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Science is competitive, more so than ever before. Within the present economic climate there is an intense competition for government funding and a shrinking academic job market. These conditions have created the need for scientists to increase their profile and impact not only within but beyond the scientific community
One option for tackling these challenges is through a more professional approach to communication of research activities and results: science marketing. The concept is introduced in the April 2012 issue of Nature Materials (There is an introductory editorial, an interview with March Kuchner, the author of Marketing for Scientists and a commentary on online tools).
What is Marketing?
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines marketing as
The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitbaly. (CIM, 2012)
The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines mark as
…the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large (AMA, 2007)
Without going into an explicit breakdown of the definitions and the meanings, it will suffice to say that the conceptualisation of marketing has changed over the years from a transactional concept embodied by pricing, promotion and distribution to the relationship concepts such as the importance of customer trust, risk and commitment.
What’s the point of ‘science marketing’?
Scientists have to acknowledge that it is no longer sufficient just to do good research. The scientific community must be
…acknowledging that scientists need to deliver and communicate their results to a variety of different stakeholders, such as their collegagues, funding agencies, politicians, the media and the public. (Nature Materials, 2012, p. 259)
Marketing places an emphasis on the need for scientists to learn how to communicate their research more effectively (Thankfully the majority of scientists haven’t learned to do this, otherwise I would be out of a PhD project).
Science marketing with on-line tools
In this commentary from the aforementioned April issue of Nature Materials, Martin Fenner, highlights the possibilities offered by online tools for the purposes of marketing and communication of science (often the easiest and potentially the only way). He breaks it down into the following categories (My comments are provided below the points):
- Communicating with Colleagues
Communication with colleagues occurs through a variety of means: email, conferences, publications, in person, over the telephone, etc. On-line tools provide another medium for this.
- Setting up a researcher profile
This is probably one of the easiest tasks to complete. However, after the initial completion it may probably succumb to what a lot of university profile pages suffer from, staying incomplete.
- Reaching out to the general public
One of the ways to tackle this new challenge is through utilisation of social media. As Mr. Fenner points out, “scientists have to learn to generalize their research findings and not get lost in the details that are often the focus of a discussion with peers” (pp. 262-263). I wouldn’t completely agree with this point. I think it is more of a case of being able to translate your research findings for the various audiences. In general, scientists are aware of the fact that various publics (include the lay publics) are not averse to complexity. They want to know more and are open to knowing the certainties and the uncertainties. Thus, it is a matter of scientists being able to communicate effectively.
- Marketing with Care
Coordinate your activities with your institution. More often than not that will require interaction with the communications office of the university. They act as the gatekeepers of the research from the outside world, in particular from the media. It is here where it becomes apparent that not all research is created equal. Therefore, not all research will be allotted the time by the communications office; stories that will ensure maximum exposure will usually get priority and thus your research may be deemed not worthy for transmission through the communications office. This is where social media tools such as Twitter and blogs become indispensable. They still allow you to get your research to a variety of publics. But again careful decisions must be made about what to communicate and what to leave out while maintaining agreement with your institution.
**I moved this entry from a previous blog that I attempted to develop**
Public engagement is a trendy topic that engulfs the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. I tend to think that the 3 aforementioned ‘scoial worlds’ can learn a lot from each other. Because I am personally interested in public engagement (in particular with the sciences) and because I do research on a related topic (communication of scientific research), I try to look out for interesting ideas that can be adaptable in various ‘social worlds’. This week, an article in the Globe and Mail about a mobile phone application (app) from Parks Canada, connecting food and history, caught my attention. In this post, I’ll briefly discuss this interesting app and suggest some ideas for the sciences.
This year Parks Canada is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the organisation is launching its first mobile phone application , ‘Heritage Gourmet’. This particular app offers to the public in excess of 70 recipes that are connected to the country’s historical landmarks.
The idea behind this app is to make the historic sites “come alive” for the visitors. According to the project manager, Ms. Tamara Tarasoff, “By making a dish that is related to that site, people can actually bring that historic site right into their home and even talk to their family or their dinner guests about the origin.”
