Sticking it to the Man
By Lizzy Baddeley, on 25 March 2014
In January 2014 Roselle Thoreau took part in a special Focus on the Positive event in partnership with the U3A (the University of the Third Age). Roselle won the first prize of £2000 and shares her experiences of taking part. Look out for more updates from Roselle as her project unfolds.
For me, gaining support for research projects has always been defined in terms of grants and tenders. Dry documents with mission statements, financial justifications, milestones, and track records. Projects which, whilst very important, have societal impacts that take years to occur.
My perspective changed when I went to a Focus on the Positive event run by the UCL Public Engagement Unit.
It was a revelation – a completely different way of approaching academic content. It focused (as the title suggested) on all the positive that research can do. It was a reminder of why, as researchers, we chose our careers. Through listening to the pitches that evening it also showed me that small ideas for small projects with small budgets can have a big impact.
So when the chance came I applied to take part.
My research looks at the difficulties older adults have with mobility. I have a small cohort of older adults who visit me regularly in the lab. Over the last year many of my cohort have started to use walking sticks. The sticks, bought in the local chemist or by their children, had not been adjusted to their personal needs.
A search of the market revealed many different types of sticks are available but very little information as to what the differences are or which stick might suit best. A little further research showed that a stick that doesn’t fit the person can actually make them walk less than they would without any stick at all.
I wanted to help my participants and the many others like them who need to use a stick but don’t know how to find an appropriate one. My project is to create and disseminate an easy-to-read guide about walking sticks that gives people the access to the information they need to make a good choice. A small project with a potentially big impact.
I’d never really thought about pitching this project before. I’d certainly never thought about pitching it to people outside academia.
It was a daunting prospect – to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and convince them of your project’s worth. To ease this we were given training in how to pitch an idea. A few hours with Steve Cross, the Head of the Public Engagement Unit at UCL, was enough to completely alter my perspective of presenting: not just presenting a pitch, but presenting my research in any setting. Steve taught us the importance of knowing who is in your audience and of making your presentation relevant to them. He also taught us how to break down your pitch into five different segments, each appealing to a different type of audience member.
My project would be difficult to fund through traditional academic methods. Focus on the Positive was a perfect way to gain support for something small yet powerful. It has taught me a new skill (pitching) and a new way of approaching ideas. Now all I need to do is put my plan into action. Next time I write, I’ll be able to tell you about the journey of creating the guide and how I plan to reach the people who need to access it the most.