Public engagement at the IEU
Members of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit engage with members of the public to share their research and benefit from others' insights. They encourage discussion about their research methods and findings through an exciting programme of activities in partnership with festivals, schools and community groups.
Festivals enable us to showcase Unit-wide research in different cultural contexts and increase our reach to public groups outside the usual science engagement sphere. Over the years we’ve built strong links with Bristol-based and UK wide science festivals including Festival of Nature, FUTURES (European Research Night), Einstein’s Garden at the Green Man Festival, Creative Reactions, Pint of Science, and the MRC Festival of Medical Research. Highlights of these activities include:
MRC Festival of Medical Research
Taking part in this annual festival allows us to build strong links with the MRC community and approach new audiences. Our events with primary schools in Avonmouth and Withywood, and with a girl guide unit, provided opportunities for young people to meet our researchers and discuss epidemiology. Using giant wooden models to stimulate discussion, young people had fun discovering the importance of optimal sample size and considering the influence of confounders. They also linked Children of the 90s variables on our giant question generator to suggest fascinating questions for future research. An event with elderly people at the Friendly Club was a fascinating opportunity for mutual learning.
We have exciting plans for the next festival, including partnering with a shopping centre and community groups.
Einstein’s Garden – Green Man Music Festival
Since 2013 the researchers from the MRC IEU have braved the Welsh weather to bring a varied mixture of science stalls the Einstein’s Garden. These have included Gene Genies, Bar to the Future and Data Mine – an artistic installation developed in collaboration with Bristol based designer Philippa Thomas. Our offering in 2018, led by the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG), invited festival-goers to offer opinions on glass shape and alcohol consumption. 2019 saw participants decorating giant chromosomes with jean genes, adding data on tongue-rolling and taste to our sample size board, as well as playing the wheel of fortune to experience the interplay between nature, nurture and chance in disease.
FUTURES – part of European Researchers’ Night
On Friday 27 September, 2019, thirteen MRC IEU researchers discussed their research with around 300 school students aged 9-14 on the joint MRC IEU-ALSPAC (Avon Longitudinal Study on Parents and Children) stand at FUTURES. Researchers and children alike enjoyed generating research questions using 40 of ALSPAC’s thousands of variables, as well as playing the wheel of fortune to discover the role of nature, nurture and chance in disease. School students also contributed data about their tongue-rolling skills, as well as bitter-taste test results, to experience for themselves the importance of sample size in epidemiological research.
On Saturday night, six researchers returned for more. Amongst the exhibits at We The Curious (formerly At-Bristol) they enjoyed fascinating conversations with around 200 adults on correlation, cause and confounders, and – of course – researchers’ findings.
Through school engagement we hope to make lasting impressions on local school students and inspire the next generation of health and computational researchers. By showcasing the career paths of our own researchers who come to the MRC IEU from diverse backgrounds including mathematics, computer sciences, statistics and medicine, we present students with alternative routes into careers in health sciences. We also demonstrate that researchers are normal human beings – not Einstein-like nerds!
Over the years we’ve developed a series of workshops and engagement activities that are suitable for school students of all ages, many involving hands-on participation through engagement with our giant wooden models. We always aim for plenty of laughter. If you would like us to visit your school, please contact email@example.com.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have devised and trialled an online lesson to guide students through epidemiological research processes in the context of the virus. The 10- and 11-year olds who took part in the workshop said that it was “fascinating”, “helpful” and “very interesting.” Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like us to run an online session for your school.
Engagement with stakeholders
We greatly value engaging with our stakeholders.
In January 2020, a mental health research workshop hosted by IEU researchers Robyn Wootton, Adele Wang and Hannah Sallis engaged professionals from Bristol City Council and seven mental health charities to guide future research by suggesting and considering future research questions. Both the researchers and mental health professionals valued the opportunity to discuss future directions, as well as potential opportunities for future collaboration.