Public engagement in research can initiate change in a tangible, real way. For researcher Jamie Khoo, recognizing this has meant that she’s always made public engagement a major part of her research; at every stage, asking how it might relate beyond academia and create impact in the wider sense. This included entering the Vitae 3-Minute Thesis competiton (3MT), a competition which Taylor & Francis is proud to sponsor.

Jamie won the 3MT People’s Choice Award for her thought-provoking presentation ‘But is she pretty? How women respond to beauty ideals’. We spoke to Jamie about public engagement and the different ways she’s reaching beyond academia with her research; from entering 3MT to writing for The Conversation. Read on for tips and insights.

Bringing my findings back out into society

I went into my PhD knowing that I didn’t want my research to stay in an ivory tower of academia. Coming from the magazine industry and after feeling increasingly disillusioned and frustrated by the limitations of the media, I eventually decided to study women’s responses to beauty ideals in a more formal, structured way. I hoped I might be able to bring my findings back into society to initiate some more tangible change. Public engagement has therefore always been a big part of my PhD. At every stage, I’ve asked myself how it might apply to the world beyond my academic life and prompt change in a practical way.

Articulating what your research is about – what we’re doing and why

During 3MT training at our university, a fellow finalist shared an excellent way for talking about our research and making it accessible: pretend you’re at a pub and telling your friends about your research. This is harder than it sounds. We become comfortable being in a space where many concepts are taken for granted and understood. The biggest challenge is in un-learning a lot of what has become second nature, and putting it back together for someone with no training in this area at all. Many times, I think, we probably even struggle to articulate to ourselves what our research is actually about. It is easy to get so caught up in complex, abstract theories or infinitesimal details of our data. We start to lose the bigger picture of what we’re actually doing and why.