But before one’s imagination gets carried away, these recipes have been modified for the modern context. This was done with the help of the chefs from the Algonquin College School of Hospitality and Tourism. Thus, foodies will be able to test out recipes from the olden days in the modern context (You can check out some of the behind the scenes material here), while hopefully learning a bit about history. The other hope is that they will be able to pass on the knowledge. Even the development of this app has actually generated insights. Early Canadians relied heavily on breads, pancakes, soups and stews. Furthermore, despite Canada being such a vast nation, there have been a lot of similarities in the dishes from different parts of the country.
The evaluation of the effectiveness and success of this app will be made at a later point in time. In my opinion, the idea is interesting in the fact that it connects something that doesn’t interest everyone (history) to something that most people can relate to (food and cooking).
Ideas for Science
First, there are two quotations that I’d like to mention:
Good food leads to good talk – Geoffrey Neighor, Northern Exposure, Duets, 1993
I came literally to the table with a wealth of knowledge by simply understanding how food should taste. – Rocco DiSpirito
In part, the second quotation captures the idea behind the Heritage Gourmet app. In this case, the public can come to the table with a wealth of knowledge by simply using their mobile devices to get the recipes and learn a bit about the historical landmarks and the way of life during the ‘old days’. I like the idea of making the connection to the ‘everyday’; and what’s more everyday than ‘food’.
In my opinion, there’s something here that science, and in particular chemistry (especially food chemistry) can pick up on. For example, this app can be further extended to incorporate chemistry by providing information about the fundamental molecular components of the ingredients involved in the recipe. Similarly, chemistry information can be combined with diet apps, cooking apps, etc. It seems that there is lots of potential for such avenues of scientific knowledge communication in particular for chemistry; a field which is not the easiest for incorporation of science communication and public engagement. Furthermore, similar ideas can be adopted to other scientific fields through various adaptations and modifications.
In general…take home message
Without getting into a full blown out discussion of public engagement (whether it be with science, social science or humanities), its methods and effectiveness, engagement would benefit from striking a note of relevance to the everyday existence of the publics (in particular the ‘lay’ publics in comparison to the ‘informed’ publics). In other words, it needs to connect to the context or in the very least to some constitutive component of the context (e.g., food in this case). It appears that the Heritage Gourmet mobile phone application takes a step in this direction.
**I moved this entry from a previous blog that I attempted to develop**
On Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011, I attended a meeting on ‘public engagement’ in my Department (I will not explicitly state the Department or the University; looking around this website will give you that information). The email encouraging staff to attend the meeting was circulated substantially in advance and notitifcations were sent as the date approached nearer.
The purpose of the meeting was to get an overview of the outreach and public engagement ongoing in the Department (hence, not strictly limited to science research), whether inherently part of your research or as a sideline, and to discuss how the Department may move forward in this area. There were presentations from the University’s volunteering and staff outreach team as well as from Beacon NE. This was followed by a discussion guided by the following topics:
* Why public engagement is important, University strategy and University support available
* Overview of ongoing or planned outreach/public engagement in the Department
* How we can collate, better communicate and potentially publicise our outreach/public engagement – for public use/University use/Department use
* Plans for the future (potential points to cover: future Department engagement activities, outreach officer, outreach support etc) and possible funding sources
As one of the first presenters pointed out, these types of meetings are going on all over the UK in various Departments across a number of Universities. It would be very interesting to see the turnout at these meetings. At the meeting in question, the turnout was probably somewhere around 20-25. Obviously, there are commitments to attend to and other obligations associated with the academic trade which can in part explain the numbers. However, I suspect the other part of the explanation can be attributed to regarding ‘public engagement’ as something that’s not applicable to the researcher’s academic career.
During the meeting, I noticed several themes that reappeared throughout the discussion:
– What is public engagement?
There are no clear definitions or criteria about what exactly is ‘public engagement’. It is embodied through many activities. The list of projects within the department that had some type of ‘public engagement’ was fairly extensive . However, establishment of criteria of what is ‘public engagement’ was echoed as a first step forward. This was proposed to be accomplished through establishment of a ‘narrative’ of ‘public engagement’ activities within the department.
