Friday, 26 June 2015

Our work experience students, Vato and Roman wrote the blog post about their conference presentation in UH

Conference for Public Engagement with Research

On the 23rd June 2015, a conference was held in which many researchers got together to display various examples of public engagement in their projects. As young people participating in youth research through work experience, we were invited to this event to give our opinions during a presentation.
The day started out with a welcome from Professor John Senior, the Pro Vice-Chancellor, who gave a short introduction to the idea of public engagement. He then introduced Sophie Duncan, the Deputy Director for the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).
She then proceeded to give a brief talk about the importance of public engagement with research, providing various statistics and information on the public’s desire to get involved, the best ways of engaging them, and how to integrate public engagement into projects; funding, methods, writing etc.
Although the delivery included much specialist vocab which myself and Roman didn’t understand, we were nonetheless kept engaged (funny joke) as Sophie Duncan interacted with the audience by asking them a number of thought-provoking questions.
With our heads full of public engagement knowledge, we eagerly awaited the rest of the conference. There were many presentations departing much information, and so we decided to pick out our personal favourites of the bunch.
Ever tried to quit at something? Such as smoking or perhaps just trying to change your sleeping pattern? Well it is no secret that changing behaviour is a hard ordeal, especially when the help we seek is often just ineffective. The presentation brought by Ben Fletcher however, brought to light his possible solution, the Do Something project. Usually, programs that help with addiction or changing behaviour are focused on altering the way we think, relying on our willpower as humans. As you can see, this had little willpower of its own behind it (surprise?). Ben Fletcher explained to us that in order to break addiction or alter behaviour, one has to alter their habits. Humans are habitual creatures because habits are quick and easy. This means that once certain habits are formed, it is not only those, but the whole situation that creates a hard foundation, making it difficult to change. For example, a smoker cannot rely on willpower alone to break their habit, they need to shift their outlook and leave their comfort zone. Ways of doing this include taking different routes to places to disrupt routinely life, and in general just trying to view things differently. While this is hard in itself, it is certainly easier than willpower, and I was glad I could listen to this presentation as it truly fascinated me.

Robots are usually pictured as giant, shiny machines that shoot lasers from their eyes…but in reality, they’re designed to help humans complete certain tasks. Anna Dumitriu and Alex May helped explain this as they began discussing their new research-related robot: HARR1. They used HARR1 to experiment with how the public reacted to different situations involving robots. For example, they programmed HARR1 to imitate the emotion of care through physical interaction (touching a person’s face), as well as then reprogramming him to exhibit boredom by first tracking movement and then looking elsewhere for motion if there was none. One of their experiments used a robot that would change its face to fit the participant’s own features. This was to see if it made a robot more appealing to have around the house or if it scared the living daylights out of them. One participant was even seen to run away and hide behind a corner which I thought was particularly funny, even though this seems rather cruel. All in all, I found this very interesting and would like to see how they further develop the robots.
Overall, the conference was very useful for us both, giving us an overview of the sharing and communication that goes into research. The presentations themselves were inspiring, and have led us to think about certain things differently, as well as giving us some cool facts. The experience of the conference (while somewhat tiring and leg-numbing), is something we’ll be hard-pressed to forget.


                                         Roman and Vato