‘Rising Stars', a public communication course organised by the University's Office of External Affairs and Communications, has seen the first two groups train to be outstanding public communicators.

It is the first course of its kind in the UK. As well as providing communications training, the course provides the opportunity for the Rising Stars to deliver educational outreach activity.

Launched in February, it offers the chance for early-careers researchers and aspiring academics to develop the skills necessary to communicate their expertise to non-specialist audiences and become ambassadors for their subjects.

26 postgraduates and post-doctoral students have now completed the programme. All have delivered community or public outreach activities as a requirement of the course. Many participants have embarked on collaborative interdisciplinary projects.

One such activity took place at St Neots Community College, where a group of 14-year-old students participated in a session called ‘How does language structure thought?' This brought together a classicist, a computer scientist and a cognitive neuroscientist to address topics such as: ‘Communicating love and hate', ‘Can computers think?' and ‘Scientific language in the media'.

Many ‘Rising Stars' course participants have offered their expertise to existing initiatives such as the Cambridge Science Festival. Kiran Singh, a PhD student at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, demonstrated her research at the Festival in March and then took part in the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition in July, demonstrating ‘The Dynamics of Spin' (pictured).

Some participants have set up new initiatives, particularly in those departments where there are currently no formal outreach programmes.

Cecily Morrison, a PhD student at the Computer Laboratory who completed the Rising Stars course in April, is now establishing a formal departmental outreach programme.

Women@CL Outreach' aims to address the under-representation of women in the Computer Lab at the University. Cecily hopes to work with female academics to create interactive sessions about computer science which will then be taken into A-level maths classrooms.

The programme aims to help female computer scientists at Cambridge develop transferable skills while also presenting an alternative image of computer science and giving girls the opportunity to engage with it in an alternative way. Cecily hopes that the programme will encourage more young women to consider careers in this field.

The impact of ‘Rising Stars' has been seen across the University, where course participants have embarked on public engagement activities ranging from a website on medieval Irish literature, to a video podcast about particle physics and a careers day for school students who are interested in pursuing arts and humanities careers.

One course participant commented: “Doing this has encouraged my belief that any subject, no matter how simple or complicated, can be translated to both lay people and academics and the media.”

Nicola Buckley, Festivals and Outreach Co-ordinator, says: “We are delighted with the success of the course and the enthusiasm shown by the participants for engaging with the community. The Rising Stars are an excellent pool of talent we can now draw on for educational outreach with adults and school pupils, and for events such as the Cambridge Science Festival and the new Festival of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences we are planning for October 2008. We are particularly pleased to see that many of the educational outreach activities that Rising Stars have developed will continue with the support of University departments and museums.”

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