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Dr Chrystalina Antoniades and Dr Elizabeth Tunbridge
Dr Chrystalina Antoniades and Dr Elizabeth Tunbridge

The Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Public Engagement with Research recognise excellence in Public Engagement with Research, and 5 of the winners of the inaugural awards were from MSD. Huge congratulations to Professors Trisha Greenhalgh and Hannah Smithson and Dr Matthew Snape who won awards in the Project category. Dr Chrystalina Antoniades, from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Dr Elizabeth Tunbridge, from the Department of Psychiatry, won awards in the Early Career Researcher Category, and we caught up with them after the award ceremony to find out more about their public engagement activities.

Why do you think engaging the public with your research is important?

Elizabeth Tunbridge: I think it’s good for scientists to enter into a dialogue with the public about our research for several reasons. Firstly, like many scientists, my research is entirely funded from public money (via the Research Councils and charities). Therefore, I think I should explain how this money is spent, and why this research is important and relevant to the public. Secondly, I am passionate about improving mental health and stigma remains a huge problem in this area. I have found that events that promote discussion of the science behind mental health give people a supportive environment in which to share their personal experiences. Thirdly, selfishly perhaps, I and my lab members have benefited greatly from engaging with the public: as well as being great fun it makes us better communicators, a skill which is invaluable in science.

Chrystalina Antoniades: Telling the public about my research has given me a different perspective on it and helped me better understand how it relates to the lives of the wider public. I always invite local members of the patients and carers organisations that I work with e.g. Parkinson’s UK Oxford branch, to the events that I have organised. By working with these groups, I’ve not only been able to explain my work and help them understand what I do, but also hear their thoughts on the issues surrounding neurodegenerative disorders, particularly the issues that are most important to patients and their families.

How had engaging the public with your research benefited you?

ET: Discussing my research and its implications with as wide an audience as possible gives me the opportunity to take a step back and consider its wider societal implications. Genetics-focused research, particularly in the area of mental health, has significant societal and ethical relevance, and I have found that many people are interesting in this research. Discussing these issues has helped me to clarify my own ideas and opinions, and made me a more considered and conscientious researcher. Furthermore, by talking about my research with non-specialists, my lab members and I, become much better at communicating complex scientific ideas in an accessible manner. This skill is invaluable in my day-to-day work, be it writing papers and grant applications, or preparing conference presentations.

What engagement activities have you got planned next?

CA: Building on the Art and Neuroscience collaboration I have developed with the Ashmolean Museum over the past couple of years, we’re currently planning a follow-up series of events on visual perception and art, along with a number of workshops which will include both patient groups and school students. Over the summer I’m also hosting a number of students in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences where amongst other activities the students get to test themselves in a reaction time race.

And finally, what does winning one of the inaugural Vice Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards mean to you?

ET: I think these awards are exciting because they send the message that public engagement is valued by the University, and a core part of our responsibility as scientists.  I have seen many examples of people doing great engagement right across the University, so I feel extremely fortunate to have been recognised in this way.

CA: It is an honour to be given this award by the Vice Chancellor, particularly because it shows how much the University values public engagement.  Of course it gives me great pleasure personally but this is a team effort and I am proud to be part of this university.

Further details on each of the winners is available in a short booklet.