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