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DPhil students in the StatML and AIMS CDTs were awarded prizes during a celebration of the public engagement activities they delivered as part of their training course.

The Autonomous and Intelligent Machines and Systems (AIMS) and Statistics in Machine Learning (StatML) Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) got together on 23 September to celebrate the achievements and efforts of their students who had taken up the challenge to design and deliver a public engagement with research activity as part of a training course.

A team of students are presenting at the front of a lecture hall about their activity.Together, the student teams reached over 300 people across Oxfordshire, including young people at community events, families at the maths festival and secondary school students in lessons as part of summer schools. They have observed enjoyment, intrigue, building understanding and knowledge, fostering discussion and consideration about both technical and ethical aspects of technology, as well as providing opportunities to think about potential future careers.

Six teams of students received introductory training and support to come up with creative ways to engage wider public audiences. The students delivered these activities throughout 2022. To cap it off they came together at the celebratory event to present their efforts, and enjoy a BBQ in the gorgeous surroundings of Lady Margaret Hall. 

Many of the students provided links to all of their resources, and Prof Nick Hawes, compere for the event, said that he'd be taking advantage of this when he next comes to doing engagement with primary aged children.

After the students' presentations, where they shared what they did and how things went, the prize-giving began. Two teams won prizes:

Peoples' Choice Award - "Catapult Correlation" - Joe Benton, Max Anderson Loake, Angus Phillips (StatML)

This was voted for by participants at the celebration event.

Two students are showing the catapult set up at the Maths FestivalThe team developed a fun and very popular activity as part of this year's Maths Festival. They used a simple but effective challenge to introduce young children to ideas about messy data, graphing, and correlation. The children had five goes to get a ball into a bucket using a craft catapult from a given distance. Once they'd done that they could add their results to a graph, which over the day collected the data from everyone involved.

The team said: "We were really impressed by how well the children engaged with the activity and how willing they were to complete the ‘learning’ aspect and not just the ‘fun’ aspect."

This prize came with a £300 Amazon voucher.


The Director's Choice award - "Crash Course in Robot Learning" - Kelsey Doerksen, Patrick Benjamin, Benjamin Gutteridge, Luke Richard, Sebastian Towers (AIMS)

This award was chosen by Prof Nick Hawes, Director of the Oxford Robotics Institute and MPLS Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research).

Children and adults huddle under a gazebo taking part in the activityThe team created an activity that introduced the idea of 'reinforcement learning' to very young children at the Oxfordshire Play Association Play Day at Didcot/Vauxhall Barracks. They challenged pairs of children to get a remote control car around a maze - the snag being that the only way to know if you were going to the right way on the grid was to receive 'correct' signals (bell ringing) or 'wrong' signals (honking horn). One of the children would play the role of the robot and control the remote control car, whilst the other would play the role of scientist and would know which were the 'right' points on the grid, giving the signals to guide the other. The team created a 'take home' take-away for parents to continue the fun and learning at home.

The team reported, "some members had little to no experience working with children before, and genuinely enjoyed themselves a lot more than they had anticipated, which taught them about the fulfilment that can come from working with kids".

The organiser form OPA said, “This is so simple but so effective”. 

This prize came with a £300 Amazon Voucher.

The training was organised by the CDT coordinators Wendy Poole (AIMS) and Joanna Stoneham (StatML), delivered by Michaela Livingstone-Banks (MPLS Public Engagement with Research Manager), with additional support for students provided by mentors Mareli Grady (External Engagement Coordinator, Statistics) and Oliver Moore (former MPLS Science Engagement Facilitator). Funding was provided through the CDTs (from EPSRC).

We would like to acknowledge the Physics outreach team for sharing their experiences of delivering graduate training.