People: Martin Coath
- Current role:
- Academic (research)
- University of Plymouth
- Physical sciences and astronomy
What motivated you to engage the public with your work?
Because I think it is important. We cannot expect science to be supported in a society where scientists are seen as distant and uncommunicative. Research is mostly invisible and the argument for it is not self-evident to most people. Explain what you do, and why - it is the only way to get people on your side in the end, and it is a huge help in encouraging potential scientists if they get to meet and talk to one. It is also enjoyable!
Describe the public engagement activity you have done.
I have done all kinds of stuff! I have given talks at festivals (and not just science festivals - I gave a talk last year at the Cheltenham Music Festival), I regularly go out on visits to primary and secondary schools and this year I won "I'm a Scientist - Get Me Out Of Here" http://imascientist.org.uk/.I am a Famelabber (2007) and STEM ambassador both of which have provided me with many opportunities. Talking about my own work is central to what I do, but it is also important that people (particularly young people) see science and mathematics in general as something worth talking about. So I like to do experiments with young people. Last year (with help from others) we measured the acceleration due to gravity in the park in Cheltenham with under tens holding stopwatches - it was great fun.
What are your top three tips for other researchers?
1. Be open, honest, and yourself. People will stop listening to what you are saying and start wondering why you are working so hard IF you put up any kind of "front".
2. Don't talk for more than 10 minutes at a time without interacting with the audience. If you have to talk for 40 minutes plan (or improvise) at least four things that involve them directly.
3. Don't rely on your slides. Most of the people in the audience will be more interested in YOU. You can do an OK presentation based on just the material but a good/great presentation has the presenter at its heart.
What are the top three resources to support your engagement work?
The question covers a lot of possibilities.
1. I work on a project funded by an EU FP7 grant which has a commitment to public engagement so my principle resource is the sympathetic nature of the grant manager!
2. I have recently joined STEM ambassadors and they provide a good few contacts and opportunities.
3. My association with Famelab/NESTA/Cheltenham Festivals has been a positive joy.
What would you say to encourage another researcher to engage with the public?
The argument for scientific research has to be made at all levels, not just in grant applications!