– Department vs University
There appears to be this competitive dichotomy between the departments and the university itself. The department and the university seem to exist as two separate entities that do not necessarily share a common synergy. This was reflected in the discussion points about the need to gather a complete set of information about the activities occurring within the department and becoming fully aware of potentially doing similar initiatives that were already being carried out by the university. This dynamic is further reflected in consideration of whether the department should undertake individual support for its researchers in public engagement or simply allow the researchers to engage with the already established university initiatives.
It all comes down to the finances. There are research strategies in place that correspond to specific budgets. Similarly, there are teaching strategies in place that correspond to specific budgets. In contrast, there are no specific strategies for engagement; the manifesto for public engagement is a step in the right direction. Thus, there are no budgets that correspond to ‘public engagement’ at departmental levels (at least in this department). Therefore, for now, the ‘public engagement’ must remain at the will of the individual researcher since collective efforts require financial backing.
The aforementioned factors are not necessarily supportive of development in ‘public engagement’ initiatives amongst the departments in the universities. Thus, the onus would appear to remain mainly on the individual researchers. According to the PVC of Engagement, it is all about networks amongst colleagues in universities and the public. These networks are supposed to sustain the development of ‘public engagement’. This is opposed to using a type of a centralised approach towards developing ‘public engagement’. The PVC suggested that a tipping point will be reached. Will it?
On Monday 12 March 2012, researchers from the Harvard Medical School released a study in which linked the consumption of red meat to an increased chance of early death. The study, entitled ‘Red Meat Consumption and Mortality‘ was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It was also accompanied by an editorial entitled ‘Holy Cow! What’s Good for you is Good for Our Planet‘.
The researchers tracked 37698 men for 22 years and 83698 women for 28 years. All the participants were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer when tracking commenced. The diets of the participants were evaluated through questionnaires every four years. The subjects who consumed a card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average saw a 13 percent higher risk of dying than those who did not consume red meat with the same frequency.
The study has garnered a considerable amount of attention. At the time of initial writing (around 21:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012), there were 211 stories related articles that can be accessed on Google News. Another check around 23:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012, showed that there were 231 related stories. Here are some examples of the headlines from some of the media outlets across:
The Independent – ‘Red meat increases risk of early death, says study‘
The Telegraph – ‘Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths‘
United States of America
The LA Times – ‘All red meat is bad for you, new study says‘
ABC News – ‘Red Meat Tied to Increased Mortality Risk‘
Harvard Magazine – ‘Don’t Pass the Bacon‘
Fox News – ‘Red meat linked to premature death, research finds‘
Globe and Mail – ‘Red meat increases risk of death from cancer‘
Toronto Star – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death: Harvard study‘
Montreal Gazette – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death‘
The Sydney Morning Herald – ‘Huge study shows red meat boosts risk of dying young‘
Victor Harbor Times – ‘Love affair with flesh hits a snag as study links red meat to risk of death‘
Reuters – ‘More support for passing on the red meat‘
CNN International – ‘Study: Too much red meat may shorten lifespan‘
Media outlets exist within a context that is structured by the competition for public’s attention. Being constantly bombarded by a variety of stimuli, public attention can be fleeting and therefore is extremely valuable. Consequently, in order to capture the attention, media outlets must refer to very striking differences (differences from the ‘norm’). A response will only be garnered by a strong stimuli (Neidhardt, 1993).
As Neidhardt (1993), points out, the aforegoing scenario leads to implementation of particular strategies:
1) “…existing Material can become loaded linguistically by ‘the use of intense language’.” (p.343)
2) “…the selection of the material is guided by a preference for strongly deviating cases.” (p.343)
Case in point, the aforementioned study.
