A happy engagement

February 5, 2015

So public engagement can harm your research career (“Public engagement: hidden costs for research careers?”, Opinion, 22 January)? Well, it can also build it, giving you new connections and viewpoints and a reason to get out of bed on those dark days when experimental data are not forthcoming.

At the University of Central Lancashire, we offer researchers the opportunity to be an “engagement catalyst”. Each researcher receives support from our central Public Engagement Unit, access to development opportunities and funding for engagement activities. The benefits of this programme have extended beyond public engagement, and indeed beyond research. Engagement catalysts have reported improvements to their teaching style, enhanced student experience and increased personal confidence.

Researchers are increasingly expected to demonstrate the impact of research, disseminate research results and justify the allocation of public money to their research, yet critically they are still judged mainly on publications. We need to understand that this equation doesn’t balance. At Uclan, I feel that we are doing a good job, with public engagement starting to feature on workload models and with senior management supportive of this type of work.

Public engagement does work, and it can certainly be beneficial to careers; the caveat is that we need to recognise and reward it, and this requires a shift across the sector.

Joanna Heaton-Marriott
Public engagement manager
University of Central Lancashire

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