Current programmes and initiatives
‘Public engagement’ is a relatively new concept which has developed over the past 15 years. After a number of scientific controversies in the 1990’s (e.g. the BSE / CJD crisis and the controversy surrounding genetically modified crops) there has been an increased focus on the importance of open and transparent communication between the scientific community and the wider population. There has also been an greater emphasis on dialogue in which the scientific community are receptive to the interests and concerns of non-scientists.
The RCUK (Research Councils UK) defines public engagement as:
“… a two-way process involving interaction and listening with the goal of generating mutual benefit.”
This is the approach we take at the WCIP. We also recognise that we have lots of different audiences and our public engagement activities are tailored to the interests and requirements of these different groups.
We run a number of different programmes and activities - see below for more information. Any organisation or group interested in developing an activity with us, or hosting a workshop should contact the Centre’s public engagement manager Dr Vickie Curtis. You can read our public engagement strategy in more detail. We also use social media to communicate about what we do.
Our researchers visit both primary and secondary schools in Glasgow and the West of Scotland and conduct practical-based workshops on topics such as microbial infections (including parasites) and immunology. Researchers have also spoken to students about their life as a scientist with the aim of encouraging children of school age to consider a career in science.
National Science Week
National Science Week takes place in the UK every March with hundreds of public engagement events organised throughout the country. The University of Glasgow opens its laboratories and researchers from the WCIP take part in practical activities for visiting groups of students of all ages.
(Image: making jelly and Haribo cells with primary school children)
Science festivals and Glasgow Science Centre
The Glasgow Science Festival is held every June and researchers from the WCIP have been involved in events (such as public lectures and hands-on practical demonstrations) aimed at a range of audiences. We also participate in the Middle of Scotland Science Festival (which moves to a different rural location every year in order to take science-based activities to areas where the population may not have access to city-based festivals), Midlothian Science festival, Edinburgh Science Festival, and the Strathearn Festival of Science.
Glasgow Science Centre
Our researchers have taken part in 'Meet the Expert' sessions run by Glasgow Science Centre. These involve fun, hands-on activities that help to explain the research we carry out to a young audience. (image: Dr Lilach Sheiner and her group explain how human and parasite cells work using fruit!)
We are keen to work with sectors of the community that do not readily have access to festival or museum-based outreach events, and aim to bring our activities to these groups. We have been working with two local community groups in Glasgow: STEM in the Gorbals and with Govan Community Project, where we have been providing STEM activities for their homework club. We have also done some engagement work with communities in areas of the world where parasitic diseases are endemic, and where local populations have a personal stake in the research we carry out at the Centre. We have held a series of educational and community-based workshops and discussions in Malawi as part of our involvement in the MLW Centre for Global Health. We hope to expand these activities in the future.
Using art and crafts to engage
Another approach we have explored in our public engagement work has involved incorporating arts and crafts to communicate about our research, and even working directly with visual artists. One of our most popular activities is Crafty Critters, an activity where children (and adults) make felt parasites with our researchers learning about the diseases they cause at the same time. We have taken this activity to science festivals, and schools. The patterns for the 'critters' including some information about each parasite can be downloaded here.
Immunology researcher Dr Megan MacLeod recently took part in Silent Signal, a Wellcome Trust funded project that pairs a scientist and an artist with the aim of producing a piece inspired by scientific research. Megan worked with artist Eric Schockmel, who created a trailer for a fictional computer game based on the actions of the T-cells of the immune system called 'Immunecraft'. completed early in 2016. Click here to see the finished piece.
In 2014 we worked with costume designer Katie May Boyd who produced two pieces based on the Plasmodium (malaria) parasite. One costume represented infection (and eventual rupture) of a host liver cell (pictured here), while the other is based on the mature, sexually reproducing stage of the Plasmodium lifecycle. A short film was made to display these constumes.