Get involved

A key focus for TREE is encouraging a culture of engaging and involving the public in research. We have members of the public on our steering group, and encourage researchers to work closely with the local communities when developing their research.

Based at the University of Exeter, we're a collaborative research community trying to understand the science behind major illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and epilepsy. We aim to revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of such diseases. We bring together all sorts of people, including mathematicians, biologists, computer scientists, doctors and members of the public to tackle these issues.

Working with patients, carers and members of the public helps us to ensure our research is informed by, and meets the needs of people with the conditions we are researching.

We have a small group of people called the MAGPIEs (people from the local community) who support our research, offering very important perspectives on what we do. Find out more about the team and how you could help here.

We are always interested in hearing from members of the public to get involved with Centre staff to inform a range of activities including: 

  • contributing to specific research projects to ensure the public voice is heard;
  • guiding our research programme;
  • ensuring that our website and public facing information is written in plain English;
  • helping design public engagement events.

If you are interested in finding out more about becoming involved, please email Silvia Bortoli, Communities Engagement Manager on s.bortoli@exeter.ac.uk or call 01392 727472. 

We are not asking for any specific expertise other than your enthusiasm to be involved. 

There are opportunities to get involved in person, via email or phone. As a general rule we will pay travel expenses for people coming to any public meetings and, in addition, a small 'Thank you payment' depending on the type of involvement activity. This will be based around a payment of £25 per half day.

Here are a selection of upcoming public engagement events:

On 21 June 2019, the Living Systems Institute (LSI) held its' first Open Night, an evening dedicated to showcasing the pioneering research taking place at the LSI. The evening comprised of talks, interactive demonstrations, workshops and games! Several TREE researchers showcased their work in an engaging way to the public. 

TREE Fellow Dr Ben Sherlock hosted a public science lecture on 'Imaging in Arthritis' on 23 July 2019 at the Exeter Phoenix. As part of a GW4 initiative, Ben and colleagues have been creating a new community of scientists, clinicians and patients to drive the next generation of life changing advances in joint disease diagnosis and treatment. As part of the official launch, the Imaging Arthritis Consortium hosted a public science lecture by RD&E consultant radiologist Dr Sharief Aboelmagd, which was attended by 184 people. The lecture provided an insight into the tools and technologies used by radiologists to diagnose joint disease, and gave an overview of the cutting edge research that will revolutionise diagnosis and treatment of joint disease in the coming decades.

Sidmouth Science Festival 2019 was a great success! Three early career researchers presented on their work at the Pint of Science evening on 8 October: Danny Galvis, Harry Green and Alice Carr. On Super Science Saturday (12 October), Trish Thomas and Casey Diekman engaged with festival-goers through interactive and hands-on activities about their research into diabetes and the circadian rhythm. 

In 2018 we collaborated with the Exeter Northcott Theatre to bring to the stage a theatre production entitled ‘Beyond My Control’. Science met theatre in an interactive modelling performance about epilepsy, excitability, and all things neurological. Improvised scenes, verbatim testimony and top mathematical research combine to create a unique theatrical experience that offers a glimpse of a life lived with epilepsy. For more information about Beyond My Control click here.

The MAGPIEs worked with Seed Corn Round 5 teams to embed public engagement and involvement in their project plans, and reviewed lay summaries.

In March 2018, TREE researchers showcased their work at the University of Exeter Community Day, a family-friendly event.

In July 2018, TREE Fellow Ben Sherlock hosted a workshop with osteoarthritis patients. The aim of this workshop was to introduce his new research project, hear the patient's stories of diagnosis and treatment, and gather feedback on how the research could be developed. Several patient attendees were keen to stay in touch and contribute further as the research progresses.

QBME researchers (from our wider network) showcased their research at Sidmouth Science Festival in October. The festival is a family-friendly event which features fun and thought-provoking events including talks and workshops… and it’s all about science! Researchers brought along varied activities, including a brain model, a cell segmentation exercise, a heart model and fibrillation simulation, and finally a headset which displays brain activity!

