‘Science is for everyone’ – How collaboration can help solve problems like coronavirus

'If I can do science, anyone can”.' – Dr Kirsty Culley is science engagement manager at Norwich Rese

'If I can do science, anyone can”.' – Dr Kirsty Culley is science engagement manager at Norwich Research Park Picture: Norwich Research Park - Credit: Archant

Dr Kirsty Culley, associate director of science engagement at Norwich Research Park, explains how she helps scientists work together to find answers to big challenges, and how the public can get involved to help too!

'I love to travel, though Covid-19 has put that on hold,' says Kirsty Pictures: Kirsty Culley

'I love to travel, though Covid-19 has put that on hold,' says Kirsty Pictures: Kirsty Culley - Credit: Archant

Each month, those working at the pioneering heart of Norwich Research Park tell us how their work is shaping the world we live in. Read their stories here.

You work in science engagement – what does that entail?

I work for Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, the organisation that runs and manages Norwich Research Park, which is home to our six partners – four world-leading institutes, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the UEA – as well as over 150 businesses. Within each of these partners and businesses, teams are working on unique scientific questions.

I support the scientists working across the park, removing hurdles and helping them to connect with each other, so that they can work on collaborative projects to address questions and find impactful solutions.

One of the key things I am doing currently is looking for funding opportunities to support the Covid-19 focused research and other initiatives on the park. Another facet of my role involves arranging events to highlight our great research and working with others on the park to help translate that research from the lab into real-life solutions that help people.

How did you end up in this job?

Growing up in Norfolk, I was lucky to have a world-leading university on my doorstep. I studied biological sciences at the UEA and discovered a real passion for human disease research.

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My PhD focused on osteoarthritis, which my family has a history of suffering from, and I spent eight years completing osteoarthritis research at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

From my experiences directing an educational research programme for surgeons in training, I realised that I loved connecting people with differing expertise to enable better science to be delivered.

When I moved back to Norfolk I was incredibly excited to start my current role as I get to continue bringing together multifaceted teams to find innovative solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.

And our work on the park often involves the participation of the public in Norfolk. There are loads of cool trials that they can get involved with that can really make a difference to the long-term health of the world’s population.

We advertise regularly for volunteers, so anyone interested should keep an eye out for opportunities to take part.

Why is science so important?

Science helps us identify challenges and propose solutions. Our Vision at Norwich Research Park is to change lives and rethink society. People are going above and beyond at Norwich Research Park to find solutions to huge problems like coronavirus.

Our institutes are sequencing Covid-19 as part of global efforts to monitor the pandemic’s development, volunteers are making anti-bacterial hand gel and there has been a huge effort to come together to ramp up coronavirus testing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

My sister is a nurse on the intensive care unit, so everything that everyone is doing on our park to support the hospital directly supports my sister. I am very grateful for that.

Why should the public be more engaged with science?

It’s important for everybody to have an understanding of science so that they can advocate for good science. Scientists benefit from two-way dialogue with the public. If people are engaged, it means science is more transparent. They can see what’s going on and feed into it.

People can engage with science by coming to events like the Norwich Science Festival or by participating in clinical trials at the Quadram Institute or in a citizen science project such as the one currently running on Saviour Bees with the Earlham Institute. Our Twitter feed is always up-to-date with information on events and projects like this.

Plus, science is fun! It’s interesting to understand important questions that face us all. I never knew I was going to be a scientist. If I can do science, anyone can.

What are the best things about working at Norwich Research Park?

The best thing is the people Researchers in academia are pushing themselves to the limit to find solutions because they are passionate about it. They are just regular people working hard to achieve amazing things for the greater good.

Plus, I get to live in Norfolk, which is amazing!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to travel, though Covid-19 has put that on hold. In academia you get to meet people from all over the world so there are lots of colleagues to go and visit, under normal circumstances!

My husband and I bought a house last year which we are currently renovating with the help of our parents and their fantastic DIY skills. I also love perfecting my New York and New Jersey accents!

Kirsty Culley is associate director of science engagement at Norwich Research Park. For more information visit www.norwichresearchpark.com and follow on Twitter @NorwichResearch.