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Stepping-stones to easier engagement

Neuroscience researchers talking with passers-by about their work

Neuroscience researchers talking with passers-by about their work
Image by Dr Anne Cooke

Brain Awareness Week, in the Spring Term, is now an established part of the University calendar and its success is due in no small part to the enthusiasm and hard work of Dr Anne Cooke, facilitator for Bristol Neuroscience (BN).

An international effort organised by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, Brain Awareness Week (BAW) aims to advance public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research.  It gives local people the chance to discover, share, and enjoy brain science, interact with neuroscientists, and see how the University’s research is relevant to their own lives.

It is the impact on individuals, when there is meaningful interaction between researchers and members of the public, which represents the true value of this public engagement.

Anne Cooke

Past activities have included: interactive exhibits at At-Bristol, workshops in local schools, art exhibitions and science cafés.  The BN team have thought carefully about how best to bring neuroscience to life. Creative solutions have included using a mock-up of a MRI brain scanner to allow visitors the experience of having a brain scan and organising 300 pupils aged 4-7 into forming neural networks in Bristol’s Millennium Square!

Reflecting on the value of BAW Anne feels that “it is the impact on individuals, when there is meaningful interaction between researchers and members of the public, which represents the true value of this public engagement.”

The difference these conversations can make to individuals is clear; in the words of one teacher this was “one of the best science events they have attended, mainly because of the great interactions between scientists and kids, making it educational and inspiring.”

An important part of Anne’s work has been to provide stepping-stones for academics and students to confident public engagement. In preparation for BAW Anne organises training for volunteers to build communication skills especially for those new to outreach activities. This training, together with a collection of resources (e.g. props, prizes and workbooks) means that colleagues can accept invitations to visit schools or speak at a public events knowing they will be well supported.

... one of the best science events (the children) have attended, mainly because of the great interactions between scientists and kids, making it educational and inspiring.

A teacher visiting a BAW event with her class

Director of Bristol Neuroscience, Professor Iain Gilchrist considers that “Anne has taken BAW from an event that was not occurring in Bristol at all, to a major event that everyone expects to happen, and one that really excites and engages a very large number of people.” 

It is for this work and more that Dr Cooke receives the 2011 University of Bristol Engagement Award.

Please contact The Public Engagement Officer for further information.

Further information:

Contact Dr Anne Cooke; email a.c.cooke@bristol.ac.uk or find out more by visiting the Bristol Neuroscience website.