Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Media training for graduate researchers (Edwina Kay)


Stephanie Amir (right) interviewing Anne Brouwer
(Photo by Edwina Kay)
The importance of sharing our research with a wider audience is something my early career researcher and PhD student colleagues have been talking about for years.

Talking about it is easy, but actually doing it is much harder.

We all think our research is important and suspect other people will find it interesting, too! While we dutifully publish our research in academic journals, and present our findings at conferences, sharing it with a non-academic audience is often something we’re not sure how to do.

I’m an archaeologist, and part of how archaeology as a profession justifies its existence (and the costs of excavation) is by claiming that what we do is in the public interest.

We say the public cares about heritage, and that it’s our job to record it and protect it. Sadly, much of what we find languishes unpublished, or is published in academic journals that aren’t accessible to everyone.

But people are interested in archaeology – I never get a lacklustre response when I tell people what I do! They're always fascinated by my PhD research, which focuses on Abbotsford Convent, an iconic Melbourne site with a complex, fascinating history. While I’m happy to chat to people about what I’ve been doing, it would be great to share my research in less of an ad hoc way. There are people out there who really care that my research (and yours!) exists, but how can we - as people new to academia - share it?

When I heard about the Graduate Research School’s Intellectual Climate Fund (ICF), it seemed like a great opportunity to do something about research communication. The idea was to organise a media training workshop, followed by the chance to be interviewed on live radio.

I was fortunate to receive an ICF grant, and started organising. Catherine Garrett (from La Trobe's Media and Communications Unit) agreed to run the media training workshop for graduate researchers at Melbourne Campus. I had a lot of interest the workshop and a great turnout on the day. Catherine’s excellent recommendations for getting our research out there were certainly very rousing!

Then came the ‘getting it out there’ part. Catherine’s workshop inspired most of the participants, with 13 of the 16 people who came to the workshop putting themselves forward to be interviewed on community radio station Joy 94.9 about their research. Steph Amir, one of the presenters of the station’s current affairs show, ‘Is Nothing Sacred’, is passionate about science and research communication. She was keen to interview PhD researchers from La Trobe about their work. The presenters of the show – Steph, Jim Hyde, and James Cooper – have combined experience in science, public health, policy, research, and the corporate and community sectors, making them a great team to interview our diverse group of researchers.

Some students opted for pre-recorded interviews as their introduction to doing a radio interview, while others gamely chose to be interviewed live on air.

I sat in on some of the interviews in the studio and was blown away by my colleagues’ research. They claimed to be nervous before the interviews but, after the ‘recording’ button was pressed, they turned into confident, professional and knowledgeable researchers! Their projects were fascinating, and the interviewers had many questions for them. The 7-minute timeslot flew by in no time. They discussed topics ranging from ‘critical whiteness’ to the concept of equality in education, and soil microbiology to legal parenthood.

The PhD research being conducted by my colleagues across the uni is amazing and making an important contribution to our community. The more people we can share it with, the better!

I found the experience of being interviewed on live radio unexpectedly fun and I wouldn’t hesitate if I got the opportunity again. The feedback I got from my colleagues suggests they also had a great time, and really appreciated the chance to be interviewed about their research in a friendly and relaxed environment. It was great to get a chance to go into a radio studio, see all the lights and buttons, and put on the headphones!

More importantly, now I feel like I’ve got a much better idea of how to share my research outside academia. To other people who are thinking about how to share their research with a wider audience, I really recommend getting in touch with a local community radio station! Chances are, there is someone there who would love to interview enthusiastic researchers about their findings!

Listen below to the full podcasts from ‘Is Nothing Sacred': 
Funding from the Graduate Research School’s Intellectual Climate Fund and the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce allowed for the interviews to be turned into a podcast by Joy 94.9. 

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Edwina Kay is a third-year PhD candidate in archaeology at La Trobe University. Her interests in historic buildings, institutional history, and social welfare have come together in her current PhD research about Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne. 

She won the La Trobe University College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce Three Minute Thesis Competition in 2015, and was awarded the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology R. Ian Jack Prize for Best Honours Thesis in 2013. 

Edwina tweets from @edwinathinks.

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