In practice: making time for public engagement activities
It can be a challenge to find the time to engage in public activities in addition to one’s research and teaching tasks. We asked three Utrecht University staff with practical experience for their perspectives.
Time is an issue
Arthur Lutz: “Time is an issue. Preparing my public project took me more time than expected. I believe it was time well spent, but it did leave less time for other work. How do you ensure that you make good use of your time so as to pay enough attention to the activity as well as to education and research?”
Immediate practical use
Elma Blom: “Our project uses a method that involves cooperation from the start with social partners. The PhD candidates work with families, with teachers, with the educational staff of museums. They share their research for immediate practical use. This adaptation for use in society, and the immediate involvement of people beyond the university, is a very natural process thanks to the method we use.
“There will definitely continue to be research where this is not self-evident, which we must also safeguard. However, it’s important for us as scientists to reflect before starting any research project: are there methods we can use to integrate recognition and rewards for such activities throughout the project? This makes it possible to reward the PhD candidate and to ensure a good supervision structure."
We, the researchers, can solve a lot of things ourselves, and we’re creative when it comes to this. However, you don’t just want university solutions at the level of the individual researcher. You want solutions at a higher level as well
“I also receive frequent requests to deliver a lecture or teach a workshop, for which I often don’t have time. Ideally, I’ll have a group of researchers around me to work together and distribute my time a bit.
“What I also do is ask a market price. With the money earned I can free up some time, for instance by hiring assistance.
“So these, I think, are the three main ways for individual researchers to approach this. Another issue I’ve encountered involves the job profiles we have to work with, which don’t match what we want. Sometimes I want to hire someone who is great at communication with external parties and with the outside world, but it will be hard to find a job profile that is sufficiently rewarded. I then have to bend over backwards to find a solution.
“We, the researchers, can solve a lot of things ourselves, and we’re very creative when it comes to this. However, you don’t just want university solutions at the level of the individual researcher. You want solutions at a higher level as well, in order to have better arrangements in place for this sort of thing.”
Greater team spirit
Stans de Haas: “Recognition and rewards is a transformation happening at the individual level, the team level and the level of the organisation and the system.
“I would want to advocate greater team spirit in academic work. To me, this means the team reflecting on the impact you want to achieve collectively, in science and in society, and then looking at what is needed for this."
The core of the transition to the new system of recognition and rewards is that all of those contributions to the total impact should be recognised and rewarded
“When that is the case, public engagement forms part of a shared plan that involves determining which competences and skills are needed. These can be developed in the team, so the whole team comes out stronger and everyone helps each other to develop in this area. It can also involve recruiting a new colleague when the means are available. I would think not so much in terms of job profiles as in terms of a personal profile, with a built-in opportunity for development and fitting in with the team.
"Of course, time and money are factors in any plan. In case of a conference with commercial admission fees, it’s entirely justified for academics to request a fee for their contribution. This money can be used for the joint research or teaching that has produced the contribution to the conference. However, such direct funding isn’t always possible. Other resources may be needed, such as the Public Engagement Seed Fund.
"Public engagement can also be made a part of one’s research project. I deliberately say ‘a part’ instead of, for instance, ‘an additional result’. In order to have an impact, public engagement has to be on a par with other project results, such as an academic article in a peer-reviewed journal.
"Different types of output serve a variety of purposes, with their own audiences and effect. Together, they contribute to the project’s total impact. The core of the transition to the new system of recognition and rewards is that all of those contributions to the total impact should be recognised and rewarded. The organisation can contribute to this, for example by investing in leadership and by assisting with team-spirit-driven work.“
Dr. Arthur Lutz is a physical geographer at Utrecht University. He received the Public Engagement Seed Fund for a public project in which he and a music producer take the public on a journey through the Earth’s water cycle
Prof. dr. Elma Blom holds the chair in Language Development and Multilingualism in Family and Educational Contexts at Utrecht University. On behalf of the Dutch Research Agenda, she heads a research project on the various contexts in which children learn
Dr. Stans de Haas and Dr Paul Boselie are leaders on the theme of Recognition & Rewards, part of Utrecht University’s Open Science programme.