In this long overdue blog post I will be discussing my experience with having to describe what my research was about to a wide range of different groups, ranging from families with small children to university lecturers while attending several events over the last few months.
The first event that I participated in was the University Open Day which was held in conjunction with the re-interment of King Richard III. As part of this event the INTREPID researchers were asked to prepare posters for a nontechnical audience. Fortunately as a social scientist my research is easy to understand by the average citizen and could therefore be easily summarised in the form of poster. Leading up to the event I assumed that I would be explaining my research to prospective students and their families however once the event was underway I quickly realised that I had overestimated my target audience by around 15 years. So instead of explaining my research to high schoolers I found myself in the slightly awkward situation of hoping that the 3-6 year olds who made up the majority of visitors did not ask questions about a topic which in my opinion they were much to young to need to know anything about. So rather than educating small children about legal high markets I found myself spending most of the afternoon handing out stickers to children with fellow INTREPID researcher Annelies (Project 2).
A week after participating in the Open Day I had the opportunity to travel to Durham to attend a seminar on ‘Drug Markets in Transition’ as part of the ESRC Seminar Series ‘New Psychoactive Substances and Human Enhancement Drugs’. I found the seminar to be highly enlightening as the topics that were being discussed perfectly aligned with my own research. I hope to be able to present some of my own research at the following seminar, which will be held in Leicester this autumn.
My next opportunity to engage with the public took place during the ‘New Frontiers in Forensics’ conference, which was held at the University of Leicester in honour of Sir Alec Jeffreys 30th anniversary of the discovery and application of DNA fingerprinting. Once again the INTREPID researchers were asked to prepare posters to present during the lunch/coffee breaks. This event proved to be more useful for my own research than the Open Day, as it provided the opportunity to discuss my research with practitioners who were familiar with the challenges surrounding legal highs. I found this opportunity particularly useful because it allowed me to ask the practitioners some of the questions, which had been in the back of my mind while I was doing my literature review.
The next opportunity to present my research came during the Criminology Department’s biannual research away day. Although most of the day’s activities were devoted to discussions surrounding the Department’s research strategy a session was organised to give staff members the opportunity to present their current research projects to the rest of the Department. Even though it was only a short presentation, as I was the only PhD student who was presenting their research I found the experience to be quite nerve-racking. Fortunately the environment felt extremely supportive and it was therefore a good opportunity to get some practice with presenting my work to fellow academics.
After participating in these University run events I also had the opportunity to travel to London to visit the Forensics Europe and Counter Terrorism Expos. While I was a bit disappointed in the opportunities to learn more about my current research topic, I was able to learn quite a bit about some of the new technologies, which are being used in the forensic sciences as well counter terrorism fields.
In general each of the events that I attended had their own pros and cons although I do think I was able to takeaway more from the ones, which were more academic in nature. I suppose the main takeaway I have from these outreach events is that it was surprising to see the types of useful feedback that I was able to get from all sorts of different people.
Well that is all for now I will make sure to keep you posted on any further developments in my future posts.