Yolanda Hill and Chris Marcotte organised a public lecture on 6th December entitled "The beat goes on...understanding the heartbeat using maths and computers". Professor Richard Clayton from the University of Sheffield talked about his work using mathematical and computational models of the heart to study its structure and function, both in health and disease.

The MAGPIEs worked with Seed Corn Round 4 teams to embed public engagement and involvement in their project plans, and reviewed lay summaries. As a result, several teams held patient and public workshops to gather feedback on their research and to ensure onward funding considers the patient perspective, whilst other teams created animated videos to describe their research to lay audiences.

In October 2017, TREE researchers showcased their work at the Sidmouth Science Festival, a yearly, family-friendly event. Activities included a demonstration on auditory and visual deceptions, looking at fruit flies through a microscope, and an activity with EEG electrodes.

Eder Zavala, MRC Research Fellow, hosted a workshop to build non-academic collaborations in neuroendocrine research, including with patient groups. You can read more about Eder’s workshop in his blog here.

In 2016, members of the local University of the Third Age provided fantastic support to the QBME, helping to establish our core public advisory group - the 'MAGPIEs' (Modelling Advisory Group Public Involvement and Engagement).

Nigel Reed, one of our MAGPIEs, spent an afternoon with our seed corn project teams  helping them think through their public involvement plans and, importantly, helping them to write a summary in plain English!

We held two events for about 30 members of the public, including students from the South Devon University Technical College, to find out about the 16th Century Scientist Santorio Santorio. Santorio was, in his day, a highly influential scientist who invented many medical instruments and discovered what we now understand as our metabolism. Dr Fabrizio Bigotti (medical philosophy) and Professor Jonathan Barry (medical history) are academics who wish to bring Santorio’s laboratory back to life to help us understand how medical science and its methods developed. This project developed with the public as collaborators and lay researchers - school students reconstructed Santorio’s famous weighing chair and one of our lay participants, David Taylor, made remarkable progress with the design and function of the pulsilogium (a device to measure heart rate).

In October we ran a stall at Sidmouth Science Festival with some portable equipment for measuring the electrical activity of the brain. Members of the public young and old enjoyed discussing brain activity, controlling a computerised robot using facial expressions and seeing a virtual brain experience an epileptic seizure.

We also held a workshop entitled 'Communicating Curiosity or Basic Science Research to the Public: Who, What, When, Where and How?' to encourage people to come and hear about our research and advise us on how to design and produce public facing web pages and communications for lay audiences.

 

The first week of July 2015 saw our first public involvement workshops. Twenty-five members of the public from as far afield as Wales, Cornwall, Sussex and the West Midlands met with John Terry (Centre Co-Director), Jo Welsman (Engaged Research Fellow) and Wessel Woldman (PhD) student in open discussions about what it is like to be diagnosed with and live with, or care for someone with dementia, epilepsy, or schizophrenia. Others contributed via phone and email.

We also discussed how the modelling work of the Centre might be used to develop new diagnostic tests. The inspiration and insights we gained from these workshops will be invaluable in helping us develop our research in ways that will be most relevant to people living with neurological conditions.

Researchers at the Centre received funding to explore and develop their research into long term neurological conditions.

Recent research shows promise for new methods of diagnosis from routine clinical measurements such as electroencephalography (EEG) which measures the electrical activity of the brain. This may lead us to new approaches for diagnosing neurological conditions in a GP surgery or even at home.

It is essential to us that we develop our research in collaboration with people who live with these conditions and their supporters or carers. We hope that if we understand better how these conditions are experienced from the very early signs and symptoms through to a formal diagnosis (or sometimes even misdiagnosis), we will be able to shape our research in ways that are relevant to both the people experiencing these conditions as well as to clinicians and health professionals involved in their diagnosis.