Public Engagement Early-Career Researcher Forum

The STFC Public Engagement Early-Career Researcher Forum (known as the ‘PEER Forum’) supports talented scientists, engineers and users of STFC’s facilities in the early stages of their career to develop their public engagement and outreach goals.

This ensures the next generation of STFC scientists and engineers continue to deliver the highest quality of purposeful, audience-driven public engagement.

You can join the PEER forum to:

  • learn practical skills on how to lead public engagement activities, giving you a more rewarding career
  • get support and expertise from the wide-ranging network of academics and public engagement professionals within the STFC community
  • enhance your reputation within the scientific community and give you the opportunity to boost the profile of your work by talking to a wider audience.

The STFC community has a very strong track record of delivering public engagement throughout the UK, highlighting the exciting benefits and impacts of STFC science. We know that our engagement has a profound effect on our many audiences.

A significant proportion of our engagement is designed and delivered by early-career scientists and engineers, who balance the demands of establishing their careers alongside their passion for high-quality public engagement and outreach.

We also know that this can be a real challenge. For example, people might:

  • feel left without support
  • struggle to keep abreast of current good practice
  • find themselves unable to make the time to plan new engagement and outreach to their satisfaction
  • have no one in their immediate peer group that shares their belief in the importance of engagement.

It’s important to us that we help to change that situation. For further insight into the prevailing attitudes towards engagement in the STFC community, read our 2016 report  ’Public Engagement: Attitudes, Culture and Ethos’ on the UK Government Web Archive.

Our aims

The PEER Forum aims to:

  • give early career professionals practical advice and support for delivering and leading public engagement now and in the future, leading to a more rewarding career
  • provide access to the vast knowledge and expertise of the network of academics and public engagement professionals within the STFC community, providing valuable insights and guidance on current best practice
  • foster peer learning and support between early-career scientists and engineers with similar passion for public engagement and outreach, thus developing a peer support network that goes beyond an individual’s term in the forum
  • provide access to guidance on the practical requirements associated with the planning of new public engagement and outreach
  • foster better knowledge and understanding of the support mechanisms available from STFC and other organisations, including funding mechanisms, evaluation, and reporting
  • explore the realities of delivering and leading public engagement as an early-career professional and build an evidence base to inform and influence STFC and by extension UKRI’s approaches to public engagement, giving an effective voice to early-career researchers.

You can read more in the PEER Forum equality and inclusion impact assessment.

Who can apply

The PEER Forum is for practising early-career scientists and engineers who have passion and ambition for carrying out excellent public engagement alongside, and complementary to, their career in science or engineering.

Annually we seek new forum members from across the breadth of STFC’s pure and applied science and technology remit. The next application opening will be in summer 2022.

Members must:

  • have completed, or be currently studying for (including apprentices and PhD students) their highest level of academic qualification within the last 10 years (not including any career breaks)
  • be employed at a higher education institute, or a research-intensive public sector research organisation or research laboratory (including STFC’s own national laboratories)
  • work within a science and technology field in STFC’s remit, or with a strong interdisciplinary connection to STFC’s remit, or use an STFC facility to enable their own research
  • clearly describe their track record of experience in their field, corresponding to the length of their career to date
  • clearly describe their track record of delivering and leading, or seeking the opportunity to lead, public engagement or outreach
  • be keen communicators with a willingness to contribute to the success of a UK-wide network.

Members must also be able to provide insight into their experiences in public engagement or outreach and evidence how they have achieved one or more of the following:

  • inspiring others
  • delivering impact
  • demonstrating creativity
  • introducing transformative ideas or inventions
  • building and sustaining collaborations or networks.

What’s involved

The PEER Forum meets twice a year to share learning and to participate in sessions that will strengthen the depth and breadth of their understanding of public engagement and outreach.

The programme of these sessions will largely be shaped and directed by the members of the forum. The meetings are face to face, where possible, and will consist of a mix of activities, such as interactive sessions with invited speakers from the world of public engagement.

Recent speakers have included Olivia Keenan from SEPNet and Christian Diget, an STFC Leadership Fellow in Public Engagement.

Forum members will have the opportunity to provide relevant insight and feedback to STFC from their local departments or engagement communities.

Forum members have the opportunity to identify and participate in projects with genuine relevance that will deliver tangible outcomes and inform the STFC public engagement programme.

Diversity of membership

STFC is committed to a policy of equal opportunities, and appointments to the PEER Forum will be made on merit.

We are keen to see diversity in the membership of the PEER Forum, reflected in the gender, race, and other protected characteristics of the members.

Gender diversity is particularly important at this point in time, and STFC has set a target for a minimum of 30% female representation on our boards, committees and networks. The PEER Forum has adopted this target. We will use diversity of membership as part of our selection criteria.

