Is it possible to talk to a 12-year-old about your research without compromising on seriousness and scientific validity, and without being scared of doing so?
Yes, I think you can and I hope you can. Otherwise, that is something we need to practise. In any case, I think it is important to aim to make yourself understood, and in that way make your research accessible to more people than just those who are like-minded.
Research communication is a crucial part of our mission to collaborate with society around us. It not only justifies our existence since we are funded by tax money and are therefore obliged to show a broader, tax-paying public what we do with the money; it also gives us a voice in the debate and highlights the role that the research being carried out at KTH Royal Institute of Technology plays in terms of social development. Regardless of the form it takes, communication boosts our results – in terms of both reaching out to society and providing benefit.
This report from the Swedish Research Council, which presents the views of some researchers regarding research communication and open science, makes for interesting reading: link
It makes it clear that one of the reasons researchers choose not to prioritise the process of communicating about their research is the lack of time available, and a second, perhaps more decisive reason is the lack of a reward system for anyone choosing to talk about their research and make it accessible to a wider audience in this way. This means that this kind of communication is not regarded as worthy of merit – but that said, it is increasingly sought after during the process of applying for grants.
The point that research communication has been considered to do little for the researcher’s academic merit rating has also been made repeatedly in several different studies over the past 15 years. Since both resources and commitment are required to carry out research communication, and because time is limited, people tend to prioritise the research they are doing for obvious reasons. This is the case despite the fact that everyone at the same time is aware of the significance of the communication – particularly from a democratic point of view.
Another interesting matter highlighted in the above report is the will not only to talk about the results of research, but also the role of research in a broader perspective as well as the whats, the whys and the hows.
Communication is worthy of merit, and more researchers should view the process of sharing their findings as a natural and integral part of their research. Many research funding bodies make communication a specific part of each project. This is especially true in the case of major research programmes. So it cannot be avoided.
When a researcher engages in communication, it is important for them to maintain a balance and present both sides of an argument. As researchers, we all know that there is always another side to the results of our research. A researcher will gain credibility if they themselves discuss this side as well.
KTH benefits overall from the research we conduct being made visible. Raising the profile of our research leads to greater awareness of KTH and boosts the attractiveness of the university as an educational, research and collaborative centre of learning.