Doctoral College

Communicating research to the public. With a three-course dinner!

Written by Joanne Eaves.

A couple of weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity by the Doctoral College to present my research to Loughborough’s Rotary Club. The evening intended to build awareness within the local community of the work Doctoral Researchers do at Loughborough, and boy did it do just that!

Two fellow Doctoral Researchers and I each delivered 15 minute presentations that summarised our research, followed by 10-15 minutes each of questions from the Rotary Club members. The prospect initially seemed quite daunting: my research is about the cognitive psychology of arithmetic, so at the best of times I count myself lucky if the audience don’t run a mile when I mention the word ‘maths’! How on earth do I communicate my PhD work in a way that informs and engages the public, without making them want to dash to the exit?

It’s a clever skill to develop. If I’m being completely honest, I thought about how I explain my work and daily activities to my parents! Extract the most important bits, the ‘take home’ messages, and tell it as a short story. Avoid unnecessary (yet interesting) details at all cost (save that for the Q&A if necessary), have no more than 10 words per slide, and use a picture in places where you know you’re at risk of rambling. It seemed to do the job for me! Many asked insightful questions relating to my research that really made me think about its broader impact and how it could be communicated with teachers. Even some viva preparation was thrown in – one gentleman prefaced his question with “This is a question I would ask at a viva: …”

In hindsight, I probably needn’t have worried too much; the Rotary Club are not your average audience. They’re very well informed and many have a background in academia or ties with the University; they therefore have a genuine vested interest in the research we conduct, and really want to know about what’s going on (they even knew of my department and colleagues!) A couple of the members commented that the evening was “the most entertaining they’d had yet”, and seemed thrilled at the prospect of running another in the future.

To any Doctoral Researcher, I’d recommend seeking opportunities like this. Too often we find ourselves cocooned in our own research bubble, focusing independently on our own niche research questions, designing, coding, writing behind our locked doors. Dare we talk about it? Only to our supervisors, immediate colleagues, and academic Twitter if we feel brave. It’s too easy to forget what it’s all for – the public!

If anyone would be interested in presenting at a similar event in future please contact DoctoralCollege@lboro.ac.uk.

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