So why do I do them?
Honestly, I started getting involved these 'activities' in an effort to meet people. I moved here from London after growing up in the North West of England and going to university in the North East of England. I knew very few people in the far North East of Scotland (/arctic circle), probably about 6 people. I am a sociable person, so I started getting involved with things and I got involved with science things, because I am rubbish at sport and those seemed the best option for me. I also enjoy new experiences and love a challenge. I struggle to say no.
I am a registered STEM ambassador and during the past 2 years I have blown up film canisters for 5 year olds and talked about my PhD project to a group of people that wanted to hear about it. Just because the opportunity was available.
I started up Au Science Magazine because I felt that the University of Aberdeen produces some really great science, and really great events, but students and people in city did not know about any of it. How can a story get on the BBC news website, yet students from the university know nothing about it? (I am not sure why I felt so strongly about this; it isn't my job to feel like this!)
I wanted to share with people just how exciting 'science' can be, because I find it exciting. I started by trying to get involved with the student newspaper, but that attempt failed somewhat, so I put forward an idea for the science magazine. It worked, and I met a great bunch of people through the magazine.
I started Aberdeen Skeptics in the Pub because it looked like fun...
As a PhD student you are supposed to give a certain number of hours to 'development activities' but make of that what you will. You could spend your time teaching, attending some of the skill development courses that the university runs, enter yourself into business competitions (like Biotechnology YES) or do nothing at all. These alternatives could all help develop communication skills, without needing to get involved in 'public engagement'. The time is your own.
The situation gets even more difficult as a post-doc. Jobs are hard to come by and research papers are a necessity for employment, if 'public engagement' is not specifically written into your employment terms -why waste any precious time outside of the lab?
Do academic researchers have a duty to communicate what they are doing? (I would say yes if they are publicly funded). But what if they are industry funded? Do they have a duty to share their work?
The university depends on people giving up time and being involved in these kinds of activities, but what real incentive is there for the students? Is the promise of 'experience' or as a C.V. enhancer enough?