When the Society for Endocrinology was formed, 75 years ago this year, one of the founding objectives was ‘to consider what other steps we can take to promote the advancement of knowledge in endocrinology’.
Supporting public engagement is a key aspect of fulfilling this aim, spreading the collective knowledge of our members to audiences beyond our own membership and journal readerships. The Public Engagement Committee is formed of member volunteers. They have a vision to increase the quality of debate and discussion about hormones, to enable individuals to make better decisions about their health, and to position the Society for Endocrinology as a trusted and responsive authority on the subject.
Over the decades since the Society was established, our scientific knowledge regarding endocrinology has expanded greatly. The Society has become an important voice for spreading awareness of endocrine disorders and communicating the importance of hormones in public health and everyday life.
WORKING WITH THE MEDIA
Media engagement remains one of the key ways in which research related to endocrinology may be accessed by the public. The Society has developed a network of Media Ambassadors from volunteer members, to provide the crucial expert input that helps journalists assess whether stories are of public interest and are factually accurate. In its simplest role, public engagement such as this raises the profile of endocrinology, the Society and its members.
This role will continue to be vital for maintaining and enhancing public interest and funding in this critical area of research and medicine, as well as for attracting the next generation of talented scientists, clinicians and nurses necessary for the continued development of the field.
A TRUSTED AUTHORITY
The Society provides the media, patients and pupils with a trusted authority on endocrine matters, also informing members of the public who may be concerned, confused or simply curious.
In addition to the Society’s media links through the Science Media Centre, the Society for Endocrinology launched the website You and Your Hormones, in 2011. This website provides a valuable platform for members to communicate about endocrinology and create resources for teachers, students and patients. The website was awarded a Green Tick earlier this year by the UK Association for Science Education (ASE). Across the board, experts increasingly find themselves competing with false and misleading information (‘fake news’), propagated and magnified by social media algorithms. Quality assurance of platforms such as You and Your Hormones by the ASE or other regulatory bodies will be a vital part of establishing and restoring trust between experts (including endocrinologists) and the public when we communicate our work online, now and in the future.
A TWO-WAY PROCESS
Perhaps most importantly, public engagement is a two-way process of learning. It helps endocrinologists keep their work’s significance and relevance to society in perspective. One goal of the Society’s Public Engagement Committee has been to empower our members to undertake effective public engagement through informing, collaborating and consulting. The Society has worked to deliver a number of public engagement training sessions and workshops for members over the years.
The introduction of the Public Engagement Grant has also been a key strategy to encourage the participation of our members in outreach, and to generate new resources and ideas for engagement in the future. Some of these ideas and awardees have since been showcased at science festivals across the UK such as the Big Bang Fair and our Schools Outreach Workshop events held during the SfE BES conferences in 2018 and 2019.
INCREASED DIGITAL DEMAND
With the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, public engagement became a predominantly online affair. However, two initiatives in particular have enabled us to rapidly meet this increased demand for digital consumption. The introduction of the Society’s new Student Video Awards for undergraduates has generated a range of short videos, explaining endocrine subjects to a general audience. We also released the first series of our new podcast ‘Hormones: The Inside Story’, thanks to our partnership with First Create The Media.
Building on the success of the Schools Outreach Workshops, we have started to develop a Virtual Outreach Project to bring our traditionally hands on, face-to-face activities directly into the classroom via technology. This project will connect our expert members with classes and students across the UK, allowing them to share their endocrine knowledge and their own personal STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) career experiences. Crucially, these projects have helped meet another important objective of public engagement: widening participation and access to endocrine careers to students from all locations and backgrounds. In this regard, inviting schools to attend locationally restricted festivals or workshops at their own cost can often fall short.
With new rounds of grants and video awards, a second podcast series in development and new projects and partnerships underway, we hope the Society for Endocrinology can continue to expand its role as a conduit for endocrinologists at all career stages and of all backgrounds to connect with the general public, for at least another 75 years!
Research Associate, Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine, King’s College London Member, Public Engagement Committee
Reader in Reproductive Endocrinology, Imperial College London
Chair, Public Engagement Committee