Public Engagement at QMUL refers to any activity that is done with the aim of opening up our work, our research and campuses to those outside the university. This can be anything from collaborative research with members of the public to schools outreach, and includes patient engagement, interdisciplinary engagement projects and public health interventions.
As the Life Sciences Institute (LSI) develops, we expect engagement activity to flourish, building on the excellent work that has gone before. Here are a few case studies of recent activity in research areas connected to the life sciences.
Working with community groups
Collaborative research involves academics working together with community groups and members of the public to explore areas of mutual interest. QMUL's School of Geography has many strengths in this area – in particular our research into low paid workers in collaboration with London Citizens. QMUL's Professor Jane Wills has for many years explored the impact of low pay on migrant workers in London. Since the launch of the Living Wage Campaign by London Citizens in 2001, Jane has tracked the initiative, analysing its impact on workers, evaluating the costs and benefits and providing essential research to support the scheme. Queen Mary was the first university to pay all staff the Living Wage.
Working with artists
Interdisciplinary work at Queen Mary sees researchers doing engagement not only in collaboration with researchers from other disciplines but also partnering with artists of all kinds. This strong track record will support the collaborative engagement that will be an integral part of the interdisciplinary Life Sciences Institute.
An example is the collaboration between the Department of Drama and Institute of Dentistry in 2013; this saw a research project take place in a local primary school that used performance art techniques to empower the children to work with researchers. Originally planning to find out why children were scared of going to the dentist, the primary students were able to inform the work, changing the research question to "why don’t children go to the dentist more often?".
Integrating patients into our research processes is a key practice at QMUL. The multiple sclerosis research team runs a range of different activities, including a blog and the Digesting Science project, where multiple sclerosis researchers work with an artist to develop interactive experiments and activities that are used to help the children of people with MS to understand their parents’ condition. They also work extensively with people with MS, holding annual research days where researchers and patients discuss the latest research findings and potential future directions. Their lay advisory group shapes their research, as well as advising on their engagement processes. This model of lay advice is common throughout our medical schools – another example is the William Harvey Research Institute’s Patient and Public Advisory Group (PPAG), which gives lay people and patients a say in heart research and related activities carried out by the unit.
Working with schools
Educational outreach initiatives form an important part of the work that is done at Queen Mary. Centre of the Cell is our flagship science education centre – a unique cell-shaped "pod" suspended above a biomedical research laboratory in the heart of east London. Centre of the Cell also delivers outreach and widening participation activities, with a Youth Membership scheme that provides young people with mentoring and volunteering activities, and trains undergraduate and postgraduate students in public engagement and science communication. Centre of the Cell is one of the few science education centres in the world to be situated inside a research lab. Since opening in September 2009, over 100,000 young people and adults have participated in Centre of the Cell activities, with approximately one million visits to the website: www.centreofthecell.org