‘Inspiring Stories’ with Michaela Christodoulaki

Postgraduate student researcher

m.e.christodoulaki@soton.ac.uk

This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.

What has driven you to participate in public engagement or patient involvement?

Being a scientist myself, I often come across people who are interested in learning about the research we undertake in an academic environment, but feel that it would be difficult for them to understand it and they also do not have many chances to get involved. That drove me to be actively involved in a number of events targeted to the public during which we can use simple terms to communicate our research and come up with creative ways to help everyone understand no matter their age or education level.

How did you get started with Public Engagement or patient involvement?

The first time I participated in a public engagement event, I was still an undergraduate at the University of Bristol. I read about Best of Bristol lectures which involves inspirational talks from lecturers at the University and are free to everyone to attend and gain insight into the research happening in an academic setting. I became part of the committee and we organised a fantastic series of lectures over two weeks that attracted a number of people from diverse backgrounds that were interested in learning more about our research.

What do you do to engage and outreach with the public or patients?

A couple of years ago, I organised a Pint of Science event to engage the public with current cancer research. The audience was able to listen to the talks of the invited scientists who were at various stages in their careers and learn about all the new developments in the field. It was a great event and a number of people had driven a long distance to attend the event which really inspired me to continue with public engagement. I am currently a member of the Wessex Immunology Group, a regional group of the British Society of Immunology and we organise a number of events open to the public to engage them with ongoing scientific research. Recently, we organised a live event as part of the virtual Science and Engineering festival at the University of Southampton which involved talks from scientists working on COVID-19 vaccine and treatment development.

Why do you consider Public Engagement / Patient Involvement to be important?

I believe that public engagement is a vital part of scientific research because a lot of funding comes from charities and I feel that by communicating our research to people, we give them the opportunity to see how this funding is actually used to help our understanding of disease and to develop novel therapeutic approaches. Engaging the public with our research does not only help them learn about the research we undertake in our everyday lives as scientists, but it also gives us the motivation to keep going and continue our goal to help people, because ultimately our research and our hard work is for the sake of the public.

What reaction do you get during an engagement event?

From my personal experience, people enjoy attending public engagement events because they know that talks will be tailored to them, to aid to their understanding. There has always been very positive feedback from attendees who were happy to have learnt something new and interesting that could even help them in their everyday lives and that it was communicated to them in a simple way without much scientific language that can be confusing to people from non-scientific backgrounds. Many events will usually involveactivities for children too and they are more than happy to learn while also playing. It is very rewarding because you never know whether you will inspire these kids to become scientists too in the future!

What do you feel is the impact of the engagement events, what happens as a result?

After every engagement event I participate in, I make sure to ask people’s feedback to improve it in the future to meet their needs. Many will go and research more about some things that they might have heard during the event or will ask us for more information, which I find very inspiring because I know that somehow the event can help someone understand better the ongoing research in the field from a scientist that is actually working in it and not a random person on the internet or on a television show. We are constantly bombarded with information coming from various sources around us, especially through social media platforms and we often lose the ability to filter through all the useless, or even worse, misleading information. Engagement events show the public the truth through the eyes of a scientist and sharing that knowledge is a very powerful tool in shaping our society.

Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.

University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint

‘Inspiring Stories’ with Michaela Christodoulaki

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