5 ways to communicate your research

I’m thinking a lot about how to get people to learn about my research, and how to make them interested in what I do. I realize that of the total world population very few people will read what I’ve written, and even fewer will find it interesting enough to read more than the title and the abstract. That is not necessarily because my research is insignificant or boring, people are just concerned with other things, and that’s fine. However, for the small group of people who would find my research interesting, not all of them will actually ever hear about my research due to the huge amount of information available on the internet, and in the world in general. It is like a really noisy room where you need to scream really loud and still only the people close to you might hear you.

But then again, why would you want to be heard? You might just want to carry on with your research, do your thing, and be left alone. Sure, but you realize also that if you consider your research important at all, you want people to know about it. Because if they don’t what’s the point of doing it at all?

Let's talk about research.

Let’s talk about research.

In this blog post I’ve compiled a list of ways to get your research out there, apart from the “classic” approach of writing a scientific article (that most people will only read the abstract of, if you’re lucky).

  • Blog – Rewrite your complex scientific articles into popular science that is actually available to anyone with internet access (as opposed to many scientific articles that are both boring to read and expensive to access for universities, libraries as well as individuals). At your blog there is no peer review, but people can still comment and question what you write. Also, writing popular scientific texts on blogs is a good way to practice for when you have to write it on request. Another benefit is that a blog can help people learn more about your research, so for potential work opportunities or collaborations, it can be very useful.
  • Tweet – Twitter or Facebook (or other networks where you can share posts) are vehicles for spreading your research to people you know and don’t know. If you get a paper published, tweet the link to it. Your (true) friends will share it, and then your message will spread like the flu in winter. Maybe. With twitter it’s important to establish a network of people whom you don’t necessarily know, but who might be interesting in what you have to say. Network.
  • Teach – When I hold lectures for students I always add examples from my own research (adjusted to the students background of course), and judging from course evaluations, that is actually what many students ask for. Also, if you’re passionate about the subject, they are likely to appreciate it more. I remember wondering what my teachers actually did, when they weren’t “forced” to teach courses in GIS, statistics, ecosystem science and remote sensing, because to be honest, the basics are rarely that interesting.
  • Present at conferences – OK, this is another “classic” way often accompanying writing academic papers. However, depending on what conference you attend and how you decide to present your research, you can get different results. Step one is to stop making boring presentations and posters. You are not doing people a favor by telling them about your research, they are doing you a favor by listening to you. So make it worth their time. Giving a short oral presentation is not an easy task if you’re not used to it, but you can stand out and have people notice you by doing things differently than you’ve been taught in high-school. Start with a story from the field, show an interesting picture, do something that will help you catch people’s attention. And then if you’re lucky (or skilled) you might get to keep it for those 15 minutes of time.
  • Tell a story! – A great tool for interactive, nonlinear stories that I recently discovered is Twine. There you can let your story take the shape of a tree, with branches going in directions that you can choose yourself. For some time I’ve been wanting to turn results of my Master thesis into an interactive story that might engage people more than just the thesis itself, and I’m happy to say that I’m on it! Also, a Nature Jobs blog last year posted about storytelling in science, and emphasizes the importance of making science interesting. The word “story” does not mean fiction, it’s just a way to “engage your audience in a way that’s meaningful to them with your work so they pass the message on.”.

There are probably more creative ways to communicate research, for example there’s the “Dance your thesis” competition that has been held for six years now and has several different categories depending on field. While such methods for research communication might not be for everyone, I still like to entertain the idea of what crazy things I could do to attract some attention to my research.

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