Introducing Nick Weise: Lecturer and Deputy Director of Social Responsibility (School of Chemistry)

by | May 25, 2021 | Guest Authors | 0 comments

Mairiosa Hall, is our guest author as part of her MSc student Science Communication course. In this installment of her three blog series we hear from Dr Nick Weise, Lecturer and Deputy Director of Social Responsibility (School of Chemistry) and Public Engagement Champion. He is one of the Faculty’s researchers featured in our Short Film: PPIE: Working With Our Communities and has been selected as the focus of this blog to portray PPIE from an academic aspect. 

Nick was initially exposed to public engagement whilst undertaking his PhD. As a part of his studies he was required to participate in a public engagement project, something he just needed to ‘get out of the way’ in order to progress. However, Nick enjoyed this public engagement work so much that he then volunteered for every opportunity he could. In his final year of studies he even started to organise events himself and tried to encourage more people to get involved. Ultimately, this lead to the creation of the Programme of Public Engagement with Research and Researchers  at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, which Nick still manages today.

Nick has a particular interest in non-traditional outreach audiences, running events in places where people would not normally engage with science. He has received awards from the Biochemical Society’s Diversity in Science Grant initiative and Royal Society of Chemistry’s Inclusion & Diversity Fund for his work on multilingual engagement: this project is called Multilingual Manchester. This is a standout project for Nick, which he has had involvement with for numerous years.

Multilingual Manchester is based at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures here at the University and aims to promote language diversity throughout the city. They work with local government, healthcare providers, police and emergency services, schools and community initiatives to co-design research and to share good practice. Nick’s particular involvement in this project involves partnering international researchers with local, under-served communities. This work has provided opportunities for a variety of researchers for whom English is a second language, such international researchers are often hesitant about getting started with engagement in the UK.

Over 150 languages are spoken in the Greater-Manchester area with almost half of all school pupils speaking a language other than English at home. Because of this many young people use languages other than English to discuss subject choices or careers with their main influences (e.g. family/peers). Multilingual Manchester has successfully engaged over 300 young people, empowering them to talk about science in their communities.

Music and Mutation is another engagement project that Nick is passionate about. Since 2018, he has been working with Dr Michelle Phillips, Royal Northern College of Music, to compose a contemporary piece of music for a string trio using DNA sequences from research on Industrial Biotechnology. The underlying principles and laboratory techniques used to transfer genes between organisms and produce sustainable biological catalysts are complex and difficult to explain, even to undergraduate scientists, justifying the need for such a project. Theoretically, the use of music allows audiences to ‘hear’ the biological processes. The use of music makes audiences more intellectually accessible thus opening up dissemination of research to musical concert audiences, even those who might not otherwise engage with science research.

Nick’s passion for public engagement is prominent in his work, so I wanted to get his perspective as to why he thinks it is important.

It is important that we engage with the public so everyone can see that our research and researchers are relevant, responsible and relatable. It is also important that there are no barriers to the public being reached or to researchers getting started with public engagement..’ 

‘..We should always be moving beyond just conversing with audiences who are already very engaged and have access to information. We should always be looking to expand beyond the small pool of researchers who are already keen and eager to get involved.

Nick also shared some top tips on getting the public involved with research: 

‘Do something that interests you and showcases who you really are as a researcher, rather than playing a part or delivering a corporate message. It does not have to be doing a presentation, talking to schoolchildren, or any other of the things that might automatically spring to mind when you think of ‘public engagement’. You can think outside the box and make it personal and enjoyable for yourself, for example, I have integrated my interests in languages and music into different public engagement approaches and activities.’

Mairiosa Hall, MSc student