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Vaccine engagement starts…as an undergraduate student

We're proud to showcase this case study in our 'Vaccine engagement starts...' series, part of our wider public engagement campaign. Our hope is that, through highlighting a range of the wonderful and impactful activities our members have been carrying out, others will be inspired to begin engaging with the public on vaccines.

BSI member, Lois Mason is an undergraduate immunology student at the University of Glasgow. She has created video explainers to help people understand why they are being advised to vaccinate as part of her final year project. Here, Lois talks about her experience so far, highlights how it’s possible to make a difference as a student and shares her advice for others looking to learn about science communication.


The start of my science communication journey

I’ve always been passionate about inspiring and helping others learn. I wanted to become a teacher when I came to university. But last year, I started to get involved in public engagement activities and now, I feel like I’ve found my place.

For my final year dissertation, I chose an outreach project focussing on vaccine hesitancy and the power of social media. I wanted to create an accessible and visual resource to discuss vaccines and the immune system. I did a lot of research into why some people may be hesitant towards getting vaccines and taught myself how to use different programmes to create an explainer video.

It was a bit of a challenge at first, but I feel like my videos have got better as I’ve done more of them. It has been really rewarding – I feel like I’m playing my part in the COVID-19 response!


My experience as an undergraduate student

As an undergraduate student, you can feel that you don’t have a voice, and this can hold you back in some ways. But actually, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t speak out!

I think it’s important to share the basics and explain the principles of how the immune system works. With my degree, I have a good understanding about the immune response to a vaccine and I can use that to answer questions from the public, listen to their worries and provide resources with more information.

If you’re an undergrad looking to get involved in public engagement around vaccination, my advice would be to look for collaborations. You can pair up with your university and other established organisations to get a better reach and a higher level of credibility. It’s so valuable to work closely with another organisation! For example, at the University of Glasgow, the College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences hosted my explainer video on their YouTube channel and the Institute of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation shared it on Twitter. I also wrote a blog using my research and graphics for the MRC-UofG Centre for Virus Research and the British Society for Immunology included my video as part of their public engagement resources.


Measuring and building on success

Following best practice from public engagement experts, a key part of the project was getting data to carry out an evaluation. In the video description I shared a survey to understand if watching it helped them increase their knowledge and have more confidence in their understanding of how vaccination works.

Over 150 people filled out the survey and most said that their understanding and confidence had increased – which was a great result! Another useful finding was that a good number of school students had watched the video as well.

In terms of learnings, going forward I’d like to focus on separating the data from individuals with core immunology knowledge and increasing accessibility to more diverse audiences.


A big thank you to my role models

Last year, I carried out a public engagement internship at the University of Glasgow. I participated in the development of activities for school students to introduce how the immune system works. I loved coming up with ideas and activities and I’m very grateful to Dr Megan MacLeod who led this project. 

I would also like to thank my supervisor Dr Georgia Perona-Wright – her journey into science communication was really inspirational and she has helped me build my confidence and put me in contact with relevant people.


Next steps…

I’m very excited to continue building my platform after university. I love talking about immunology and empowering people to be confident about making decisions regarding their health. I feel that I found my place in the creative side of science communications and I can’t wait to create more resources!

I have different workshops and virtual events lined up. I would definitely encourage others to look out for events and training sessions. If there was ever a time to get into public engagement and science communication, it’s now.


Follow Lois on Twitter @loisatuni and take a look at her work at www.loissmithmason.co.uk

Are you a BSI member involved in public engagement around COVID-19 vaccines? We'd love to hear from you! Please get in touch with our Marketing & Communications Manager, Teresa Prados, to share your experience as part of our new case study series 'Vaccine engagement starts...'.

Click here to find out more about the BSI's public engagement campaign Vaccine engagement starts at home. We’re always looking for members to help bring the expert immunology voice so if you'd like to get involved with our public engagement work, don't hesitate to contact our Public Engagement Manager, Erika Aquino.