Public Engagement at Bath

Supporting researchers to engage the public with their research

Not so wild about seagulls in cities

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Caroline Hickman (Social & Policy Sciences) was awarded £500 to measure the attitudes of the children towards seagulls and to educate them about the risks seagulls are facing.

This public engagement project has been successful in meeting its objectives, but also been a lot of fun. The project collaborated with the Young Carers' Centre in Bath, aiming to measure the attitudes of the children towards seagulls and educate them about the risks seagulls are facing. There was a strong desire to approach the project in a creative and interesting way, engaging the children in both the subject and also the research project. Their attitudes towards seagulls were measured at the beginning and again at the end of the workshop to compare any differences.

There is a tension in urban environments between people and seagulls as they move into cities, partly as a result of climate change. Due to the water in our oceans becoming warmer, fish have to swim deeper to find the right living temperature, meaning they are more difficult for seagulls to reach. This has forced seagulls to migrate more inland, which then causes tension with residents and local councils because they can be seen as loud, aggressive, and disruptive to live alongside. As we still see less obvious signs of climate change in the West, it is important in exploring social attitudes to climate change to include children in these discussions, and to help them to become aware of the signs that are visible, as this could help prepare them to deal with the future changes we all need to make to deal with the impact of climate change.

A melange of children and seagull puppets!

Most of the funding for the project was used to employ a puppet maker who came into workshops to help the children make seagull puppets. This included paying for his time and all the materials needed to make the puppets such as newspaper, sticky tape, glue, feathers, and pipe cleaners. He worked really well with the children, engaging and inspiring them to create their own individual puppets. The children then named their seagull puppets and created characters and stories for them. We are making a short film of the children talking about the seagull puppet workshops, as well as animated conversations between the puppets filmed against a green screen background. The Young Carers Project will have a copy of the film to show parents and funders.

Dr Chris Pawson, Head of Psychology at the University of the West of England, worked with Caroline to set up the project and first year undergraduate social work students attended the workshops and worked alongside the children, giving them valuable practical experience for their studies. The intention was to run three workshops, but due to its success, they have held four workshops and there is a fifth planned. There has already been a commitment for another joint project in January as it has gone so well this year.

Caroline also had seagull postcards to hand out to adults who attended the University of Bath’s 50th anniversary festival. The postcards contained three questions: “Where do you live?”, “What is your age?”, and “What is your opinion of seagulls?” She had approximately 300 completed cards returned and she is planning to compare the results to the children’s results from the workshops to extend the data on public attitudes to Gulls.

Contact Caroline ( for further information about her project.


Reducing animal use in cancer research

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Bailu Xie (Pharmacy & Pharmacology), Faye Monk (Pharmacy & Pharmacology) and Dr Paul De Bank (Pharmacy & Pharmacology) were awarded £500 to design and deliver two public engagement events to explain and promote the importance of modelling human pancreatic cancer, to two target audiences: primary school children and members of the public interested in science.

Bailu, Faye and Paul's first event was held at St. Mary’s Primary School as part of Bath Taps into Science. The aim was to engage children about the differences between cancer cells grown in 2D and 3D and how these related to finding alternative drug screening models for patients with pancreatic cancer to reduce animal use. To help the children to relate to these concepts, they used pictures and toys from the Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out”, where the characters were transformed from 3D to 2D. Fluffy pom-poms were used to help mimic cancer cells and capture the children’s interest. The team then showed the children how cells grown in 3D are different to the ones in 2D due to their multiple layers and how the barrier in the cancer tissue prevents anti-cancer drugs reaching every cancer cell. The children also learnt about how small a cell is, what a cell looks like and the plastic dish and plate where cells would grow in a laboratory. Bailu was surprised at her ability to keep the children engaged and interested in her research topic.

Some of the resources that Bailu used for her public engagement project

The second event was held at the University of Bath’s 50th Anniversary Festival on the 6th May. The aim here was to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and talk to the general public about cancer research at the University of Bath, in collaboration with KOҪ University in Turkey. With support from her supervisor, Randy Mrsny, and with the help of a visiting pharmacist, Nour Abaza from Jordan, and a number of booklets and handouts from the charity, Pancreatic Cancer UK, Bailu was well-prepared for targeting all age groups. For the children, she adapted the same approach as the first event and also included a guessing game for them to find cells in the cancer model. For the adults, she gave them questionnaires about pancreatic cancer and then explained the answers and her PhD research project to help address the issues in pancreatic cancer. The questions covered areas such as the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, the 5-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer, the amount of UK investment in pancreatic cancer research, and the percentage of a pancreatic tumour that is made up of cancer cells.

