How I was able to 'RISE' to the challenge of My Science Inquiry

Posted by Dr Gesche Huebner on 01 May 2019

Challenging my views

Have you ever heard of My Science Inquiry?

Have you ever worried about how to write (and deliver!) the impact section in a grant proposal?

My answers to those questions were 'no' and 'yes' in 2017. That was before I completed EPSRC RISE: Making Connections public affairs and media training. The two-day course for EPSRC-funded researchers showed me how to engage with media and policy.

Until then, ways of engaging with parliament and the media had seemed rather nebulous to me. I had assumed that to get into the media, you had to be lucky and get ‘noticed’ by some mysterious means. On the other hand, I had thought policy engagement was all about knowing the right people. The training challenged both of these views.

Key messages

The media training covered a wide range of topics but I took home two key messages:

  1. It is of paramount importance to communicate research in lay terms and have clear, key messages prepared in advance.
  2. You can play an active part in getting noticed by media by: writing blogs, doing podcasts, and engaging with the community on Twitter.

I have never been keen on social media but after the training I began to see the potential benefits, and I eventually joined Twitter.

To be fair, the only two times my research has been picked up by the media, it wasn’t through my doing. In one case, it happened via a chain of contact that linked to someone who worked at a German TV station; in the other case, I still have absolutely no idea how my research got to anyone’s attention but it did. So the mysterious means of getting noticed I had imagined do exist, but it was great to learn that there are other ways, too!

Interacting with Parliament

The other part of the training explained how to interact with Parliament. As someone who didn’t grow up in England, my main associations with ‘Parliament’ were: one of the most impressive buildings in London, and an elite debating society.

What I didn’t know about was the existence of select committees that launch inquiries and scrutinise the Government. Nor had I heard about the House of Commons Library or the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the fellowships offered for academics.

The session also covered how to make a good submission to the Government: be succinct, write for non-experts, focus on a unique angle, keep your writing evidence-based and make policy recommendations.

From theory to practice

I put these tips straight into practice by making a written submission to the then open inquiry on research integrity by the Science and Technology Committee.

It was also through RISE training that I first heard about My Science Inquiry; a call by the Science and Technology Committee for suggestions for inquiries. At that time, I filed it away as ‘good to know’ but couldn’t imagine that I would ever submit anything to it.

However, in December 2018, I came across the My Science Inquiry again, at the Energy-PIECES Masterclass organised by the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI;) at Anglia Ruskin University. Now it seemed like the perfect time to submit something: the call was open; we had just been working on a topic that seemed ‘big enough’ in an area where I genuinely felt an inquiry was needed; the health and productivity impacts of climate change.  Writing the submission was pretty straightforward, and it got shortlisted!

Giving my pitch

Preparing for the evidence session took quite some time. I gave a practice pitch to my line manager, Professor Tadj Oreszczyn; Head of UCL Public Policy, Dr Olivia Stevenson; Head of Industrial Strategy and Policy Engagement, Dr George Dibb, and Research Facilitator at BEAMS, Dr Khaled Taalab.

Their feedback was incredibly helpful, so I felt well prepared for giving my pitch in front of the Science and Technology Committee on the 29 January 2019.

When doing it for the first time, it is really exciting to go Westminster Hall with a letter in the hand saying ‘visitor on committee business,’ to ask for directions to a room instead of listening to a tour guide, and to be filmed on Parliament TV live instead of taking pictures of the architecture.

In 2019, not only have I heard of My Science Inquiry, but I have actually participated in it.  And whilst I still worry about impact statements, I feel much better equipped to deal with them now. I am really appreciative of the training offered by EPSRC and would recommend it to others!

Author

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Dr Gesche Huebner
Job title: Lecturer in Sustainable and Healthy Built Environments
Section / Team: Env, Energy & Resources Faculty of the Built Environment
Department: Bartlett School
Organisation: University College London