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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Digital communication methods

Pablo Picasso (or TS Eliot, W.H. Davenport, Igor Stravinsky or William Faulkner depending on who you ask) once said that ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’.

There are many, many examples of fantastic research communication and public engagement in existence. Perhaps you’ve already stumbled across one or two in your own discipline.

Before embarking on developing your own project, you can learn a lot by having a read/listen/watch of the work of other Postgraduate Researchers, Early Career Researchers and academics who have gone before.

Below, we’ve compiled some examples of well-received research communication projects which are both engaging/enticing to a non-academic audience, whilst also providing academic insight into the topics at hand.

Alongside taking a look at some of the examples below, you might also like to have a search on Google for others which might be more relevant to your field.

Allow yourself to draw inspiration from the examples you find and, in a following activity, we’ll reflect on what you think works well or could be improved upon in these examples.

How Big Is an AI Algorithm? | Jordan Harrod

Jordan Harrod is a PhD student in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology programme.

On her YouTube channel, she draws upon her expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) to explain how AI works to a general audience, provide updates on cutting research surrounding AI and discuss some of the ethical implications of its implementation.

In this video, Harrod provides a fun explanation of how “big” AI algorithms (and deep neural networks) need to be to achieve their desired function.

Going Medieval | Eleanor Janega

Dr Eleanor Janega completed her PhD in History in the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies in 2015. She has taught (and teaches) at institutions including UCL, LSE and King’s College London.

With a specialism in late medieval sexuality, she regularly contributes to research communication and public engagement efforts across form, from podcasts to videos to blogs to magazine articles. Her blog Going Medieval includes both written pieces and links to podcasts and videos she has contributed to.

In this blog post (which includes some strong language), she discusses what a newly-created, digital version of a 1561 map of London can tell us about life in Early Modern London.

The Rainbow Trail | Dr Jana Funke and Natalie McGrath

Dr Jana Funke is Associate Professor in English and Sexuality Studies at the University of Exeter. Her research focuses on modernist literature and culture, the history of sexuality, sexual science and medicine, feminist studies and queer theory.

She has recently been working with writer Natalie McGrath on Out and About, a project which seeks to ‘reveal and celebrate the rich LGBTQ+ heritage embedded in the collections at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’ in Exeter.

Part of this project included the “Rainbow Trail” (a video from the launch of which is embedded above). The project sought to highlight LGBTQ+-related objects within the museum in order to invite visitors to view the museum’s collections from a different perspective.

Could planets from Star Wars really exist? | Simon Clark

Dr Simon Clark completed his PhD in theoretical atmospheric physics at the University of Exeter in 2018.

Having established a popular YouTube channel during his undergraduate and postgraduate studies, he creates engaging videos explaining the science behind the climate emergency and also providing scientific take on pop culture franchises.

In this video, he (along with Dr Hannah Wakeford) he draws upon his expertise in planetary science to ask which planets in the Star Wars universe could exist in real life.

In the previous two sections, we’ve looked at some existing examples of digital research communication that you might draw inspiration or otherwise learn from.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on these examples and to consider how they serve the three “ingredients” which we have suggested are essential to any digital research communication project:

The researcher
The knowledge the researcher wants to share
The audience the researcher wants to share that knowledge with

Choose either one of the examples included in the previous sections (perhaps a single post, event, episode or post if thinking about an ongoing initiative) or one that you have found yourself.

Ask yourself:

Who is the researcher that has produced this example of digital research communication?

  • What academic expertise do they bring to their research communication work?
  • What non-academic skills (video editing, writing for non-academic audiences etc.) do they bring to their research communication work?
  • How might they stand to benefit/be benefiting from engaging in research communication?

What is the knowledge that the researcher is seeking to share within this example of digital research communication?

  • Does it focus on “facts” and/or “discoveries” from an academic field, or does it share with the audience an “approach” or “way of seeking” from that field?
  • Does it seek to explain generalised knowledge from that field (what we might think of as “the basics”), or does it share insights from a very specialised sub-field?
  • Does it share with the audience well-established knowledge from that field (which a non-academic audience might nonetheless be unaware of), or does it provide an insight into cutting-edge research being undertaken in that field?

What is the  audience that this example of digital research communication seeks to engage with?

  • Is it aimed at a particular demographic group?
  • Is it aimed at a audience who might have a pre-existing interest in the knowledge the researcher wants to share, or is it aimed at audience which might not know that they will be interested in the knowledge communicated prior to engaging with this example of research communication?
  • Does it target an audience with another pre-existing interest which might be illuminated by the knowledge the researcher is seeking to share?

Some of your answers to these questions will be entirely speculative; for instance, you will likely be unable to determine exactly what the researcher is seeking to gain from their involvement in research communication. Nevertheless, trying to identify the “essential ingredients” of your chosen example will enable you to better reflect on how it works.

Having identified the three “essential ingredients” of your chosen example, think about how the medium that is used (i.e. video, event, blog, podcast, Twitter etc.) and the style of the example (i.e. comical, reflective, serious etc.) serves the researcher, the knowledge the researcher wants to share and the specific “public” the researcher wants to share that knowledge with.

Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • How does the researcher use the medium to make the most of pre-existing, non-academic skills they might have (i.e. presentation skills, video/audio editing skills, artistic skills)?
  • How is the medium used in order to appropriately present the knowledge they wish to share (ie. the inclusion of visual aids, audio clips or quotations)?
  • How is the medium used in order to make that knowledge engaging and accessible to their “public”?

Again, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do digital research communication. Yet, understanding how other researchers have used a certain medium in service of themselves, the knowledge they wish to share and the audience they wish to share that knowledge with can help you to think about which medium might be most beneficial for your own projects.

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