Approximately 50-60 adults engaged in conversation with Bailu and 20 completed the questionnaires. According to the answers they gave, only 4 people were aware of all the symptoms of pancreatic cancer. The majority of participants knew the low survival rate of pancreatic cancer, but most of them were not aware that this is largely due to late diagnosis and the fact that little progress has been made in pancreatic cancer research compared to other cancer types. None of them knew that only about 10-20% of pancreatic cancer tissue is made up of cancer cells.

All the participants were fascinated by Bailu's project on modelling the microenvironment of late-stage human pancreatic cancer. Learning from other people’s personal experiences with cancer and their interest in wanting to know the scientific research behind it has encouraged Bailu to further pursue her career as a scientist in understanding pancreatic cancer and look for more opportunities to talk with the public about pancreatic cancer in the future.

Initially, the project aimed to engage A Level students, but the team struggled to gain access to a school within the timescale for their project. In future, the team's hope is to relate the students’ studies with the research going on at universities to prepare and inspire them for further education.

Contact Bailu ( for further information about her project.

Bath's first-ever public engagement conference: Seeds of Change

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In late January, we held the University's first conference dedicated to Public Engagement with Research (PER). Seeds of Change saw over 60 researchers and professional services staff gather to share their experiences of public engagement, to learn more about national perspectives (particularly those of the Research Councils), and to hear from some of the many local community partners we've worked with in recent years.


It's been almost five years since the Public Engagement Unit was launched during which time, we've funded over 50 engaged research projects. The conference provided an opportunity to critically reflect on these and other PER experiences and to create a step-change in delegates' public engagement work.




We were fortunate to hear from a range of public engagement experts. The conference kicked off with reflections from our current and previous winners of the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Public Engagement with Research. Drs Paul Shepherd (Architecture & Civil Engineering), Sarah Bailey (Pharmacy & Pharmacology) and Kit Yates (Mathematical Sciences) shared reflections on what PER had done from them. From increasing their confidence, to sourcing collaborators, from thinking about new ways of communicating, to raising their profile and from recruiting PhD students to developing grant writing skills, it was clear that PER had offered that a lot!


We then heard from the following key figures influencing public engagement at a national scale:


In particular, the speakers addressed the future opportunities and challenges facing the PER agenda including Teaching & Research Excellence Frameworks and the impact of Brexit.


The afternoon sessions in the conference gave space for delegates to raise and address their own critical issues in relation to PER and to hear the experiences of some of our regular non-academic collaborators drawn from: 44AD, Fringe Arts Bath, Bristol Natural History Consortium, At-Bristol and the Holburne Museum.


It was great to have the conference fully booked and to see so many researchers enthused by PER. Ideas generated from the event will be helpful as we plan the sustainability of our Unit beyond 2018.


New small-scale public engagement projects launched

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Following our recent annual seed fund call we've funded 11 small-scale public engagement projects in departments across the University. As part of what we call 'Tier 1' of the call, researchers could apply for up to £500 to deliver their own projects.


Tier 1 provides an important opportunity for those new to public engagement to 'give it a go'. We designed the tier as a chance for researchers to trial an activity or an idea - to develop proof of concept - and / or to reach a public / publics that they hadn't worked with in the past. As well as actually 'doing' something, we're keen for those we fund to learn from the experience and to consciously develop their engaged research practice further.


Project titles and researchers that we funded are outlined below. The projects demonstrate a diverse range of activities from running a Human Library to contributing to Bath Digital Festival, from puppetry to citizen science opportunities and much, much more. The grants may only be small but that hasn't stymied the creativity in terms of engagement! And the publics being reached are equally diverse - museum professionals, young children, volunteers in a local shop, young carers, actors to name but a few.


