Published: 24 May 2023

New module gives students a taste for public outreach

With science communication – whether in schools or to the wider public – becoming an increasingly popular career path, Surrey has launched an exciting new module that gives students real-world experience of public engagement.

Students on our Mathematics and Physics undergraduate degrees can choose to take the ‘STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Education and Public Engagement’ module in their third year of study.

The aim of the module, which was launched in the 2022-3 academic year, is to give students an authentic experience of STEM communication in the real world, and apply what they’ve learned to address societal needs. Students can choose to either teach in a local secondary school, or develop and implement their own public engagement activity. Alongside this, taught content is delivered by a multidisciplinary team which includes educationalists, outreach and Widening Participation professionals, and academics with experience across the University.

While maths and physics students have been able to opt for a teaching module for some time, the chance to do public engagement as part of their undergraduate course is an innovative opportunity.

Lecturer Dr Caroline Shenton-Taylor, who teaches the module, explains: “Students choosing public engagement are given event organisation and media preparation. They then work in small groups developing and delivering an activity. This year, one student group delivered an inspirational physics intervention in a school, which was designed to engage Year 8s in physics and the IOP Eureka competition. Another team looked at misleading marketing, including the hidden truths in movies.

“Students choosing to teach undertake a weekday placement to a local secondary school. Working with a teaching mentor, they provide teaching support within the school – this might be providing a classroom starter activity or leading a specific part of the curriculum.”

The Education and Public Engagement module is designed to improve many of the professional skills students need in the real world – such as teamwork, communication, budgeting and planning – as well as opening their minds to a potential career path which they may not have considered. It also gives students across different disciplines the opportunity to collaborate.

Professor Esat Alpay, Associate Dean (Education) in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, explains:

“Mathematicians and physicists think differently, so it’s great to see them bring different strengths to the table as they work in teams. We will extend the module to other disciplines in the future, and we’re also looking at including a third pathway within the module, which will be focused on pedagogic research and bring students and staff together for educational development projects."

“At Surrey we have a strong heritage of public engagement, with academics like theoretical physicist Professor Jim Al-Khalili leading the way in bringing scientific concepts to a broad audience through popular science broadcasting. We’re delighted to be able to give students the opportunity to start to develop these skills at an early stage, adding a unique feature to their CV and helping them to become effective communicators.”


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