Communicating to the Public on Ideas that Should Not Come Up in Polite Conversations

Friday 3 July 2020

Gillian Chu is currently completing her PhD in the School of Divinity at the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics – which she points out are two topics that should not be brought up at the dinner table! Specifically, Gillian researches about how Christians conceptualise civic engagement, given Hong Kong’s resistance movements.

Gillian was born and raised in Hong Kong during the British/Chinese hand-off negotiations, and after graduating from the University of Edinburgh, worked in Hong Kong for almost a decade. Hence, as a Hong Kong Christian, she is passionate about her research—she has a vested interest to reconcile what it means to be a Chinese person from Hong Kong with Christian convictions. Therefore, her ultimate goal is to take what she has learnt and have those conversations with a general audience to return her learning back to the community for them to use for their own purposes as work. Since culture is not self-interpreting, her work can support the community by providing them with a view of their interactions and perspectives from a research angle, and provide more accurate or perspicuous ways of measuring, classifying, and connecting their experiences. Gillian feels that on a governmental level, without this project, the policy process could remain trapped by unexamined and misleading assumptions about the present and how it came to be.

Gillian was one of the first graduates of the Public Engagement Training Portfolio (PEP), which has allowed her to develop this area of interest and overcome her fear of putting herself out in public. Since completing the PEP, Gillian has continued her public engagement development by attending PEP courses, as well as reading a book entitled ‘The Public Value of the Humanities’ by Jonathan Bate (2011), which further demonstrated to Gillian that public engagement is not only for STEM subjects researchers. Gillian has now taken part in many forms of public engagement, including blog posts public talks, and book clubs among others. In June 2020, she recorded a podcast with Christianity Today, a renowned news outlet in America, on the current affairs in Hong Kong after the proposal of National Security Laws. This was a massive leap of faith since this is the first time she spoke with the mainstream media about her research, a heated and controversial topic. The point she wanted to drive home was that Christians come in many shapes and sizes, and she wanted to share with the rest of the world that there is more to the story than just Christians in Hong Kong trying to strive for democracy.

She found that most of her public engagement opportunities came mainly through personal contacts. She enjoys making friends and chatting about her research work, so many in different fields know what she does. When opportunities arise, they would think of her. It sounds simple, but this is more her personality than proactive public engagement planning at work. Perhaps that is a way to do it—make public engagement part of who you are.


Are you in arts and humanities and are unsure how you could engage with the general public? Check out Gillian’s public engagement journey on her research website, Facebook Fan Page, and Twitter!

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