Case study: Dr Alan Parker
Research in Alan’s lab focusses on developing so called 'oncolytic viruses' to fight cancer.
As evolved pathogens, viruses are exceptional at infecting cells, replicating and spreading to surrounding cells. In healthy cells, this process causes disease. Sadly, viruses haven’t evolved to selectively infect cancer cells, so Alan’s lab studies how viruses interact with healthy cells to cause disease.
School age children, general public.
Types of engagement
Informing and educating school children and the general public about his role as a scientist and the latest developments in gene therapy.
Alan is a registered STEMNet ambassador and regularly attends local schools to engage pupils in gene therapy.
Alan has many roles with the British Society for Gene and Cell Therapy, including organising the Society’s Annual Public Engagement Day. This is a free, one-day interactive event providing the opportunity to discuss and debate cutting edge research with scientists, patients, research students and clinicians/nurses, and to think about the impact that this research has on society and individuals.
Alan is a keen blogger and regularly writes lay articles for the BSGCT and educational resources for the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy.
Alan is passionate about the need to engage with the lay community to convey his science and really enjoys it. “I work in an area of science which has an enormous impact on today’s society. Almost everyone you meet has been touched by cancer. When I discuss using viruses to attack cancer, I’m always struck by the questions posed, which in turn do inform my research going forward.”
In today’s funding climate, it is becoming increasingly important to engage the public with research not only for accountability reasons but to maximise the impact of research. Moving forward, Alan wishes to inject direct public/patient involvement into the life cycle of his future research projects and is keen to access the existing networks of people keen to get involved in research.
Through his engagement work Alan has learnt the importance of communicating his research in a way which is understandable and accessible to the general public and young people.
“For me, I find the more exposure that I can give to my research the better. I feel I have a responsibility to make people understand my work and allow them the opportunity to properly judge the impact of my work.”
Alan believes that to undertake quality engaged research, you must possess good communication skills, be an active listener and understand your audience and why they have chosen to engage with you.
Alan has learnt every time he has carried out an engagement activity. “I find people are genuinely interested in what I do. In the classroom, children can ask very left field questions which raise important issues for my research.
Patients also ask really important questions which maintains your focus on making the outcomes of your research real and of benefit to patients in the future.”
This is a shortened version of the full case study.