in existing ones. Learning about what others are doing can be a source of inspiration and advice; there may be existing projects you can get involved in.
  • Focus on your audience. The ‘public’ is not a homogenous group; there are different types of publics, think about what group you specifically want to target, what you already know about them, and why they might interested in your research and how that fits in a broader context. Your sessions and plans should be aimed at this group. This is key to developing meaningful engagement.
  • Think about your motivations. Why you want to get involved in public engagement, what you hope to get out of it? You may even focus on working with a group that can help you with your work and focus on creating co-produced research creating a clear two-way dialogue with your target group. Using Logic Models may help with this as you develop your plan.
  • Think about the logistics, not just costs, locations but evaluate how much of your time you can commit to a project. How much time is involved in preparation and development, delivering content and hosting events, and then time spent on post-production like editing and impact evaluation?
  • How are you going to evaluate the impacts of your activities? Think about what evidence you might need and how you are going to store and analyse any data, especially if this is required by your funder. Remember to check if you need ethics approval!

A huge thank you is extended to all our session presenters and to those who presented their work and case studies.

A suite of resources exploring these concepts in more detail, developed by Megan, will be available on our ELE page in the coming weeks.

Why create a research poster?


Jennifer Finlay is a second year PhD student at the Streatham Campus, University of Exeter. Jennifer completed her undergraduate MSci degree in biological sciences at the University of Aberdeen in 2018. Jennifer is currently looking to improve the production and welfare standards of lumpfish, a cleaner fish used in salmon farming, using water chemistry manipulation. Jennifer is partnered with Ocean Matters, the largest producer of lumpfish in the U.K. Jennifer enjoys public communication of her research, and thinks that it is a vital part of her degree. After completing her PhD, Jennifer would lie to work in the aquaculture industry before going on to teach. 

Research posters are an effective method for presenting your research in a creative way. There are an increasing number of ways to design a poster, and the research community is starting to embrace and encourage more innovative poster designs (see below for more detail).

For those who do not yet feel comfortable presenting orally or for those who like to present their research in a less structured way than oral presentations, posters are the way to go! Poster formats are only limited by the space that you are allotted (e.g. A0 portrait or A1 landscape); the content and the way you present your poster is up to you!

Whether you are presenting your research to the public, or at an academic conference, you will likely be given a ‘poster presentation slot’- the time at which you are expected to stand by your poster, sometimes with a drink or snack in hand, and answer questions. This informal presentation format allows you to tailor the poster to the audience. With oral presentations, once you have made your presentation, there is seldom an opportunity to change the direction of your presentation as you present. With posters, however, the presentation is more of a discussion; you can gauge how much background knowledge the audience has and adjust your presentation accordingly.

What is a research poster?

Research posters are not just for researchers with data, they are also a great way to introduce your research before you have started gathering data; you can outline your proposed project direction in a creative manner and get helpful feedback from the audience. When you don’t have data, focus on the background information, the aims and objectives of your research, and any methodology which you plan to follow to get answers.

When you do have data, research posters are a great way to highlight specific results which are exciting, novel, and/or interesting. Remember, posters are summaries of results; only show the interesting and unusual as cluttered posters can look intimidating and be hard to navigate. Generally, when you have data, it is a good idea to follow: what the background is and why you are researching the topic, the aims and objectives of your research, how you performed the research, a discussion of the results, the main take away, plus what you intend to do next.

Innovative poster designs

When you have set up your poster next to tens or sometimes hundreds of others, it is key that your poster stands outSo, you don’t want a poster like the one below…

This poster is clearly laid out, however, it is unlikely to capture anyone as it looks plain and there is too much text! See poster ideas below for ideas on how to capture an audience.