Forum operation

Appointments to the PEER Forum will be for an initial period of two years, beginning in September 2022. STFC may consider extension of membership for one additional year by mutual agreement, on a ‘case by case’ basis.

Members must be willing to actively participate, and contribute to, the forum’s activities on a regular basis. It is expected that this participation will amount to four to six days of activity per year.

STFC will reimburse travel and subsistence expenses associated with attendance at forum meetings in line with our normal policies and procedures. STFC will not routinely pay for time spent attending the two yearly core meetings of the PEER Forum. However, we will provide a day rate for members or recharge budget codes (for UKRI staff) to cover additional activities such as project work or working group activities.

How to apply

Application to the PEER Forum is a single-stage process. An applicant must submit a total of three documents:

  • short CV
  • letter of support
  • assessment questions document.

The short, tailored CV must outline your relevant qualifications, experience, and track record to date. This must be no longer than two sides of A4.

The letter of support must be from your line manager, Head of Department or equivalent. This letter must:

  • outline the line manager’s support for the application
  • confirm that the applicant will be supported to participate in the PEER Forum
  • empower the applicant to disseminate their learning from the Forum within their institution.

This letter must be no longer than two sides of A4.

The assessment questions document must be no longer than two sides of A4. You must provide responses to the following five assessment questions:

  1. What is your motivation for applying to join the PEER Forum?
  2. What is your thinking process when developing effective public engagement or outreach based on your field of work?
  3. How do you evaluate your public engagement and how have you implemented learning from that evaluation to influence subsequent activities?
  4. How have you enabled your peers and colleagues to participate in public engagement, and improve the culture of public engagement in your institution or department?
  5. How would you describe one specific challenging concept from your work to an 11-year-old child?

Applications that do not conform to the specified page limits, or do not contain all three required documents, will not be considered for forum membership.

Applications are currently closed. Updates on the next application window will be given on this page.

Assessment process and criteria

All applications will be assessed by an independent peer review panel that will make recommendations on membership to STFC.

The panel will use the following assessment criteria to arrive at their recommendations:

  • does the applicant meet the specific personal requirements for PEER Forum members?
  • taking into account the length of their career to date, has the applicant described their track record of experience in:
    • undertaking research in a contemporary topic within their field?
    • leading or delivering public engagement or outreach?
  • has the applicant effectively communicated their enthusiasm for doing public engagement or outreach and their motivation for joining the network?
  • has the applicant shown how they plan or generate new ideas for effective public engagement or outreach based on their work?
  • has the applicant described how they’ve used evaluation of past public engagement activities to influence subsequent work?
  • has the applicant described how they’ve helped to build the capacity for public engagement or outreach within their institution or department? For example, have they:
    • helped embed public engagement within their institution?
    • helped make the culture more supportive towards engagement?
    • demonstrably acted as a role model for good engagement?
  • has the applicant described and contextualised a concept from their specific work and demonstrated its importance in such a way that an 11-year-old child could understand?
  • is the application accompanied by a strong letter of support from the applicant’s line manager?

From applicants demonstrated to meet the criteria listed above, STFC aims to ensure PEER Forum membership diversity across protected characteristics, institutions, and research disciplines. Particular attention will be paid to the gender diversity of forum membership.

The decision of STFC in making invitations to join the PEER Forum is final.

Current PEER forum members

Abby-Rhian Powell

Abby-Rhian is a PhD student in the Nuclear and Hadron Physics group at the University of Glasgow. Her research involves measuring the polarisation of photons used to probe the behaviour of quarks in protons and neutrons.

Abby-Rhian has developed a series of nuclear scattering workshops for school students from primary to collage ages that have been delivered locally in Glasgow as well as in a national programme of nuclear physics masterclasses. She was also awarded the inaugural Kick-Start Public Engagement Internship as part of the Binding Blocks programme.

Aran Singanayagam

Aran Singanayagam is a clinical academic at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London. He completed his undergraduate medical training at University of Edinburgh and a PhD at Imperial College.

Aran currently splits his time between clinical work and experimental laboratory-based research. His research focuses on how pulmonary host-defence is dysregulated in the context of inflammatory airway diseases.

Emily Lewis

Emily is a researcher at the STFC Scientific Computing Department where she investigates machine learning for emulating scientific simulations. She completed a Nuclear Engineering degree at the University of Birmingham.

She is a STEM Ambassador and volunteers at STFC public engagement events in addition to hosting outreach activities and mentoring work experience students

Hannah Sargeant

Hannah is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at The Open University. Her research is focussed on accessing water on the Moon to generate supplies for future missions. After completing a PhD looking at techniques to produce water from the lunar regolith, Hannah is now working on the LUVMI-X rover concept.

