As an academic, I take public engagement seriously.  I see it as a responsibility that comes with the societally-sanctioned license to study the things that I’m passionate about.  And I consider it a privilege to interact with others who can inform what I do as well as potentially benefitting from it.  Yet I’d be the first to admit that engaging with non-academics isn’t exactly a badge of honor within the hallowed halls of academia. Mostly, this feeling that spending time talking with and listening to people who aren’t academically “institutionalized” (or are not potential donors) isn’t valued is just that: a feeling; an ill-defined sense that your peers and your academic unit think of you you as slightly less “worthy” – an academic lightweight.  It’s a nagging doubt that’s easy to put down to insecurity or paranoia.  But two recent papers by Richard Watermeyer at the University of Warwick in the UK (the second covered in Times Higher Educational under the title “Public engagement means ‘sacrificing’ academic career”) suggest that there may be more substance to the perception that public engagement places academics at a disadvantage in their institutions. Academics and public engagement The two papers report on a series of interviews Watermeyer conducted with between 40 and 45 British academics.  All were accredited by the UK’s National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) as “Public Engagement Ambassadors”, and so were, as Watermeyer describes them, a “minority and marginal group of academics, distinguished for their achievements in [public engagement]”. The interviews were specifically aimed at exploring participants’ perceptions of the the value and impact of  public engagement on their academic work and their careers. By way of context, it’s important to realize that both of these papers are specific to the higher education system in the UK – where there have been considerable moves in recent years to promote societal

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