‘Inspiring Stories’ with Caroline Childs

Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences


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

I try to take part in a variety of activities which span both my research and education roles. For example, ‘Meet the Scientist’ sessions for young people attending LifeLab, laboratory open days for A-level students, to games highlighting my research on nutrition and the immune system at public events like the New Forest Show, to online ‘live’ twitter events.  As my career has progressed I have also been invited to participate in media interviews and as an invited speaker at public, corporate and educational events.

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

I think public engagement has a number of important roles – the one we might initially think of is communicating the scientific message behind our research in an accessible format to a wider audience. But there are also some possible longer term indirect effects – such as acting as a role model for STEM careers to young people, or arising from the links built with individuals or corporations outside of traditional academic circles.  Those taking part in public engagement can also benefit, such as undergraduate and postgraduate students gaining confidence and experience in communicating science, or early career researchers developing new activities and applying for seed funding.

How did you get started with Public Engagement or Patient Involvement? 

I started out with ‘Meet the Scientist’ at Lifelab – this really gave a great and supportive environment to dip my toe into public engagement, plus some opportunities for formal feedback from those who joined!  

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

I think it is important to communicate the scientific research we do to an audience beyond our academic colleagues.  I find taking part in public engagement activities informs my knowledge of the current and topical questions people have in my field of nutrition.  It also helps me to understand the messaging that young people (and their parents) have received on nutrition and food choices.  Discussions during events also help me to shape and develop ideas for future activities to ensure there are aspects to engage across all ages, and that the activity itself can be safe and accessible to all.

What reaction do you get during an engagement event? 

​​​​​​​It is really enjoyable to see young people enjoying playing and interacting with activities created by our team and gaining insights into the science we do.  Some people will play and move on quickly, others will stay to talk for a few minutes and ask questions.  Occasionally themes around nutrition can be challenging and we have found it is important to use open questions without value judgements when discussing food choices.  One tip I have is to ensure that all demonstrators are briefed on typical frequently asked questions, and have a clear route to ask for support from a senior member of the team if required.

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

Some impacts are relatively easy to measure such as funding received, the number of participants at an event (we saw 300 players in a day at SOTSEF 2019!) to the number of online impressions at a twitter event (over 8000 in our #Goodbugs event @UoS_nutrition).  But there can be other important impacts such as young people making contact with me for work experience opportunities, or just talking with young people about their potential career aspirations and options for the future.  It is also very fun!  I have enjoyed some really great days out with colleagues and students at events – good for teambuilding!

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.

UoS Medicine websiteFacebook, Twitter, YouTube

University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint

‘Inspiring Stories’ with Caroline Childs

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