Research matters: Study for society's sake


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The Independent Online

March is the time of year when we celebrate how science, technology, engineering and maths relate to our lives and help to inspire young people. We've already seen another successful National Science and Engineering Week. The Big Bang Fair was also packed with interactive exhibits, workshops, simulators and shows aimed at inspiring young people; testament that UK research really is worth celebrating.

At Research Councils UK (RCUK), we believe that inspiring the next generation of researchers is vital to British prosperity and brings major benefits to our economic and social wellbeing. We encourage all of our funded researchers to get involved with inspiring the public through their research.

As well as having a strong presence at the Big Bang Fair, we are also continuing to offer the winners of the National Science and Engineering Competition the opportunity to visit one of the prestigious laboratories we fund, such as the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma.

Through their knowledge and enthusiasm, researchers can bring a subject to life to motivate young people and raise achievement. We have recently announced the RCUK School-University Partnerships Initiative, funding 12 universities to build sustainable partnerships with schools. Over the next three years, The Open University will engage 3,800 young people from Milton Keynes with Open University research and researchers, while the University of Strathclyde will enable local students to gain experience of working in a research environment.

Much of the research has a direct impact on society, so it's important the public can access the knowledge being created and have their say on it. Sometimes, they can contribute directly. Such engagement helps empower people, broadens attitudes and ensures that universities' work is relevant to society. Part of our role as research funders is to ensure our researchers are recognised for the work they do in engaging the public. Our Beacons and Catalysts for public engagement are universities that have received funding to look at creating a buzz around engagement and ensuring it is valued, by including public engagement in their planning, for instance.

From 2011-12, Newcastle Law School ran a pilot aimed at engaging and raising young people's awareness on issues relating to law, children's rights and legal processes. Newcastle Law School undergraduate students have so far taken part in the project and have developed sessions on a number of legal topics, including police powers, street drinking, transitions to adulthood, education and access to legal advice.

As you embark on your research career, it would be terrific to think about how you might engage with the public and young people. It is vital to all research, and helps to inspire the next generation. It's also hugely rewarding.