Friday 9 November: Outreach

Here is the extended list of points we discussed in the outreach themes meeting.

  • Outreach generally has two types of audiences: a smaller engaged group (may be higher level science, or young children!) or a more general science talk directed at a larger less specific group. Your task is to know which group you’re aiming for and what group you want to engage with. Both approaches can be very worthwhile.
  • Outreach is not a one way interaction. It is not about just disseminating your information, but is most successful when it is a shared experience. Not only that, but you will learn how your research is perceived by others too. It will teach you how to describe your science simply, and what metaphors or comparisons are understood. This will make you a better academic communicator as well. It is likely to increase your motivation for your research and the impact you feel you are having.
  • Outreach can be a great way to help with your mental health. You may find it helps balance the stress of the job. However, it is time consuming, and getting the right balance between outreach and your research can be difficult. Not everyone has the right personality for outreach, and some people may find it too stressful, but for those who can do it well, we should be using outreach to explain our taxpayer funded science in ways that will reach more people than journal articles and conference presentations.
  • Merging art and science is a very powerful approach for communication. Climate Stories was a recent outreach project doing just that. However, you may wish to reach people who are unfamiliar with climate science, and thus reaching them through something not related to climate may be most effective (i.e. at a market rather than a specific science event), or for example, through song rather than climate specific poetry, which someone uninterested in science or poetry may be unlikely to pick up. However all approaches will reach someone and have value, and sometimes it is best to focus on a quality exchange of information rather than focussing on reaching as many people as possible.
  • It is sometimes difficult for people to know about outreach opportunities. In addition to disseminating information to their colleagues, many climate communicators are focussed on actually doing the Outreach, so do just go and knock on their doors and they will be more than happy to help you get involved. Some of the opportunities we discussed include the Exeter Branch of the British Science Association (lots of opportunities through this!), the Brilliant Club, Soapbox Science and Pint of Science, and local science cafes and festivals, and well as one off opportunities.

If you’re at the University of Exeter and want to start going some outreach then some good points of contact would be Engaged Research Manager Grace Williams, or Engagement Officer and Researcher, GSI Georgie Tarling. A lot of projects will have outreach stated as part of their grant applications, so your outreach skills can come in handy when fulfilling your project goals as well.