The above posters have attractive and simple colour schemes, and clear, easy to follow messages. To create an attractive and informative poster, follow these steps:

  1. Know your brief what are the dimensions of your poster? Change the dimensions before you start designing the poster. See this link how to change the slide size in PowerPoint. If you are using another version of PowerPoint or another type of software, Google and YouTube will help you. For different poster dimensions, see below.
  2. Know your audience if you are creating a poster for the public or people who know little about your research area, focus more on the background than data, and use plain language (no technical terms which you will have to explain over and over again). If you are looking to disseminate research results to an academic audience, make sure you have an overview (2 or 3 sentences) of the background and use the rest of the poster to show what you have done and how you did it. If you are looking to present your research to industry, a mix of the above is good; industry are likely to know some of the background, but maybe not all, and will be looking for the impacts of your research (i.e. are there economic or social implications?)
  3. Essential things to have on your poster include:
    a) Your name, a picture of yourself, your professional email, and your home institution(s): you may not be able to stand by your poster for the whole session and so people who are interested must be able to find you either at the conference, or contact you later on.
    b) Any supervisor’s and collaborator’s names and institution
    c) Sponsor and funder (e.g. research funders or travel grants at the event which you are presenting) names and logos
  4. Make the take away message the biggest thing on the page! The audience doesn’t want to have to read through the whole poster to decide whether it interests them- make the most interesting information big, bold, and colourful!!!
  5. Where you can, use images, graphs/charts, and tables instead of text. Large amounts of text are off putting to the reader, so keep it simple, and have relevant images to go alongside text. Make sure the images used are owned by you or are free to share.
  6. Font, text size, and colour is key! You want to have a simple colour scheme which is attractive but not overwhelming to the reader. Remember, not everyone has perfect vision, so make sure that key phrases and important information is clear.

Top tip: Print out different fonts, font sizes, and colours on an A4 piece of paper to see how they look from a distance. Are they clear? Do they stand out? 

  1. If you don’t want to have references on your poster as it makes the layout cluttered, print mini versions of your posters or the highlights on an A4 piece of paper with the references on the back. Put the mini copies in a plastic sleeve and pin them to your poster board for people to take away.
  1. If you are working on sensitive data or research which is not quite finished yet and you don’t want people to take a picture of or post about on social media, use these signs (available from Google) on your posters:

Remember, it is not what more can you add to the poster, but what can you take away and have your poster still make sense– you cannot fit all of your research onto a poster so make sure that only relevant and interesting information and results are on there! If you are available to present your poster, make sure you are smiling to encourage people to come and talk to you about your research! There will be many posters around you, each competing for an audience. Make sure your poster has relevant content and is attractive! Feel free to bring along some additional information or props- sweets can be a good prop to capture the audience!

Written by: Jennifer Finlay

Twitter: @lumpyjenny


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Benefits of the ‘Researcher Development Programme’ – an ECR perspective

Marco Palomino is currently a Senior Lecturer in ‘Information Systems and Big Data’ at the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth.

Before this, Marco was a Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School, based at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Truro. His research and teaching focuses on the acquisition and analysis of real-time, web based information and emerging trends, opportunities and constraints that might affect the probability of achieving management goals and objectives. Marco had previously worked at the University of Westminster as a Visiting Lecturer after he gained his PhD in Computer Science from Downing College at the University of Cambridge.

One of Marco’s publications for work conducted whilst he was at the University of Exeter was selected by the publishing house’s editorial team as highly commended. He puts part of his success with publications, public speaking and his career progression down to the training he took place in, whilst at Exeter.

Whilst at Exeter Marco took the opportunity to engage in as much development as time would allow and came to several of the Researcher Development Programme sessions that are tailored towards Early Career Researchers (ECRs).

The training courses for early career researchers at Exeter are brilliant – entertaining, informative and applicable

I found the sessions on giving presentations and visualising data particularly useful. Indeed, one example which has stayed with me to this day, used the London Underground map as a reference point. It was a perfect way to demonstrate how information visualised for a particular audience, should often be adapted to suit the needs of a different group of users, even if the underlying data is the same.

The training and development sessions at Exeter were also immensely useful when I subsequently went to conferences to give presentations and now for giving and preparing my lectures. Things that I learned from the Researcher Development Programme keep coming back to me on a daily basis and have really enhanced the way that I work. They were also fun to take part in and highly applicable.

Sometimes these are simple things like ensuring that my slides are being understood by the audience by reducing the amount of text, maintaining clarity and simplicity. This is advice has also been of equal use for when I prepare my online teaching materials.

