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BHF and ASCUS PhD students win 2020 Public Engagement Award

20 students have been awarded the 2020 CVS Public Engagment award for their work with schools and adult audiences, through the BHF and ASCUS.

The Centre for Cardiovascular Science has awarded the 2020 CVS Public Engagement Award to a group of 20 dedicated PhD students for their work engaging various public audiences with cardiovascular research, through both the BHF STEM Schools Programme and public workshops with ASCUS Art & Science.

The group of awarded students includes Hannah Costello, Manolis Solomonidis, Ben Thomas, Olivia Matthews, Ailsa Ralph, Ciara McDonnell, Sarah Finnie, Natalie Jones, Kathleen Scullion, Adrienne Assmus, Oliver Teenan, Holly Woodward, Finn Bruton, Tanguy Blehaut, Aryan Baghbadrani, Rebecca Wafer, Lisa Ivatt, Rachel Bell, Clare Macleod, and Sophie Walker.

BHF STEM Programme

Over the past two years, the student-led team has successfully managed a broad engagement programme, partnering with the STEM ambassador network, British Heart Foundation (BHF), ASCUS Arts & Science, and the Edinburgh primary and secondary schools.

Hannah Costello, a BHF-funded PhD student at CVS, partnered with BHF Scotland and the STEM ambassador network to develop the BHF STEM Programme, engaging local Scottish school pupils with heart health topics and CPR.

The BHF STEM programme is an educational programme set up by CVS PhD students to engage pupils with life-saving research funded by the British Heart Foundation, engaging childen with heart health and safety, empowering them to make positive life choices, and inspiring the next generation of scientists.

Hannah CostelloBHF-funded PhD student, Centre for Cardiovascular Science

The BHF STEM Programme also involves CPR training for school teachers and pupils. Through the programme, a number of CPR-trained PhD students have visited schools to facilitate interactive sessions for pupils and teachers, including heart-health themed games, Q&A sessions, CPR training, and career path discussions.  So far, the educational programme has reached 10 local Scottish schools, and has provided CPR training to over 500 pupils.

A highlight for me has been hearing feedback from the schools. One teacher emailed me to say a parent from the school said her wee boy had been so inspired that he wanted to be a scientist and work for the BHF, which makes all of our hard work worthwhile.

Hannah Costello

ASCUS Workshops

Adrienne Assmus at ASCUS Labs
Adrienne Assmus at ASCUS Labs

The PhD team’s research and engagement expertise has also been essential in running public workshops with ASCUS Art & Science. ASCUS is a non-profit organisation creating innovative trans-disciplinary projects to engage new and wider audiences, bridging the gap between art and science. The PhD student team developed community-centred interactive workshops with ASCUS, targeting young and older adults, familiarising these audiences with scientific research and adding an artistic perspective to molecular and microscopy technologies. 

The workshops focused on various cardiovascular topics, including the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys, but also focused more broadly on scientific lab techniques. The workshops brought scientists, artists, and non-specialist members of the public together to share perspectives on cardiovascular research.

The most rewarding thing is when an artist gets inspired by something you've done in the lab, and uses that idea to produce a new art piece. It is such a great way to increase the impact of research. Artists can make a research topic emotionally resonate with the audience.

Manolis SolomonidisBHF-funded PhD student, Centre for Cardiovascular Science

Why engage?

When asked why they got involved with public engagement, the CVS PhD students had varying answers.

Hannah Costello’s enduring motivation is that teaching kids and families about cardiovascular health, symptoms, and CPR can potentially save lives. Ben Thomas recalls his interest in science at primary school but he did not know how to gain access to more knowledge. He wished university students had come to visit his school; now, as a postgraduate student, he has made that wish come true for many school pupils.

I think it's really important to share our knowledge with the community and encourage, particularly more young people, to get involved in science. People of all ages want to know what we're working on, and  I think we have a responsibility, particularly if we are  publicly funded, to share our work with them.

Ciara McDonnellPhD student, Centre for Cardiovascular Science

Like other team members, Manolis Solomonidis also leads in fundraising events and finds it incredibly rewarding to share his research with the public and share their excitement. Manolis has been actively trying to further break the barrier between the public and the “ivory tower” of research institutions. “This is a critical step to inspire future generations of scientists.

It is easy to get bogged down in the every-day grind in the laboratory, but activities like this are a good reminder that what we are doing is very important and very cool indeed.

Manolis Solomonidis

The PhD student team was presented with the 2020 CVS Award for Public Engagement on 18 June 2020 during the 2020 CVS Virtual Symposium, in recognition of their outstanding achievement and dedication to engaging audiences with cardiovascular research. 

Congratulations to this well-deserved group!

Hannah Costello teaching CPR in a local school
Hannah Costello teaching CPR in a local school