If you'd like to find out more about any of the below projects, just drop me an email (


  • Dr Sophie Parsons (Dept of Mechanical Engineering) - A tiny solution to a big problem? Public acceptance of using yeast and microalgae to make deforestation-free consumer products
  • Sarah Bloomfield (School of Management) - Theatrical reflection of paradoxical tensions experienced within a community enterprise
  • Daniel Finnegan (Dept of Computer Science) - Trialling the Human Library at the University of Bath
  • Dr Matthew Alford (Dept of Politics, Languages & International Studies) - It’s Fun to Empower the Public:  Threshold Concepts, Social Justice and the Use of Multi-Platform Storytelling
  • Caroline Hickman (Dept of Social & Policy Sciences) - Not so wild about seagulls in cities
  • Dr Janet Goodall (Dept of Education) - Super shoppers: Engaging parents with children’s learning
  • Dr Nick Priest (Dept of Biology & Biochemistry) - How Animals Find Medicine in Nature
  • Professor Ed Feil (Dept of Biology & Biochemistry) - Antibiotic Resistance: Public Engagement and Risk Assessment
  • Daniela De Angeli (Dept of Computer Science) - Game Tale 2017
  • Bailu Xie (Dept of Pharmacy & Pharmacology) - Reducing Animal Use in Cancer Research and Drug Delivery
  • Russell Arnott (Dept of Architecture & Civil Engineering) - Plankton: what lives in a drop of water?


Thanks to the Widening Participation Office who provided additional monies that allowed us to fund more projects than we were originally planning.


Our seed fund call will next open in September 2017.


A Thai visit to the Public Engagement Unit

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On a cold and frosty Monday 28th November we were pleased to welcome a delegation of 13 visitors to the University from Thailand. These were senior figures from Thai universities and funding bodies who have come to the UK to learn about how we are implementing support and enabling researchers to engage with their research beyond the academy. Internationally, the UK are seen to be leaders in this field and Bath is one of the UK's key institutions with experience of successfully influencing culture within a university.

They specifically came to see us to learn from our experiences over the last four years here in Bath - how and why we had set up the Public Engagement Unit, our ethos and approach and lessons learned around influencing a culture of engaged research. They were really interested in the changes we had made to improve reward and recognition for engaged research, the diversity of approaches that we take to enable professional development across the university and the programme of opportunities that exist for researchers to test out and develop their practice. The concept of a science festival, how it works and how it allows engagement with research was a fascinating discussion - as yet, such festivals are not commonplace in Thailand. Our Community Matters projects were of particular interest, as some of the universities are seeking to create interactions based solely upon the identified needs and questions from the community around the campus, which can be a challenging mode of engagement. Professor Bernie Morley also joined us to welcome our visitors to Bath and thank them for their interest in our work.

In Thailand, public engagement with research is a relatively new agenda. In the last two years they have formed a network of universities and funders who are seeking change within their sector, Engagement Thailand ( Their visit to the UK was arranged by the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand for them to learn from our experiences, and take knowledge and guidance back to Thailand based on UK best practice. We have been informally invited to visit them next year at their annual meeting of Engagement Thailand, to share more widely and in more depth, what we have learned in Bath. We'll let you know if we make it to Bangkok!




It was a fascinating morning of discussions, and wonderful that they were so interested in what we had achieved in Bath and in our continuing work. It was quite an undertaking to organise, which we hadn't quite realised when we naively said "yes, of course, we'd love you to visit us in Bath", but the International Relations Office were really supportive and guided us through suitable arrangements for such a high level delegation and HR were rapidly responsive writing numerous letters for visa applications as the delegation grew and grew - thank you so much!

In case you are interested, our visitors were representatives from Hatyai University, Rajamangala University of Technology Isan, Mahidol University, Prince of Songkla University, Chulalongkorn University, Kasetsart University, The Thailand Research Fund and Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand).


Exhibiting research through art - Equity is the Answer

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We are a community of motivated and active researchers and it's always interesting to hear of the public engagement projects our researchers are running. Public engagement is a broad term that can cover a wide range of activities and events. Combining art with research gives a visual stimulus that can encourage people to think and connect with research. Oli Williams from the Department for Health invited artists to submit peices based on his theme of 'health as a social issue' and hopes that the created works will inspire people. The artworks will be on show at The Edge this Friday 18th November. Details are below.


The Public Engagement Unit can suport you if you have an idea for a public engagement event, from talking through ideas, putting you in contact with partners, providing training or helping with evaluation.


Equity is the Answer

Friday 18 November 2016

18:00 – 21:00

The Edge, University of Bath


Health is usually presented to us as a personal choice: choose to live healthier, you'll live longer and happier. Really?

Research has long shown that social circumstances often overwhelm our choices. This is why more wealth tends to mean better health. Our governments, however, would rather we didn't think like that. They frame bad health as a result of bad choices. That's far easier for them and it maintains the status quo.

