How to get involved in public engagement / science communication if you are a PhD student / post-doc

I see/hear get asked this question quite a lot, here are some tips and some examples of things I have been involved with 

Periodic Table cupcakes at the
Freshers Fair 2011 for Au Science Magazine
1) Before you do anything, find out what public engagement and science communication activities are already going on at your university/place of work and in your area. There are a number of ways you can do this.
  • Search the Internet, find out if there are any bloggers/tweeters in your area. Find out if there are any meet ups/tweet ups scheduled (usually advertised on Facebook and Twitter)
  • Get on google, find the bloggers, tweet them, message them, comment on blogs you find interesting. I have found that the sci blogging and Internet community are very friendly and incredibly helpful
    Car Boot Science at Techfest Aberdeen 2010
  • Find out who the key people are in your area (by key, I mean the ones with lots of connections and ones that organise events and know what is going on)
  • Speak to others around the world, find out what they are up to
  • If you are in the UK register as a STEM ambassador and sign up to your local British Science Association branch (they circulate opportunities running in your area)
  • Be inspired by others that are already involved and have experience
  • If you are at a university, find out and contact the representative for your research field (if there is one)
  • Speak to others that you work with and find out what they know
  • Start a blog (if you don't feel confident starting your own, write a post for someone else)
  • Get on twitter
  • If you are funded/member of a research council or academic society find out if they organise any events, schemes, or offer any advice and support.

Encouraging the undergraduate
students to win the 'hand of science'

2) Think about what it is you want to do. What do you want to get out of it. What will you enjoy? What is missing in your area? Who needs help and support and how could you fit in? What kind of engagement/communication do you want to do? Do you want to talk to children or adults? AND how do you judge if you have been successful? These are lots of questions, but important to ask yourself at the start. There are lots of different opportunities out there.

Not all public engagement/science communication involves talking about your research to an audience. You could do something online, run a website, behind the scenes, help raise funding or organise an event where someone else talks or help someone else organise an event.

Au Science Magazine

3) If you spot something that is going on elsewhere, but isn't happening in your area, think about how you could set this up (if you wanted to!). The connections you have made will be able to help and support you do this.

4) I think the worst thing to do is spend a lot of time and effort to trying to set something up and then find out someone else is already doing avoid this make sure you get connected with the right people. Put yourself out there.

5) And another thing, you need to make sure what time you have available. Do not sign up for lots of things and make too many promises to people (most engagement/communication events, schemes rely on volunteers). People do not appreciate being let down at the last second.. saying that, everyone understands that people are volunteering and that other things sometimes have to take priority.

Aberdeen Skeptics in the Pub

6) Have fun with it. Don't force yourself to continue with something you hate but try everything you can!  

Anyone else got any tips/advice or useful links to share?


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