Russell Betney tells us about his role as Science Engagement Officer at the Rowett Institute.

Tell us about your role at the University

I am the Science Engagement Officer for the Rowett Institute where I work as part of the Knowledge Exchange team.  Essentially I help share the amazing research from our institute by helping our excellent research staff talk about their work. I really work at the interface between scientist and our three main audiences: the public, our stakeholders and industry.

The Rowett regularly has speakers at some of the local Café Scientifique sessions, and I help run events as part of Mayfest and Techfest.  Last year I organised the Rowett’s contribution to Doors Open Day where there was a lot of interest to see our brand new facility at Foresterhill.

As food & drink and the health of the nation is always a key issue for the government, we have many stakeholders in parliamentary policy teams.  It is especially important to engage with these key stakeholders as a large part of our funding comes from the Scottish Government.  Recently we have run workshops for some of our key policy contacts; one on behaviour change (in terms of food & drink consumption) and another on healthy safe diets.  We also publish a seasonal ezine for our stakeholders which I help write and distribute.

At the Rowett, we also have a lot of contact with the food & drink industry and businesses.  I don’t have direct contact with companies and businesses themselves but it is important for the Rowett to have a presence at some key industry-facing events which I do have a hand in. We are also involved with events highlighting the possible careers opportunities in the food & drink sector.

Beyond these three principal audiences I also run the Rowett social media profiles. Primarily twitter where we disseminate news and latest publications from the Institute, but we also have a Facebook account with the aim of generating more of a community for volunteers for the dietary intervention studies that we run. 

I am also the Rowett representative in a collaborative CPD course for primary school teachers called the Good Food Champions.  The course gives teachers an opportunity to engage with all levels of the food, farming, cookery and manufacturing chain via face-to-face meetings, online learning and farm/factory visits.  The course has been led by the Royal Highland Education Trust, and along with the Rowett there are representatives from the National Museums in Scotland, Food and Drink Federation Scotland and Soil Association Scotland. We are now in our second year as the response from our first cohort was overwhelmingly positive.

How do you usually start your day?

I start my work day in the same way as I’m sure a lot of people do, with a cup of tea (crucial) and dealing with the latest emails in my inbox.  If I’m at an event that day, I could start with anything from ensuring our banners, leaflets etc are all present and correct, to making sure all the IT works smoothly for a workshop or making sure we have enough cabbage juice if I’m helping run some “Food Lab” activities for school children.

What brought you to the University of Aberdeen?

I first came to the University in 1995 to study Biochemistry, and apart from a two-year period in Berlin, I’ve never left.  I did my PhD here and it was during a couple of Post-doctoral microbiology positions that I developed my taste for science communication.  So here I am still at the University of Aberdeen doing science engagement.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?
The people.  It’s probably a bit of a clichéd answer, but it’s true.  Everyone at the Rowett is very friendly and the people I’ve got to know through the external collaborations I’m involved with are great too.  I feel very lucky that through my University career I have worked for and with many excellent people.
What are your work priorities at the moment?
Right now my two main priorities are putting together our latest stakeholder ezine that we will send out in spring, and organising our contribution to this year’s May Festival. We will be running a workshop on “Reformulation: Why less really is more.” at our institute.
How do you like to relax outside work?
I’m a bit of a movie nerd, so I try to watch as much as possible, though with two young sons I don’t get to watch as much as I’d like.  I also enjoy cycling and running, only for fun; though I am going to run my first every half marathon in a month’s time.