The MRC WIMM has won a Building Capacity Award in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research (PER) Awards, bringing the VC award tally for RDM to two. The biannual awards celebrate excellence in public engagement across the University of Oxford.
The announcement was made at an awards ceremony at Keble College, Oxford, on 10th July hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson.
The Building Capacity category recognises those that have encouraged, facilitated and supported high-quality PER to take place. The MRC WIMM, and its two units MRC Human Immunology Unit and MRC Molecular Haematology, were recognised for their comprehensive public engagement programme, led by a PER Committee composed of academics at all stages of their career, as well as technical and administrative staff. How far the MRC WIMM has come is evidence by the numbers: In 2012, only 24 members of the MRC WIMM participated in 12 activities. Jump forward to 2018, 126 MRC WIMM members (roughly 25% of the institute) from 37 groups (out of 50) participated in 66 events, in what is likely to be an under-estimation.
“Research in the MRC WIMM ranges from discovery science to testing new clinical interventions, and it's important we communicate effectively the progress we are making. To do this, over several years we developed strategies to engage with the public, with primary and secondary schools, and with patient groups, optimizing activities from plush toys of T-cells to a virtual reality exploration of chromatin.” Said Prof Hal Drakesmith, Co-Chair and Academic Lead of the Public Engagement with Research Committee “The award recognizes the work of dozens of people, including administrators who secured critical funding, all the MRC WIMM members who ran events, and the MRC WIMM Public Engagement with Research Committee and Public Engagement Officers, Bryony Graham and Catarina Vicente, who have directed the enterprise as a whole."
A culture of Public Engagement at the MRC WIMM is fostered in many ways. Some are operational, such as the employment of a full time public engagement professional, a dedicated public engagement budget and 5 –year strategies and activity plans. But celebrating public engagement is also done more publicly. For example, good public engagement practice is recognised at the annual MRC WIMM scientific away day, with the awarding of internal individual and team public engagement prizes. The PER Committee plays a key role in championing these efforts.
“The MRC WIMM Public Engagement with Research Committee is a privilege to attend – enthusiastic individuals, truly thinking about their target audience, both in terms of the messages they would like to deliver and the experience their audience will have, with continuous improvement as an underpinning principle. The public engagement culture has evolved and developed significantly, which I believe has been particularly evidenced over the last three years.” Said Mary Derrick, MRC Partnership Communications Manager for MRC WIMM, MRC HIU and MRC MHU.
Over the years, the institute has run a variety of exciting projects that involved researchers at all stages of their careers. Examples include our annual Science in the Supermarket Roadshow (part of the MRC Festival of Medical Research, which has engaged over 3,600 people over 4 years in 10 locations), our work experience programme for disadvantaged students run in partnership with in2scienceUK, participation in major science festivals such as the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, Cheltenham Science Festival and the Royal Institution Family Fun day, as well as numerous local school visits and science fairs. The projects are assessed and evaluated, and outcomes have varied from inspiring young people to follow careers in science to impacting the direction of our own research.
Dr Catarina Vicente, Public Engagement and Communications Office at the MRC WIMM and Co-Chair of the PER Committee said “It is a privilege to work in an institute such as the MRC WIMM, where public engagement is valued and embedded in the research culture. I am in a unique position, and rarely need to persuade researchers of why communicating with the public is valuable. Rather I can concentrate on facilitating cross-MRC WIMM projects under the guidance of our PER Committee, but also supporting the numerous researchers who want to start and lead new projects. We are also incredibly thankful to the Medical Research Council, for their unwavering support and encouragement for our public engagement efforts”.
Professor Alison Woollard, Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research says:
“These awards highlight the many ways that Oxford’s researchers engage with the public. This includes informing and empowering people by sharing research findings; working in partnership with communities to shape research and enabling citizens to take part in the research by collecting and analysing data through Citizen Science. These winning projects also demonstrate that excellence in engagement results in a ‘win-win’ for both researchers and publics alike.”