However, some advice I gained has been fundamentally more important to my career, in general. I was always quite nervous speaking at conferences, but the advice I received whilst at Exeter about how to start a presentation, introduce myself and the content of the talk has proved essential. I use this now every day when I start my lectures and it has also aided in my preparation. Moreover, I used the technique for the interview for my current role, so it seems to work well.

My advice to current ECRs at Exeter is to make as much use of the training on offer from the Doctoral College as you possibly can, it really is excellent and can make a difference to your research activities as well as securing future roles. Finally, I am really happy to hear the plans for the future of ECR development at Exeter. The ‘ECR Hub’ and more bespoke training in the form of ‘Researcher-led Initiatives’ sounds like they are excellent additions.

Written By: This blog article has been compiled by Dr Chris Wood, Research Staff Development Manager in the Doctoral College, based on a discussion with Marco Palamino in February 2019.

5 Reasons You Should Apply to be a PhD Tutor with The Scholars Programme!

Gemma is a 4th year (PT) Film PhD student, who shares her top 5 reasons to apply to become a PhD tutor with The Brilliant Club. Originally posted on The Brilliant Club website. 




Scholars Programme PhD Tutor Gemma Edney from the University of Exeter shares the top 5 reasons to apply to become a PhD Tutor with The Brilliant Club!

There are so many reasons to apply to be a PhD Tutor with The Brilliant Club, but I have managed to whittle it down to five based on my own experience with The Scholars Programme.

  1. It’s an extremely worthwhile cause

The stats speak for themselves, here. Only  1 in 50 of the most disadvantaged quintile of 18-year olds progress to a highly-selective university, compared to 1 in 4 of the most advantaged quintile. The education gap between pupils from underrepresented backgrounds and their more affluent peers is huge, and it is important that we, as higher education practitioners, try to help redress the balance. This is what The Brilliant Club aims to do, with great success. As a PhD Tutor, you can help narrow the gap and contribute to a great cause.

  1. You can make a real difference

When I first became a PhD Tutor, I was skeptical about the amount of difference I could make in the space of seven weeks. However, I soon realised that it isn’t just about the pupils’ subject knowledge, but the other ways they can develop through the programme. Working as a PhD Tutor, you get the chance to see the progression your pupils make week by week. You have the opportunity to make a genuine difference to their lives, and the chance to have a lasting impact on their self-confidence, work ethic and realisation of future opportunities.

  1. It’s a chance to get your research off campus

It is so easy as a PhD Researcher to just spend all of your time in the library, at your computer, or in the lab. Working as a PhD Tutor offers you the opportunity to take your research off campus, share it with other people, and get them interested in your subject. You can learn how your research can be relevant to the current education system, and disseminate it to your pupils, their teachers, and other PhD tutors. This isn’t just good for professional reasons, it’s great for your own confidence in your research area too: there’s nothing like capturing the imagination or interest of someone else with your own project.

  1. It’s great for your professional development

Widening Participation is fast becoming a focus of many universities; experience with a WP organisation like The Brilliant Club can count for a lot for Higher Education institutions. Since becoming a PhD Tutor, I have been asked by my university to run training sessions for other PhD researchers and to help co-ordinate Widening Participation programmes at a university level, which is all great experience for the CV, as well as a good opportunity to develop understanding of the workings of Higher Education institutions more generally.

  1. You can meet great, like-minded people

One of the best things about becoming a PhD Tutor is entering into the fantastic community of existing tutors and Brilliant Club staff. Everyone you meet at training, launch events or graduations is passionate about what they do, and the enthusiasm is infectious. You become part of an amazing network of individuals all working towards the same goal. I have personally made some great friends through The Brilliant Club, and it’s great to share experiences and tips with other researchers.

Overall, I would recommend working as a PhD Tutor to anyone who is interested in increasing access to Higher Education, or wants to disseminate their research in a creative and fulfilling way.

Written by: Gemma Edney, a 4th year (PT) Film PhD Student- Want to learn more about Gemma and her research? You can look at her research profile, or follw her on twitter @GemmaEdney

This post was originally posted on The Brillant Club webpage, if you wish to find out more about The Brillant Club and what they do check there website.