Getting the public excited about your science

A public engagement training module for DPhil students in the Department of Plant Sciences.

In 2010 the OBGHA Education Team were approached to provide public engagement and science communication training to the first year DPhil students of the University's Department of Plant Sciences.  The module was entitled "Getting the public excited about your science", and it became a compulsory part of these students training ever since.



  • To provide an introduction to public engagement, with a focus on face-to-face communication
  • To give the opportunity to practice both developing activities and delivering activities for a range of non-specialist audiences
  • To provide information about opportunities for public engagement, and where to find support and resources
  • To equip students for public engagement beyond this course


Learning outcomes

The students will develop and apply their public engagement skills throughout this module and will:

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the need for and importance of public engagement
  • Understand the variety of public audiences
  • Understand different types of engagement

Intellectual skills

  • Evaluate their research from a public engagement perspective
  • Identify key areas of interest for different audiences

Subject / practical skills

  • Practice discussing their research using non-PowerPoint visual aids and/or demonstrations
  • Develop and deliver a public engagement activity for a secondary school audience
  • Develop and deliver a public engagement activity for a family audience
  • Develop and deliver a presentation for non-specialists, to highlight the real-world relevance of their research

Transferable / key skills

  • Be able to consider the relevance of their research to a range of audiences and communicate this effectively
  • Build confidence with public speaking


The course has developed over the years, and the current structure is as follows:

Session 1: Meet and greet (2 hours)

Session 2: Public engagement masterclass part 1 (1 day)

Session 3: Secondary school study day for 16-18 year olds (1 day)

Session 4: Public engagement masterclass part 2 (1 day)

Session 5: British Science Week primary school session for 7-11 year olds (half day)

Session 6: Departmental seminar in Plant Sciences, for the non-scientific staff members (1 hour)

Session 7: Fascination of Plants at Harcourt Arboretum (1 day)


The development of this training programme was shared at BGCI's 9th International Congress on Education in Botanic Gardens, held at Missouri Botanical Garden in April 2015.


2015 - 2016 cohort so far



Feedback from the students

  • A must attend session for our scientific careers
  • A great start for readying us for embarking on our scientific journey
  • A practical guide to communicating science to the public
  • Good for skills of public engagement and learning about why it's important
  • A workshop that helps to understand the basis of communication, reminding what is important for a good presentation, that little tricks can improve understanding a difficult topic
  • Very useful for science / public communication
  • Great fun and an awesome break from the lab



2014 - 2015 cohort



Feedback from the students

  • Highly interactive
  • Individual feedback due to small group size a good opportunity to test yourself
  • Good to learn how to interact with audiences and practice speaking in a friendly environment
  • A very good workshop to learn about how to engage
  • NOT only theaory but practical with tons of feedback
  • Practical, hands-on
  • Useful to polish up skills and for preparation of the real event
  • An opportunity to increase your communication skills
  • Good introduction to science communication
  • Good practice for giving talks to different audiences
  • The most fun graduate training module!


Feedback from the secondary school study day

  • I have not heard much about plant studies before, but I really enjoyed the plant science minis and will consider it for university courses
  • I learnt that you could infiltrate a plant leaf with just a syringe
  • I have learnt from my visit that I really want to pursue a career in science


Feedback from the departmental seminar audience

  • Enjoyable to hear and understand what the students are hoping to achieve via their research
  • A good opportunity to find out a bit more about current research in the department
  • Good to see the enthusiasm of the students sharing their research with us
  • Useful to hear about individual's work from other labs who I am not directly involved with
  • Really interesting presentations which were a good length - definitely encourages people to find out more
  • Enjoyable to see how enthusiastic the students are
  • I liked meeting the students and finding out about their projects



2013 - 2014 cohort


Feedback from the students

  • Very useful, interesting, good practice
  • Useful for development, will be useful in the long run
  • Teaches how to communicate with the public and particularly how to adapt depending on the audience
  • Broad scope of different public engagement opportunities
  • A helpful workshop for developing public engagement skills


Feedback from the departmental seminar attendees

  • Useful to know the kind of research taking place in the department and to meet the DPhil students
  • Enjoyable to listen to what other labs are looking at in research
  • It has given a broader outlook at impact to the world and us
  • It was good to talk with students about their work
  • Hot current topics [ash dieback] were discussed as well as lesser known subjects
  • Enjoyable listening to the students enthusing about their work!
  • Was kept largely accessible to non-scientists
  • It was a very good experience and a great opportunity to practice something that I think is really important



2012 - 2013 cohort



Feedback from the students

  • Really valuable for helping you learn to explain science to non-scientists
  • Fun, informative and friendly
  • Good, gives an overview of how public engagement works with some practical applications
  • It has helped me to feel more confident in presenting and talking about my work to non-specialists
  • On the primary school session one girl told me she would like to be a scientist too when she grows up which really made my day!
  • It was helpful in preparing me to speak to non-scientific as well as scientific audiences.  I have never worked with children before and was pleasantly surprised that I quite enjoyed it.
  • It has definitely taken some of the fear out of presenting to the rest of the department as part of the first year assessment and therefore I would recommend the course to all new DPhil students


Feedback from the departmental seminar attendees

  • Bringing together research and admin people is a good idea, it is interesting to hear where research is heading in the department
  • Hearing science explained in an accessible manner by enthusiastic researchers was very stimulating
  • Learning about the "real world" applications of the research the department is doing
  • The students introduced their topics well and it felt as if they really wanted you to understand it, they were trying to define complex topics to a layman's audience and they broke everything down to make it relatable
  • Presentations were short and succint but still informative to non-scientists and were presented in a relaxed manner



2010 - 2012 cohorts

  • The course has inspired me to think more seriously about getting involved in public engagement activities
  • I think it was a very valuable experience
  • I feel much more comfortable in speaking to different audiences now
  • A very good introduction to communicating science to all audiences
  • It was challenging, informative and fascinating!  Thanks very much!
  • Great inspiring workshop to improve your communication skills
  • Very good if you need ideas on how to go about communicating to the public, and how to get started
  • A fun, relaxing and edifying experience that left me feeling a lot more comfortable about presenting science and in general public speaking