Bridget Holligan, Director of Education and Engagement

I have been working for Science Oxford since 1996, which makes me the longest-serving member of staff! As Director of Education and Engagement, I am responsible for the work that we do with schools and the public to inspire and engage people of all ages about science and technology. Ultimately, we want to play our part in helping to develop curious citizens who enjoy exploring and questioning the world around them. For younger people, we also have a focus on helping them to develop the enquiry, problem-solving and collaborative skills that will stand them in good stead for 21st century careers and opportunities. I have a fantastic, motivated, talented and creative team of ten, who are all passionate about these goals and together we directly reach about 40,000 people each year with our events and programmes.

We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff going on right now! One big priority is the on-going research of our training programme for primary teachers called Thinking, Doing, Talking Science, which I developed with Helen Wilson from Oxford Brookes University. It’s a 4-day course that has been the focus of research funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) since 2013. Results so far have shown that the course made a significant positive difference to pupil attitudes and attainment in science, especially for girls. As a result, we’ve had further research funded by the EEF to see if the impact holds when we scale-up to over 200 primary schools across England. The next results will be published in 2024. In the meantime, we’ve been exploring the options for working with more schools and teachers in a sustainable way in the future.

Another priority, alongside our extensive outreach programme, is our Science Oxford Centre, set in 15 acres of woodland at Stansfeld Park in Headington. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to provide science learning opportunities, both indoors and out, and allows us to offer a hands-on experience for young people through interactive exhibits. This is something which is very close to my heart! The centre also gives us a real opportunity to showcase our Thinking, Doing, Talking Science philosophy and we intend for the centre to become a hub for continuing professional development in primary science. This is the ‘jewel in our crown’, capturing the imagination of children from an early age and increasing the number of young people who feel that science can be for them.

What do I like most about my job? The people, always the people – both those in my team and all the members of the public that we engage and involve with science. I hear about a lot of interesting science from others. I am able to help others communicate science more effectively. I get to see the spark of inspiration in people’s eyes or the cogs whirring as they really think about something properly and begin to understand it – the shout of a ‘wow’ moment or the proud smile of achievement when someone has been able to apply their skills to meet a challenge. The work is varied, no day is exactly the same and, even after 25 years, the vision that Martin and Audrey had when they set up The Oxford Trust in 1985 is still motivating me to get out of bed in the morning to see what’s next.

Before the Trust, I worked at The Exploratory Science Centre in Bristol. It was a formative experience, and one which I still hold dear to this day. I presented chemistry shows (yes, I was paid to blow things up and play with liquid nitrogen) and planetarium shows, ran workshops and science clubs, and spent lots of time engaging with visitors on the exhibition floor. It made me realise what a unique and special experience playing with hands-on exhibits can be and why I’m so delighted that we now have the Science Oxford Centre.

My biggest passion outside work has been scuba diving, although the commitments of having a family (and living in land-locked Oxford) have temporarily put a stop to that. I adore the outdoors – camping, walking etc – and spending as much time in the sea as possible. I love to spend time with my family and friends visiting new places, having new experiences and going to music and arts festivals. In my mid-40s, I overcame my fear factor and learnt to ski.

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