But we need change. We need to see health as a social issue - to highlight the devastating impact of inequality and challenge the focus on individual choice. That is exactly what this exhibition is about.

Oli Williams is a Research Associate in the Department for Health and co-founder of the AWL art collective. About two years ago AWL started a project called ‘Picturing a Thesis’ which has ultimately led to the Equity is the Answer exhibition. Oli explains:

"I started this project shortly after completing my PhD in the Department of Sociology at the University of Leicester. I wanted to make my research findings as accessible and engaging as possible and so decided to work with partners in the creative industries to translate elements of my thesis into artworks.

"My doctoral research explored relationships between health, place and inequality. I conducted an ethnography in a deprived neighbourhood that highlighted how social factors inhibited the residents’ capacity to adopt a ‘healthy lifestyle’. I presented an argument for reducing health inequalities by addressing the social determinants of health with equitable interventions. It was these arguments that led to me receiving the NIHR CLAHRC West Dan Hill Fellowship in Health Equity."

More than 50 pieces were submitted to the ‘Picturing a Thesis’ project and 20 have been selected for display in the 'Equity is the Answer' exhibition. It's a public exhibition and there will be a wine reception on the evening. Reproductions of the work and other related items will be sold on the night to raise funds for the social change organisation Edge Fund.

If you have any queries or comments about the exhibition please do not hesitate to contact Oli via e-mail:


Why I chose the Public Engagement Unit for my internship

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I’m part of the South West Bio Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the BBSRC and as part of my PhD program I got the opportunity to carry out a 3 month internship that’s not related to academic research. During my PhD I’ve been involved in doing little bits of public engagement and have always believed that it’s a good thing to do. I was interested in learning more and getting more experience in this area so I joined the Public Engagement Unit for my internship.


My motivation as a researcher has been to work on something that will lead to benefits to society and I think that it’s important to remind people of that. Engaging the public with our research is a great way of breaking down the misconception that scientists are detached from the rest of society, just working for profits or think we are superior to everyone else. Hopefully this kind of work goes a little way to countering the ‘anti-expert’ view that has become prominent in the last year .


It’s incredibly rewarding talking to non-scientists and being able to explain something that they didn’t understand. To make some stop and think ‘that’s interesting!’ Before starting this internship I will admit I had a very narrow view of what public engagement actually was and how to do it. I wanted to work with the Public Engagement Unit not only to learn more about engagement events themselves but the whole process around them, who, what, when, where and how to engage effectively.


I knew Ed, Helen and Joanna as lovely, passionate people from working as a Pint of Science Pub Event Manager and working with them further over the last two months has been a great experience. They have really made me feel welcome and involved.


PhD students are often told that we know more about our specific subject area than anyone else. While this is (generally!) a good thing it hints that we are often so focused on our little piece of the puzzle that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Not only of why we’re doing research in the first place but of what’s going on in the rest of our research community. I have vague ideas of what other people in my Department are doing but less so of the Faculty of Science, let alone the rest of the University. This internship has been a really great way to step back, put my own research into context and learn a lot about what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ at the University.



Ignite Your Mind! My experience of organising a public engagement event

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This blog post is posted on behalf of Elizabeth Kaplunov (a postgraduate researcher in the Department for Health) who is part of the organising team for this year's Ignite Your Mind event.


Ignite Your Mind is running on Monday 21 November 2016, 7 - 9.30pm, in the Ring O' Bells pub, Widcombe. Tickets are free and available here.


Last year I presented my research in the pub for 5 mins at Ignite Your Mind , a public engagement event organised by postgraduate researchers for postgraduate researchers. I enjoyed the event so much that I volunteered to be on the organising committee for this year.


I’ve been heavily involved in speaker recruitment and somewhat in marketing. Our work on this year’s event is coming to an end and I have much enjoyed working with Ed Stevens (Public Engagement Officer), being supported by the past organisers and also getting to know different teams at university such as the Marketing and Audiovisual teams. It’s been a large learning experience – about teamwork, social media presence, flyering, organisation skills and so on.


The event is upcoming so I feel there is still much more to learn! I’m very grateful and impressed by the rest of the organising team, all postgraduate researchers – Anna (face of Ignite, general organiser), Holly and Gaby (marketing), Gareth (speaker recruitment). There’s more of us than last year which makes it easier in terms of workload but harder in terms of coordination. We’re all from the same department (Health) whereas the team last year was from different ones, which made it easier for them to recruit speakers from all the departments in the Faculty. We had to be more creative and proactive in terms of speaker recruitment such as going to PGR events (PGR breakfast), including MA and MSc students, asking our friends and contacts and directors of studies to spread the word, doing shout outs before department seminars etc.


