This post is mainly geared towards the members of the Future Professoriate class at Virginia Tech, however, if you are outside of this class, outside of academia, I am confident and hope that you will find it interesting.
Do you understand my research? Often, this is a question I will ask my friends and family after I try to tell them what I have been doing for the last couple of years. Usually I get a YES, but have to admit that my research is a lot easier to explain compared to others. Or maybe I have found the way to explain it in simple terms, because certainly I have also explained it in terms that I leave everyone confused, including myself. Talking with people that is constantly immerse in the academia, or research environment, seems to be easier for the majority of researchers. But reaching out to the public, or even with researchers that are in a different field is usually a challenge.
About a month ago, or even a little bit longer, our Future Professoriate class transformed from the regular environment into a “theater school”. The session started with dialogues about how we usually communicate. Do we just talk? How about our body language? What type of spoken language are we using? How do we learn better? and then transitioned into action, taking as out of our comfort zones, being extrovert and not caring too much about what others could think. At least that was my experience.
Possibly it would had been better to post about this then, but well, better late than never, I guess. The main reason why I am posting about it now, and sharing a little of the story, is because an article I found while checking for topics to blog about this week: “Publicize Your Research” by Audrey Williams June (you may need subscription to access the link, sorry!). Reading through it brought memories about that evening in the FP class. There are very interesting points in the article, and I invite you to read it, but in case you skip it, think about the following as one of the core points: if research is not communicated outside of the academic world, how are we going to know about it? How are we going to know why it is important? How can we justify to the public that the tax money invested in education is not being wasted? (questions somewhat paraphrased from referenced article, this is my version of free style citation). To clarify, I am trying to write this post as a graduate student doing research and as a member of the general public at the same time, hence the “we” in my questions.
Communicating research/findings to the general audience is critical, and doing so effectively is even more critical. I am glad that several Universities are being proactive and offering workshops for faculty, staff and students to learn how to communicate better. See here for some examples, also check Virginia Tech’s Center for Communicating Science. I was extremely shy when I was younger, talking to my classmates and general public in high school was a challenge for me. Thankfully, I had good helpers along the way, people that forced me to get away from my comfort zone. Also being part of student organizations for the last 8 years has given me a confident bust as well. And is not only about public speaking, it is about communicating in general, it is about how you write your ideas for others to read. This blog for example, me a blogger? never crossed my mind.
So if you are a researcher, take time to train on how to effectively reach others. If you are someone outside of research, ask researchers what they do when you get a chance. The more you ask the better for us (researchers). The more we tell our research stories, the better for all.
Carlos F. Mantilla P.