From Technician to Public Engagement Inspiration

Wednesday 17 June 2020

When asked about public engagement, one of his roles at the University of St Andrews, Senior Teaching Technician Henry Rae’s response was simply ‘‘if you do something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work anymore’’. This notion is attested by Henry’s sheer enthusiasm alongside a self-sufficiency which ultimately reaps the most rewarding result- a captivated audience. The practical nature of Henry’s demonstrations inevitably makes him so successful coupled with the humble viewpoint that he’s not trying to make big splashes in the scientific world – he’s just doing what he loves and inspiring people along the way.

Henry receives requests to conduct public engagement in multiple venues outside of University term-time, from science centres to schools to prisons where he teaches a variety of topics including skeletons, balance or ventilation to name only a few. One classroom focus is recycling- why not melt milk bottle lids down and turn them into something else? Perhaps a Russian T-34 World War Two tank or a Sopwith Camel plane might spring to mind? The interactive, exciting manner in which Henry engages with his audience is truly admirable. The spectrum of subjects he teaches – recycling, medical, first aid, archaeology and biology- caters for audience preferences, in conjunction with chemistry, biology and physics sessions provided by teachers working alongside him. Henry’s aim is to rid inquisitive minds of the typical view that science is hard and boring, instead fueling them with the realisation that actually, science is quite fun.

The thought of getting into public engagement can be daunting to some in the scientific community. Henry aims to bridge the gap between academics and public engagement, encouraging staff to get involved. He values a tiered teaching approach to public engagement, keeping jargon to a minimum and recognising that, whilst some of his audience may only know little about a specific subject, others may have an intermediate or even expert understanding. Hence, he listens to the experts – they teach him so that he can teach others. It might just be for all these wonderful reasons that Henry received the Public Engagement with Research Award in 2018.

You may remember that public engagement is only one of Henry’s roles here at the University – it is number three on his duties list. His primary role is providing teaching support to undergraduates on the subjects of pharmacology, physiology and histology. As both Fire and Security Officer, Henry’s second role is building support; he is responsible for every key in the School of Medicine building, one of which is worth £67 000. Additionally, he is a member of several committees for the building – no wonder Henry received the Outstanding STEM Technician award in 2017! Aside from all this, Henry is Medical Director of Heart Start and involved in yearly public engagement events like Explorathon and Science Discovery Day. Henry is one key unlocking the curiosity of minds and helping to nurture a love of science in his approach to public engagement ­– the most important key in the building by far.



~ Blog post was interviewed and written by Freya Masters

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