Public Engagement

The Sociology Department houses the Youth Advisory Board (YAB), an innovative programme that promotes knowledge exchange between researchers and secondary school students.

Launched in April 2022, the programme – the first of its kind within the University of Oxford – invited Year 12 students from four schools to volunteer as members of the YAB. While introducing them to the academic environment of Oxford Social Sciences, the programme also invited participants to offer their perspective on the process of developing a research project, from inception to seeing a measurable value of impact on society.

The forty students, who came from the Swindon and South Gloucestershire areas - regions with low per capita education spending and under-average quality higher education placements - had the exciting opportunity to discover more about the field of sociology from our world-leading researchers. Students learned about how research is funded, how it might address real-world challenges, and the obligations that public funding places upon researchers to ensure that their research does public good.

The programme also gave our researchers the opportunity to gather feedback, insight, and ideas from this key demographic on proposed research questions, project design, and outreach activities.

"It was an absolutely amazing insight into research and particularly the field of social sciences," said one student, with another adding: "The discussion was stimulating and the researcher was friendly and genuinely interested in our views."

 The YAB were split into seven groups focusing on different research projects, each led by a different sociologist:

Some students also took part in a parallel activity led by the EU-funded FEDORA* project, which works to develop methodologies for effective science education in informal spaces and is measured through knowledge exchange with students. 

In June 2022, concluding events were hosted by two of the participating schools, led by staff from both the YAB and FEDORA programmes. Students were asked to give feedback about their experiences of engaging in knowledge exchange, which will shape how the YAB programme is structured moving forward. Researchers also led a workshop on personal statement writing, offering advice as to how students can integrate their experiences with the YAB and FEDORA programmes. 

Feedback from students, teachers and researchers was overwhelmingly positive.

Student participants described the "eye-opening" experience as "interesting", "informative" and "fun", noting that they enjoyed exploring topics not covered in schools and engaging in group discussions about challenging subjects.

One teacher added: "The students as a group were buzzing… since coming back to school, I have had other students asking if they can join, which would suggest that recommendations are already happening!"

Researchers were particularly impressed with the levels of engagement and curiosity shown by the students. Dr Marti Rovira noted, "The students were brilliant and the session flowed quite naturally... they provided some great ideas."

After the success of the pilot programme, the YAB team now hopes to engage further Oxford departments and colleges in the initiative.

The project was funded by the Public Engagement with Research Culture Change Fund, which supports engagement between Oxford University departments and the public.

*Future-oriented Science Education to Enhance Responsibility and Engagement in The Society Of Acceleration and Uncertainty (FEDORA)

Get Involved 

If you work for a school and would like further information about participating in a future YAB event, please contact our divisional Research Impact Facilitator, Sam Harper

If you are a researcher in the Department of Sociology, and would like to know more or participate in future events, please contact Sam Harper or the Department’s Research Facilitator, Agnieszka Swiejkowska