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Dr Karen Bultitude
  • Principal Research Associate
  • Dept of Physics & Astronomy
  • Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Dr Karen Bultitude is an award-winning specialist in science communication and public engagement. As an academic within Science and Technology Studies at UCL she combines practical delivery expertise with robust research, particularly in the areas of live (face-to-face) and digital environments. She also acts as an external consultant, primarily focusing on delivering training courses and conducting project evaluations.  Karen holds various advisory roles within the Research Councils, including being appointed one of nine national EPSRC Public Engagement Mentors, a member of the STFC's Advisory Panel for Public Engagement, and part of the judging panel for the ESRC’s Celebrating Impact Prizes. She has also recently been appointed to the Wellcome Trust’s Society Award Panel, and has contributed to high-level strategic reviews of institutional practice in public engagement both nationally and internationally.  The innovative and high quality nature of Karen’s work has been recognised through multiple awards, including the Josh Phillips Memorial Award for Innovation in Science Engagement (2008) and the Royal Academy of Engineering Rooke Medal for the Public Promotion of Engineering (2010).

Karen completed her DPhil at Oxford University, developing a new type of high-resolution laser which could be used for a variety of applications, ranging across biology, chemistry, physics, engineering and environmental sciences.  During her studies Karen participated in a wide variety of high-profile public-facing events, including being selected to co-present the Faraday Lectures, a nationwide tour which reached a total live audience of more than 30,000 people within the UK, as well as live satellite broadcasts to North America and international television distribution, resulting in many millions more viewers.

In 2003 Karen joined the University of the West of England in Bristol, where she developed a range of innovative and large-scale projects linking various public groups with scientific concepts and issues, in venues ranging from museums and science centres to festivals (both music and science related), as well as many other public spaces.  This included four separate programmes conducted at a national scale, covering topics as diverse as genetic testing and robotics technologies.  Meet the Mighty Gene Machine (funded by the Wellcome Trust) brought together researchers, clinicians, genetic counsellors and science museum staff to develop activities and dialogue events for 14-16 year olds, focusing on controversial issues relating to genetic testing.  Robotic Visions took these dialogic processes a step further, empowering young people to develop their own ‘visions of the future’ of robotics technologies, and feeding this into key policy planning exercises within government and the Research Councils. From a research perspective during this period Karen led on a global review of science festivals, as well as exploring various participant and deliverer motivations for becoming involved in public engagement activities.

In 2011 Karen moved to UCL, where she combines teaching and research in public engagement, specifically focusing on live (face-to-face) events and digital environments.  She has also led on the development of a new series of training programmes for graduate students across the institution, and in May 2012 was appointed Director of Research within the department.

Research Summary
My research focuses on critically exploring how effective public engagement efforts are; what impacts do they have on both ‘audience’ and ‘researcher’ participants, how could they be improved, and what best practice can be identified and shared more widely.

My professional expertise provides a rare example of bridging the gap between research and practice. Until 2007 I took a ‘practitioner’ role, focusing purely on developing and delivering innovative engagement mechanisms for science communication events. During that time evaluation and reflection underpinned every activity I delivered, however the role involved little focus on academic research or peer-reviewed outputs. This changed somewhat in 2007, when I was employed full time as a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at UWE, Bristol before moving to the Department of Science and Technology Studies at UCL in September 2011.

My recent journal papers cover a broad spectrum of science communication activity, for example the first global review of science festivals, and an exploration of ‘trust’ in the situation of open science public engagement (whereby scientists’ data is made available online as it is collected, then used to engage public audiences).  I have published in highly respected journals such as Science Communication and the International Journal of Science Education, as well as more open-source journals designed to facilitate sharing of best practice with practitioners and others (e.g. academics from developing countries) who don’t have access to standard academic texts (such as the Online Journal of Science Communication).

Collaborative interdisciplinary partnerships are fundamental to my research and practice. Throughout my professional career I have worked with a wide range of partners including researchers from other disciplines within my own institution (for example social scientists, roboticists, ethicists and health professionals); other HEIs (both within the UK and internationally); science communication practitioners (most recently the British Science Association, the Royal Institution and UCL’s Public Engagement Unit); and various charities, learned societies, education networks such as the Science Learning Centres, and so on. In my experience such collaborative working not only encourages greater creativity but also opens up opportunities that would not otherwise have been possible.  For these reasons the majority of my projects are conducted in partnership with one or more collaborators who are specifically chosen for their complementary skills, networks and resources.

As alluded to above, my work is highly interdisciplinary and has incorporated elements of education, museum studies, informal science learning, leisure studies, professional development, digital humanities and gender studies. Additionally, I have applied a very wide variety of social research methods within my projects, ranging across diverse qualitative and quantitative methods (including action research as well as questionnaires, interviews, observations, content analysis etc. etc.) and incorporating face-to-face, online and remote approaches.

Specific key areas of expertise include:
Designing, delivering and testing of innovative forms of science communication
Determining the impacts on students/staff of being involved in PE activities
Use of ‘unusual’ venues for science communication, especially with the intention of reaching less engaged audiences
Gender aware teaching practice in the physical sciences
Teaching Summary

My teaching responsibilities cover all levels within UCL, ranging from undergraduate and Masters programmes to PhD supervisions.  I usually teach modules focusing on specific aspects relating to connecting scientific concepts and issues with various public groups, for example Communicating Science in Digital Environments.  I also have a strong interest in social research methods, and have taught modules at UCL on such topics as well as more informal support during student dissertation projects.  In my role as Director of Research within the Department of Science and Technology Studies I oversee the development of student applications for ethical approval; this applies both at undergraduate level (for example in final year dissertations) as well as postgraduate research.

In addition, I have led on the development of a new suite of courses for UCL postgraduate research students from across the institution.  These sessions are delivered in conjunction with key UCL services such as the Public Engagement Unit and UCL Outreach, and are offered to students from all disciplinary backgrounds.  They focus on various aspects relating to Research Communication, Public Engagement and Outreach, and are managed by the UCL Graduate School.

01-AUG-2007 – 18-SEP-2011 Senior Lecturer and Director of Research Science Communication Unit University of the West of England, United Kingdom
01-SEP-2003 – 01-AUG-2007 Research Fellow / Senior Research Fellow Science Communication Unit University of the West of England, United Kingdom
Academic Background
2008 PGCLTHE Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education – Learning and Teaching University of West England
2003 DPhil Doctor of Philosophy – Physics University of Oxford
1998 BSc Hons Bachelor of Science (Honours) – Physics and Chemistry Australian National University
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