‘Inspiring Stories’ with Traci Carroll

Public Contributor involved with the Faculty of Medicine who has been recognised by the Public Contributor Recognition Scheme

This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‚ÄėInspiring Stories‚Äô blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton‚Äôs Faculty of Medicine. This blog is written by Traci Carroll, a public contributor who has been involved in work at the Faculty of Medicine. Traci reflects on the second annual ‚ÄúGetting started in participatory and coproduced research workshop‚ÄĚ and her public involvement experience with the Faculty of Medicine over the past year. 

Having been made redundant in 2022, I was secretly struggling with feelings of uncertainty, but luckily, I could turn to my beloved voluntary public contribution work to help me maintain focus and give me reassurance that the future would be okay. Fortunately, contributing presented me with several ways to get involved and make a difference which gave me a sense of purpose. 

My personal view on research is that it is the great thinking behind the medicine and treatments that all communities receive. Working alongside medics constantly feeds my curiosity and I have always felt extremely honoured and privileged to work alongside some of research‚Äôs best. I have networked with many professors, all of whom are passionate about medicine, health care and innovation yet they are all notably warm and personable. Prior to losing my job I never dreamt that I would be able to share ideas on medical diseases with academics, but today I have explained my family‚Äôs life experiences on cancer, respiration, ED&I and dementia by way of an exciting electronic game to leading professors. 

The workshop

I loved being a public contributor involved in the event at the John Hansard Gallery from the planning stage. I endorsed some of the initial ideas and just before the meeting suggested someone creative from the community might add something to the collaboration. I invited a friend along to the event as I really enjoy acting as a bridge between my local community and this wonderful new world of research. 

The hosts had created a nice ambiance, the room was filled with researchers, professors and the public. We all sat together without any hierarchy; it was great. Five speakers addressed the room. The first (Jane Lavery) spoke about Mexican Day of the Dead. I must be honest the uncertainty of death leaves me with shudders and chills, so I tend to bury my head when the subject of death is being discussed. But on this occasion the researcher‚Äôs gentleness, passion and rationale for why it is important to discuss your burial wishes with family and the importance of doing so penetrated my usual fears and sunk in. I am grateful as listening to her helped me turn a corner. I am now much more open to conversations outside of the necessary will. 

The next speakers (Dave Johnston, Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer) showed us some cells and genomes within human beings. The artists worked with Southampton‚Äôs Biomedical Imaging Unit to colour the images of human tissue in the petri dishes. I turned to my friend and said without the outside skin on the human body, this is us. The photos of humans from within looked like they could be from another universe‚Ķfascinating. 

We were then shown an interesting presentation on bone density by Claire Clarkin and given crayons that had different colours throughout the layers to bring awareness to the structure and density of our bones. Us grownups enjoyed being educated by playing with the crayons and discovering the colours within. And the last speaker was Jessica Santer, the engagement coordinator from one of my favourite spaces in Southampton, Turner Sims. 

Throughout the day we were asked for our opinions on what would help benefit art and research and what would prevent people getting involved in arts and research. The answer to the first question came to me instantly, I would like to actually visit laboratories and physically see research in progress. As to the second question my friend said, unfortunately several people have never been exposed to either research or art outside of school so this would all seem foreign to them. 

To end the afternoon, I was asked to speak on my journey as a local author and public contributor. Unwittingly I was the creative from the community that I had suggested in planning stage. In addition, I received an email from a professor the day after the event saying she would like to open up her laboratories to the public as a result of what I had requested. Another superb event.

Continuing to grow

I can sense my growth through this public involvement journey which has educated and nourished my being. Being asked to judge the research presentations of early career researchers at the recent Faculty of Medicine conference (June 2023) was the ultimate reward for me. The high standards of talent amongst the researchers left me in awe. 

Thank you to the University of Southampton Clinical Research Department for nominating me this year and last for the Public Contributor scheme. I am incredibly proud to have such a wonderful accolade on my CV. This incredible journey has given me the courage needed to embrace all that the future holds and made me realise I have a voice so have no reason to feel diminished.

Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‚ÄėInspiring Stories‚Äô 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 Traci Carroll

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