Neidhardt, F. (1993). ‘The Public as a Communication System’ Public Understand. Sci. 2, 339-350. doi: 10.1088/0963-6625/2/4/004
Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A.M., Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C., Hu, F.B. (2012). ‘Red Meat Consumption and Mortality’ Arch Intern Med. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287
There is a great annual competition, ‘Dance Your PhD’. It is a competition run by Science Magazine with the aim of recognizing the best dance interpretation of scientific doctoral work. You can catch up on last year’s winners in physics, biology, chemistry and social sciences here.
The ‘Dance Your PhD’ Contest is run by scientist and writer, John Bohannon. In this TED talk, John makes a proposal: Use dancers instead of powerpoint.
The complex relationship between scientific and social worlds has created an emphasis on scientists to engage with the non-academic world and communicate their research in an effective manner (This is increasingly becoming the case across the sciences and the social sciences alike).
In many cases, scientists are talking the talk about more effective communication to non-academic audiences.
The challenge that still remains is to walk the walk. Perhaps dancing the walk is the way to go for some scientists?
On the ‘About the Blog’ page of this blog, I made a pledge to steer away from a constant bias of being a former scientist and being someone who studies communication of scientific research in my posts. In keeping with this pledge, I’d like to begin with history. I love history, which is why I was so excited when I came across this post from Open Culture (who mention The Atlantic story).
At the moment, there is a brilliant exhibition going on at the Amsterdam Museum, named Amsterdam DNA. The exhibition is designed to capture the rich history of Amsterdam. The museum teamed up with the Dutch creative agency PlusOne to produce a series of videos for the exhibition. Here is the trailer for the exhibition:
The exhibition provides a 45 minute multimedia experience through the rich history of Amsterdam. The agency produced 7 films for the exhibition. Below you can see a clip from the second film called Revolt Against King and Church, which takes you back to 16th century Amsterdam.
You can read the interview with the director of PlusOne, Martijn Hogenkamp, about the creative development of the project here.
Lessons for Research Communication
Video is a powerful medium with the ability to reach a variety of audiences. More researchers across all fields should to consider doing videos to communicate their research to non-academic audiences. Having said that, not everyone has the technical know-how or the budgets the size of Amsterdam Museum. This is where collaboration comes in handy. There are plenty of graphics designers, illustrators and animators out there with various skill levels. And with tools like Twitter, they are a lot easier to find than one may think. So why not try? (Yes; I am aware of time constraints, job commitments, life, etc.) It is still possible to achieve great results. Check out this health promotion video that went viral here.
I thought it to be appropriate to begin blogging on the topic of ‘research communication’ by writing on the topic of ‘giving talks’.
One of the tasks placed upon those of us in academia is to give talks. There is no way of avoiding it. Correction, there is always a way to avoid it but that will reflect negatively on the corresponding career prospects. Talks occur in various contexts: at conferences, workshops, seminars, group meetings, etc.
Academics must give talks. Fact. So instead of pondering of how to get out of giving a talk, you have to ask yourself about how you can give a great talk.
Nancy Duarte examines the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch speech. By analysing the two speeches, Mrs. Duarte suggests that all great presentations have a common structure (see below) while emphasizing the need for effective storytelling to facilitate a response to the call to action.
Without going into a discussion about the actual presentation of the talk, there are several points that can be taken on board for the purposes of research communication.
Lessons for Research Communication
1) Effective communication can be achieved through story telling
Everyone loves a good story. I can still remember all my favourite stories as told by my grandmother. They captivated my attention and transported me into another world. Researchers should strive to capture the audience and transport them into the world of their research. For example, historians can transport us into the world of the past; while scientists can transport us into a world of mystery and discovery.
2) The shape of the talk should switch between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’.
In the case of scientists, when presenting to non-academic audiences, this means switching between the ‘science’ and the ‘social implications’ (the bigger picture, if you will). The necessity for the back and forth movement is dependent on the various encounters with resistance. When presenting scientific research there is a balance required between the science and the bigger picture. Putting in too much science creates the risk of alienating the less knowledgeable audience. Leaving out too much `science` creates the risk of alienating the more knowledgeable audience. It`s a balancing act.
Overall, it`s hard to imagine a universal formula for a ‘perfect talk‘. It‘s an ideal to strive for.
How do you achieve your perfect talk?