Lindsey is a PhD student in the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, working in the Institute of Life Sciences. Her research is part of a European training network which brings together researchers from across Europe who collaboratively study the different chemicals that are found on earth and in space.
Lindsey was joint winner in the Pioneer category, impressing the judges with a strong application which showed clearly her passion for public engagement, as well as a willingness to develop it as an intrinsic part of her research. She believes that public engagement is an opportunity to change people’s perceptions of science and is the best way to show future scientists that science and research is extremely diverse and multidisciplinary.
Where does your passion for public engagement come from?
People have often told me I don’t look like a scientist. The more I heard comments like this, the more I realised that when I was younger, I too had envisioned a scientist to look a certain way. So when I started my PhD at Heriot-Watt in September 2017 I made it my personal goal to engage the public with my research at any given opportunity in order to demonstrate the fact that scientists are real people, beyond stereotypes.
Why do you think your activities are successful?
I don’t view public engagement as a single event or a single act of sharing one’s research, but as something that is continuous and widespread. I want children and students to know that anyone can be a scientist and in fact, we are all scientists already, in our own ways. I always provide a map that shows where everyone in my EUROPAH network study, and then discuss where they are from. This provides a real example of ethnic diversity in science and research, and also shows the collaborative nature of research. I have even used the tattoos of DNA on my arm to discuss DNA structure and chemistry; both kids and adults really seem to enjoy this bit, and once again it demonstrates that scientists do not have to fit a particular mould.
What are the personal benefits researchers should be aware of?
Public engagement is an amazing opportunity for personal development. One of the most valuable is improving your communication skills, particularly to a non-scientific audience which challenges the way you view your own research. Being able to explain difficult concepts and techniques to an audience of non-experts is crucial for conversations with funders, employers, students etc.
Personally I had the opportunity to improve my leadership and communication skills when I coordinated our project exhibit for Doors Open Day in the Lyell Centre last year; organising 16 researchers from all over Europe to take part in a public event showcasing our research in a fun and interactive way. I worked with the Heriot-Watt Engage team which gave me a different perspective and better understanding about the practicalities of event and people management. I was introduced to everything from risk assessments to media deadlines, and not forgetting budget management!
Have there been any unexpected benefits from your public engagement activities?
After moving to Edinburgh from America, my active involvement in public engagement events both at Heriot-Watt and as part of the EUROPAH team, have allowed me to embrace the culture in the UK and Europe. It has introduced and immersed me in completely different cultures, and allowed me to meet people I never would have met otherwise. This has exercised my ability to adapt to my environment, and given me the ability to share my passion with others from all over the world.