In this Engagement Matters post, Sheena Cruickshank shares her experience of presenting her research using curious objects and storytelling techniques.

As part of European Researcher’s Night, I recently participated in the Science Uncovered event at Manchester Museum. I had expected to be running a table top activity, something I am really accustomed to, but instead I found myself trying out new techniques of public engagement. I was really nervous about doing this but overall I found this really rewarding and made me reflect on why I do my research and how I interact with the public.

In the morning and afternoon I did “show and tell” sessions about our work for groups of primary school children who were aged 7-9. Whilst I have worked with primary school aged children, it’s been a few years since I did so and much of my outreach work is aimed at older primary school children (aged 9 plus), family or even adult audiences. For the show and tell session, I selected some objects and used these to narrate a story about how common parasite infection is, how you can catch it, and what we do in our research. Throughout, I encouraged the children and teachers to hold the objects, look at them and ask lots of questions. What was great about the groups was the enthusiasm and curiosity of the children. However, such young children can be quite challenging to work with as they may get over-excited or distracted. Overall, the children were really enthusiastic and asked so many questions which ranged from focussing on the science such as “how do we destroy or fight the worms” through to philosophical questions such as “which came first the parasite worm or the egg.” Children also did get distracted by the wonders of the museum and I had to also field questions about dinosaur parasites and how many worms could infect a whale so do always expect the unexpected with questions! Overall I found it incredibly rewarding to do and really inspiring.

Later that evening I delivered a “storytelling” session. I was initially incredibly nervous about doing this as I was really unsure about what I could do and whether I had time to develop anything effectively. I asked lots of questions in advance until I felt I understood what was required. In essence we were tasked with weaving a narrative that showed our rationale for doing a piece of research as well as discussing the research. The audience was to be an adult group and there were to be no slides although you could bring props. I chose to bring some props to illustrate my journey from studying the immune response to infection through to trying to understand allergies via citizen science in our Britain Breathing project. What was nice about this approach is you could take your time and pause as and when questions came up so it was much more conversational in style. The disadvantage is that you reach fewer people at any one time but it was great to hear about people’s motivations for coming to the talk, their backgrounds and interest in science and their thoughts about what you were doing.

I really enjoyed my experience of doing two different styles of engagement at Science Uncovered and I will take this through into other types of engagement work I do. My take home messages from this experience are (1). Don’t be afraid to try new approaches to share your work and (2) don’t be afraid to get clarification of what is expected.

Sheena Cruickshank, Academic Lead for Public Engagement, The University of Manchester

Twitter: #EngageMatters | @UoMEngage | @sheencr