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Junk the Jargon

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Overview

Who: Early Career Researchers: PhDs and Postdoctoral Research Associates. The event was organised by the faculty Researcher Training and Development teams.

What: A competition, challenging early career researchers from all disciplines to communicate their research topic to a general audience in just 3 minutes.

Why: Improve researchers ability to communicate their research to non-specialist audiences and to excite the interest and curiosity of the public in research through an interactive opportunity.

Where: The University of Manchester

When: The first heats were held in January 2011 with the grand final in February 2011, with plans to be held again in 2012/13.

Project description

Junk the Jargon provided an opportunity for PhD researchers and post doctoral research associates across all of the disciplines to develop their experience of public engagement; supporting the university’s strategic vision, Goal 3: Social Responsibility and the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.

The inspiration for the activity came from similar competitions including Famelab, The 3 Minute Thesis, and the Junk the Jargon competition hosted by Queen Mary, University of London. It asked researchers in 3 minutes to:

  • engage, inspire or challenge the audience
  • communicate their research simply and directly
  • share their research but avoid the jargon
  • show why their research is important and relevant

participants

The competition proved to be highly popular with 54 researchers entering from all disciplines. The grand final was attended by 150 people (50% members of the public), with 12 finalist taking part. The researchers were supported through 3 bite size workshops, based around delivery, audience and content, these proved to be well attended and acted as a catalyst for researchers to enter the competition. Additionally a website was set up with resources, podcast and blog to provide an event archive.

Purpose

  • Improve researchers’ ability to communicate their research to non-specialist audiences and increase confidence to get involved in public engagement.
  • Develop the skills that will enable researchers to explain, debate, discuss and be challenged about their research and to consider wider implications of their work.
  • Encourage cross discipline interactions and discussions between researchers.
  • Raise the profile of the university, its research and people.
  • Excite the interest and curiosity of people outside of academia by sharing research (that often takes place behind closed doors) through an engaging and interactive opportunity.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

"Meeting different researchers and learning how they engage me with their work – this has taught me how to engage with others who are not related to my field." Workshop participant

"Made me think outside my subject and also helped me to introduce simple ways to explain the research and as well as developing my style."  Workshop participant

  • The bite-size training has subsequently helped to inform the public engagement training programme within the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences.
  • Interest and support from the academic community for this type of initiative i.e. seeing early career researchers rise to challenge of the competition. (In particular Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice Chancellor of the University, was very supportive of this initiative, taking part in our podcasts and promoting the event in the President’s Weekly Update).
  • Development of an online resource upon which to build upon for future events.
  • Conducting short interviews of participants and judges after the heats, provided useful insights into their thoughts on the competition and provided valuable input into evaluating the initiative.
  • Increased membership of the university-wide public engagement email discussion list.
  • Increased requests for public engagement opportunities both internal and external to the university.
  • Raised profile of faculty Researcher Training and Development teams and collaborations with the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement.
  • The Grand Final reception took place whilst the judges were deliberating; this gave the presenters, their supporters and the audience time to network before coming back for the announcement of the winners; it also helped to create a great buzz on the day. (Networking opportunities was one of the objectives for this competition both across and outside the university.)

Competition Feedback

"Thanks for organising the competition; it was a great experience…I thought the competition would be fun (which it was) and a real challenge (which it was)." Postdoc Researcher Participant

"I liked the fact that they had to keep it simple, as it encouraged them to be focused on why they were doing the research, which sometimes gets lost." Academic Faculty Heat Judge

"The standard was really high and each of the entrants really brought their subjects to life in a very unintimidating way because I’m not a scientist or an academic." Grand Final Judge 

"Excellent stuff. Great to hear all of the interesting research that’s going on at the University. More of this please." Audience Participant, Grand Final

Lessons learned

  • Review the timing of the competition and the faculty heats (all heats took place on the same day at similar times, meaning there was little opportunity for researchers to participate in each other’s events)
  • Identify event champions from academia and the external community early in the planning process.
  • Look to get the message out the public and local media earlier.
  • Explore the opportunity for hosting the grand final in a community venue, rather than an academic setting.
  • Continue to run faculty-specific heats, but open up the judging to academics from outside of the discipline.
  • Events of this nature need collaborative effort, both in terms of organisation and logistics, as well as promotion and support.

Top tips

Don’t assume every public engagement initiative needs to be brand new. There’s a lot of great practice out there to learn from. In fact having gained permission to reinterpret an existing model can lead to collaborative opportunities. 

Contact

Name: Dee-Ann Johnson

Name of organisation: The University of Manchester

Email: Dee-Ann.Johnson@manchester.ac.uk

Telephone: 0161 306 4155

Website: www.researchsupport.eps.manchester.ac.uk/

Twitter: @epsgrads