Dr. Kirsty Ross reflects on the experience and opportunities of Explorathon


It has been a while since I thought about EXPLORATHON, but the notification emails for 2017 have started coming in from the University and from Beltane, leading me to reflect on what happened last year and how we can make it bigger and better this year.

For those of you yet to join us at an EXPLORATHON event, EXPLORATHON is Scotland’s contribution to European Researchers’ Night. This is one night a year when researchers from across Europe come together the celebrate the wealth of research, EU funded or not, and try to engage with as many people as humanly possible.

Last year, our team of 21 researchers interacted with over 500 people over the course of 24 hours. By and large we were interacting with either children or family groups. As part of our engagement strategy, we always try to make sure we are engaging with hard-to-reach audience, such as those at WHALEArts.

My top tips for participants would include; counting interactions at each activity you organise vs just total number of people visiting your stand. Say you have 3 activities and 100 people visit your stand. That is 100 visitors, which is great. However, some of those visitors may have interacted with you once, twice or three times. In this example, you could have as many as 300 interactions or engagements, if you count visitors to each activity.

Another point is that it is worth breaking down your visitors into men and women, boys and girls. Obviously this is not perfect and doesn’t take into consideration the full diversity in society. However, it can be used as a short hand to work out if your activities are appealing equally to males and females, adults and children. It is important to consider whether you are deterring anyone in your audience by the way you are presenting and to make sure everyone has equity of access.

Finally, try not to fall into the habit of delivering the same old engagement activities to the same audience that you always do. EXPLORATHON is a fantastic opportunity to try reaching audiences you might never have considered, or using more collaborative and consultative methods. For example, we are going to try live drawing of scientists by comic books artists this year (not that sort of life drawing! No nakedness required). What new and innovative methods can you think of? Feel free to get in touch if you need any help to take your engagement ideas to the next step.


Registration to be part of Explorathon 2017 closes on Friday 30th June. You do not have to have any experience in public engagement to take part, as all participants will have the opportunity to attend specialised training that will help you develop engaging activities from your research interests. Further information, including the link for registration, can be found here: http://www.beltanenetwork.org/news-blogs-reports/beltane-news/fancy-being-part-of-explorathon-2017/


Dr Kirsty Ross is the outreach officer for two groups of researchers; Bionanotechnology @ Strathclyde University, and the EPSRC/MRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Optical Medical Imaging (OPTIMA) which shared between the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde. Kirsty is a microbiologist by training, discovered her public engagement vocation during her postdoc, and jumped in feet first in 2011. She has been on the Glasgow EXPLORATHON committee for 3 years, but took a step back last year into a delivery focused role.