Spotlight on... Helen Craig

Helen Craig

Helen Craig

This week we meet Helen Craig, Public Engagement Manager for Life and Medical Sciences. Here, she chats to us about her latest project around public engagement at UCL, New Year’s resolutions and the film she named her cat after.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I’m the Public Engagement Manager for Life and Medical Sciences, within UCL Engagement. It’s a really varied role - I balance our core work, including running funding schemes, training and networking, and then also support academics and staff from my faculties in their own Public Engagement projects. I find myself supporting funding bids, facilitating delivery of projects, running bespoke training and fellowship programs and more. I love that I get an overview of the whole university, especially ’my’ faculties of Life, Medical, Brain and Population Health Sciences. And I’ve recently returned from a nine month secondment with UCLPartners, the Academic Health Science Centre, where I was able to really get stuck in with Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement work too.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I’ve been at UCL for about three and a half years. My previous role was as the Public Engagement with Research Officer at the Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR) working at the interface between engagement, outreach and widening participation. Before that I worked as a freelance researcher, scriptwriter and fact-checker for various online and TV projects, most of them science-related. I was most proud of writing regularly for The Toast, a wonderful feminist website that has sadly now closed. On TV, I worked on shows for the Discovery Channel, BBC Worldwide and many others - including memorable filming trips involving working with animals!

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Within UCL I am so proud of the SLMS Community of Engagers - a peer network for staff and students working with Public Engagement and Patient and Public Involvement (PPI/E), providing a space to develop and share their skills, experiences, resources and knowledge. During the COVID crisis this has moved from a group focused on in-person meetings to a supportive Teams group and monthly newsletter where members can ask questions and learn from each other. (Do get in touch if you’d like to join!)

I’m also really proud when I look at the current ICR public engagement work. I was the first person who worked in a public engagement role with them, and they have really gone from strength to strength in their outreach work.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

At the moment I am focused on Public Engagement Skills and Practice, our flagship staff training programme for public engagement.

There’s a great variety of workshops, and they’re open to all at UCL who self-identify as a researcher and/or want to embed public engagement into their work (professional services, academic staff and postgraduate research students are all welcome!) We have workshops running until May and you can sign up to as many as you want - I especially recommend the introduction (Tuesday next week!) and then this month’s Fundraising for Public Engagement masterclass on 25 January, and the Teaching with External Communities workshop on 9 February, which explains how can you use your teaching practice to progress your career towards the Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. Visit the Public Engagement Skills and Practice

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

I love Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, especially the Good Son album. For films - I have terrible taste, so I need to pick Constantine here, with Keanu, Tilda Swinton, and an iconic role from Peter Stormare. We named our cat after this film! My favourite novel is the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, without a doubt.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

My grandma tells some amazing ones from her younger years in Devon, but they’re all very much post-watershed...

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I’d love to have dinner with a group of people who are already friends - less chance for awkwardness that way perhaps? And it would be great to pick the moment in time, too - imagine sitting down with the cast and crew when they were filming Lord of the Rings, before they knew it would be a success. Or meeting with the Lunar Society in the 1760s, or chatting with Marie Curie and her husband and warning them of the dangers of radiation!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Not to stress so much about how things will turn out. I think when you’re young, everything feels all or nothing - but there are so many ways to live a good life, and so much more time to live it than it can feel in your early years.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I am a game master for Dungeons and Dragons, that game where you get together to tell stories with friends and pretend you can cast spells! I run a regular game with colleagues in UCL Engagement, and am also setting up an in-person group in the community common room in Hastings.

What is your favourite place?

At the moment, the top of the East Hill in Hastings, at sunrise, having successfully kept my New Year’s resolution to walk up it every day!




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