Utilising her experience as a physics teacher, Hannah is actively engaged in public outreach delivering talks and producing teaching resources.

Jamie Williams

Jamie is a Wellcome Trust ISSF Research Fellow at the University of Leicester, working on applications of graphene in prosthetics. In parallel, he is the principal investigator of the RadEOT project, which uses commercially-available components and a bespoke graphical user interface to detect, process and utilise freely available radio data for use in the classroom.

RadEOT is being deployed to three institutions across the UK during 2020 to improve educational attainment, boost skills and inspire people into STEM careers.

Philippos Papadakis

Philippos is a nuclear physicist in the STFC Nuclear Physics Group, investigating exotic atomic nuclei produced using particle accelerators. He constructed several experimental setups which are used in laboratories across Europe.

After completing his PhD at the University of Liverpool, he moved to the northernmost Accelerator Laboratory in the world, in Jyväskylä Finland, to continue his research. There he organised yearly large-scale outreach activities and learned what a real winter feels like.

Sarah Bugby

Sarah is a lecturer in the Department of Physics at Loughborough University. Her research uses detectors that have been developed for X-ray astronomy and particle physics, and applies them to other areas such as nuclear medicine.

She has been involved in a range of public engagement activities since she was an undergraduate, and is particularly keen that current and future physics students get the opportunity to have fun, share their work, and become better scientists through public engagement..

Adam McMaster

Adam is a PhD student at the Open University studying variable stars using citizen science. Before starting his PhD, he worked as a programmer and web developer at the Zooniverse.

He has experience running online citizen science projects and has enjoyed talking to the public in person at outreach events.

Catherine Regan

After completing her undergraduate in Geophysics at the University of East Anglia, Catherine moved to University College London where she is now a PhD student at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory studying the magnetic environment of Mars. She is involved with missions including Mars Express and the Rosalind Franklin Rover.

Since her undergraduate, Catherine has actively been involved with organising and attending numerous outreach and public engagement projects. These range from speaking at university open days, working at science festivals and visiting schools across the country to talk about a range of different topics.

Chloe Gowling

Chloe is a PhD student at the University of Sussex, studying gravitational waves from the early universe and data analysis techniques for the upcoming space-based gravitational wave detector, LISA.

Her current public engagement activities involve creating content for the LISA social media accounts and developing a gravitational wave workshop for use at the University of Sussex. Outside of physics she enjoys being in nature and getting stuck into sewing projects.

Choong Ling Liew-Cain

Choong Ling is a PhD student at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London. She studies galaxies, machine learning and public engagement.

She is working on finding ways to teach useful skills through astronomy and inspire people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Choong Ling also works as a ‘scientist in residence’ at Bevington Primary School.

David McDonagh

David is a researcher based at the STFC Scientific Computing Department working on software for analysing neutron diffraction patterns. His PhD focused on developing machine learning approaches to fragment-based energy models in crystal structure prediction.

He is a co-creator of Argon, a particle sandbox app designed to explain molecular dynamics to all ages.

James Lees

James is a PhD Student at the University of York working in nanoscale thermometry using advanced ‘scanning thermal microscopy’ (SThM) to create heat maps of tiny objects such as electronics.

He has worked across the complete range of public engagement activities from videos to podcasts, books to magazines and putting on a wide range of live events of all sizes.

Katherine Shirley

Katherine is a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on combining laboratory and remote sensing datasets to identify the composition of rocks on the Moon, asteroids, and comets using mid-infrared spectroscopy.

She is involved in several planetary missions including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and OSIRIS-REx, and the upcoming Lunar Trailblazer and Comet Interceptor. She has created several public engagement and outreach programmes to bring hands-on science lessons to primary school students both in the classroom and at large-scale events.

Omar Mahfoze

Omar is a computational scientist working with the Computational Engineering and Environment group at Daresbury Laboratory. His work involves solving fluid mechanics problems and developing computer codes to efficiently and quickly solve complicated scientific and engineering problems using supercomputers.

Omar was a PhD student at Imperial College London, and he was elected as the post-graduate representative of the Department of Aeronautics.

River Riley

River is an associate lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at University College London. His role has a particular focus on delivering impact on the student experience and this encompasses how students and the Department interact with outreach and public engagement.

Behind all his outreach work is his dedication to equality, diversity and inclusion within science. Alongside this, his research interests are investigating new pedagogical approaches to instrumentation, particularly within the field of spectroscopy.

You can find details of past PEER Forum members on the UK Government Web Archive.

Last updated: 31 March 2022

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