Spotlight on Dr Rupy Matharu, IHE Impact Fellow
3 June 2021
Meet Dr Rupy Matharu! She's a Research Fellow in UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering and also one of our first IHE Impact Fellows. We chatted to her about her work, and how our impact training has helped her grow her skills.
Could you tell us a bit about your 'day job' at UCL?
I’m currently a Research Fellow working on the UKRI funded AIRBODS (Airborne Infection Reduction through Building Operation and Design for SARS-CoV-2) project. I’m looking at how ventilation and other factors affect the risk of transmission at large public gatherings in non-domestic settings (i.e. concerts, club nights, shows etc.). Through a combination of experimental work, field studies, and computer modelling, I am able to calculate the risk of airborne transmission (Relative Exposure Index) and create clear guidance on how to design and operate non-domestic buildings to minimise any potential Covid-19 risk.
The project has been picked up the UK Governments Events Research Programme, which has been a great opportunity to influence policy regarding the safe reopening of the UK. The UK events industry has been shut for more than a year. Being able to get these events and venues back up and running in a safe way and getting our lives back some form of “normal”, is an extremely fulfilling endeavour. The knowledge generated from this work can also be applied to various sectors, such as healthcare, education and retail.
Wembley Stadium filled with football fans – there's a sight we haven't seen for a while!
You've been part of the Impact Fellowship Scheme since October. How have you found it?
This Fellowship has been an amazing eye-opening experience. I’ve had the chance to learn so much in a short space of time, and the opportunity to connect with some amazing researchers! I’ve really enjoyed networking with so many interesting people/stakeholders and learning the different ways to create impact.
Being an IHE Impact Fellow has allowed me to explore and gain hands-on experience in the different avenues of Research Impact and how to create long-lasting change.
It’s really forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and try things I’ve always thought of doing, but never had the bravery for. “
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed (and benefitted from) learning how to share my research in an engaging way with the general public. I’ve been able to connect to people on a personal level, to not only engage them in STEM, but to also help design solutions that are responsive to user needs. Another valuable skill I’ve learnt is how to distil difficult concepts in a more accessible way – I thought I was semi-decent at this, but after I met some of the experts, I realised I had a lot to learn!
Before starting this Fellowship, I had a very basic and surface-level understanding of ‘Impact’ (though I didn’t think this at the time). When I thought of impact, I thought of traditional one-directional dissemination approaches designed to inform. However, through this Fellowship I’ve come to learn the complexities of Impact, and that Impact doesn’t mean passive Public Engagement activities. It’s more than that. It’s about having two-way knowledge exchange between researchers and members of the public, policymakers, media outlets and more. I’ve always had a strong personal interest in how engagement can shape local, national and global conversations and I had dabbled in a few impact activities. I knew I wanted to create long-lasting impact, but I just didn’t know where and how to start. This Fellowship has helped me refine my ideas and aims.
Have you been involved in any engagement work outside the Impact Fellowship Scheme?
Public Speaking: Communicating Your Research
Throughout February, with help of the UCL Mechanical Engineering Researchers Society (MERS), I ran a series of public speaking workshops for PhD students and ECRs. The workshops were designed to help participants develop the skills and confidence needed to communicate their research to public groups, effectively convey their thoughts to a wider audience, and translate engineering discoveries into exciting news. The training included exploring practical tips for speaking, voice modulation and the use of accessible language. The series received departmental support and backing, which drummed up more enthusiasm for the series. The engagement we had at the workshops has been great (60+ attendees) – the feedback from students, researchers and professional services staff has been phenomenal, and there has been a real shift in attitudes towards public speaking and engagement.
UCL MechEng Research Showcase
The UCL MechEng Research Showcase was our way of celebrating our researchers – the heart and soul of UCL MechEng research. Throughout the week, researchers delivered 5-minute talks on their groundbreaking and world-saving research. This showcase was the perfect opportunity for researchers to exercise their presentation skills they have recently developed in the public speaking workshops, and practice communicating their research to public groups. Each session had three judges (a mix of comms specialists and academics), and students received feedback, so they are able to improve for future presentations. Prizes were given to the best presenters. The showcase was open to all, making it a great opportunity to network and showcase some of the amazing research taking place in our department.
What do you want to do next?
I would like to apply all the knowledge and skills I have learnt from this Fellowship to my research.
“Working on a Covid response project will allow me to help bridge the communication gap between researchers and the government, and also regain the trust of the general public.
I have a few activities and projects planned surrounding public, media and policy engagement and science communication to help strengthen this. I also hope to continue sharing all that I learn with the rest of the department - so keep a close eye on MERS and future workshops. I hope these activities allow the voices of engineers to be heard, enable discoveries to reach wider audiences and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals/enthusiasts.
Anything else you'd like to say?
*Shameless plug* Come along to the UCL IHE Impact Fellow Science Showcase (15 and 17 June) and check out what my colleagues and I are getting up to.