Last year’s organisers have been on hand to give us advice and talk about their experience of organising Ignite, as well as providing us with a detailed plan for conducting the event. This year however, we split the speaker support differently – I took 3, Holly took 4 and Gareth took 3. This has made it easier on us in terms of workload and intensity. Despite doing Ignite last year, I’m not as comfortable with my presentation style as Holly and Gareth so I’m happy that I don’t have to look after anymore speakers! However, all the Ignite Your Mind organisers and speakers will soon receive presentation training from Ed Drewitt, a public engagement expert. This has been funded by the Public Engagement Unit and it’s great to have this additional support. As an organiser, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the 3 speakers that I’m supporting do at the event!


A reminder that Ignite Your Mind is running in the Ring O’ Bells pub in Widcombe on Monday 21 November, 7 – 9.30pm. Get your free tickets here!


'Community Matters' - engaging local communities in research

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One exciting job I’ve been given since starting in the Public Engagement Unit in October is to organise a mid-point reflection event for the Unit’s Community Matters project. This is an innovative collaboration between researchers in the university, the South West Foundation (an organisation that trains people in local communities to undertake their own research) and 'under the radar’ community groups.

Using a process called community-based participatory research five groups have been formed, each a mixture of community and university researchers. The participants on both sides have received training to help them work together: on the university side there have been sessions on understanding the voluntary sector and effective collaborative behaviours and on the community side there have been more specific sessions on undertaking research. These have been delivered equally by the Public Engagement Unit and the South West Foundation. The groups are currently investigating local issues identified by the community organisations.

As the Unit is pioneering this way of working with external partners, an important aspect of the process is to reflect about where things are going well and where there are stumbling blocks. Last week I met with Dr Leda Blackwood and Jess Johansen from the Department of Psychology. Leda has an interesting and crucial role in the project as she is undertaking an evaluation of the way the process is working. Using interviews, focus groups and observation she has been gathering qualitative data from all participants, which we are now analysing thematically to draw out some initial observations about the various hopes, anxieties and logistics of the process. This will shape a session Leda will give to open the January event.

This week I met with Jan Crawley, Chief Executive of the South West Foundation. We talked about both the excitement and challenges of catering for diverse groups of people, the potential for a wide range of outcomes and the positive impact that creating this mutual partnership is having and might continue to have in the future. We then discussed how we could work together to create an event that would be both productive and fun for all involved.

Given where we are in the process we agreed that shaping the day around ‘looking backwards, looking forwards’ was a good idea. We are therefore co-devising two hands-on sessions: one focused on sharing experience to date and one focused on ‘envisaging outcomes’. In the former we hope to celebrate some of the amazing work that is already being done as well as to foster collective thinking around some of the issues that have arisen – for example around understandings of ‘ownership’ of the research. In the latter we hope to encourage the groups to reflect on who their major audiences are and how their data might be presented differently for different groups. In particular we are keen to stimulate thinking about the use of different media – photos, short films, blogs or websites – as potential outputs.

As a facilitator on this project I feel in the privileged position of getting to see things from many perspectives. If I can contribute to making this way of working something sustainable within the University I will be proud of my time here!


Welcoming Laura Newton and George Tarling

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We have recently gained two new faces in the Public Engagement Unit, be it only on a temporary basis! Laura and George are both current PhD students who are undertaking placements with us, helping with specific aspects of our work.

Laura Newton is normally a PhD student in the SWBio DTC and based in Bath’s Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. She is working with us for three months, exploring and redeveloping our case studies of engaged researchers and seed fund projects. She will also be helping to organise the touring exhibition for our Expressions of Research project. Thanks, Laura!

George Tarling is normally a PhD student in the SWDTC based in Exeter’s Department of Education. She will be supporting Ed with the Community Matters project, particularly organising a mid-project event in January and helping with the project evaluation. She will also be producing some training and resources arising from themes across our seed fund projects. Thanks, Georgie!

They’ll both be coming along to meetings and workshops with the usual PEU team, so you may get to meet them as you interact with us this semester. So, join us in welcoming them to the Public Engagement Unit.