What I’ve learnt from Online Public Engagement

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Thursday 10 June 2021

Fran der Weduwen has played a starring role in many of our social media videos including the ‘micro-organism of the day’ series as part of Science Discovery Day and Explorathon. Prior to 2020, Fran had never taken part in any online public engagement before, but took to this challenge like a duck to water. She notes that it was so exciting to see how far the reach could be. This was shown by the fact that Fran was getting messages from friends and family who would otherwise never see what she does in her labs, and that some friends who are school teachers in other parts of the country used our PE with their students.

Fran had had experiences with timed, competitive PE before (3 Minute Thesis, The XX Factor, and Explorathon), so knew how to make short, snappy presentations which easily transitioned to an online format. However, now they were being recorded! Fran says  watching herself back was a very strange experience, but gave her a great opportunity to think about what she liked and what she’d do differently in the future.

One of the main reasons Fran loves public engagement is feeling the buzz and hubbub of a room full of people – which is not possible when you’re sat in your lab putting on silly voices to be a different mirco-organism. However, Fran notes that “there is something incredibly satisfying about knowing you can reach all sorts of people online, and they can engage with your work at a time that suits them”.

Over the past 18 months we’ve had to spent so much time focussing on looking after our own students, which can make it hard to find time to work with people outside of the University. Yet Fran says by switching to an online, asynchronous format for public engagement, many more doors can be opened with very cost to her time.  Although, she does say “that’s mostly down to the excellent PE team at St Andrews – we are incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and efficient group of engagement experts!”

Fran has loved public engagement for many years because “there are so many wonderful aspects of my work that I want to share with the people around me”. Compared to the love of being a lecturer, with the shadow of exams and coursework always hovering in the background, public engagement can allow for sharing knowledge for the sake of pure interest, curiosity and encouraging people to think about the world around them.

If you would like to get involved in public engagement via social media, please get in touch with the public engagement with research team via standengaged@st-andrews.ac.uk

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