5 Tips for Post-graduate Media Relations
- Student Tips
“Publish or perish.” It's a phrase that haunts post-graduate students and echos through the halls of ivory towers throughout the world. Whether we like it or not, publication is often the key to success in the academic world. But in a world of hashtag news and global crowd-sourcing, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals may not be enough. And maybe that's a good thing. It's still important for academics to write and publish work aimed at their peers, but there are now many ways for scientists and researchers to share their work with both the media and the public. Many academics shy away from public discourse because it can be difficult to simplify technical ideas for non-experts, or because it seems to take time away from 'real' work. But the reality is that public interest can translate into real benefits for academics. Engaging with the public, whether through traditional or social media outlets can bring researchers into contact with new ideas, or new funding opportunities. And writing for non-experts can help academics refocus and, perhaps, see their work from a different angle. Here are five ways for early-career researchers to engage with the public and get their work noticed.
1. Blog and tweet your research
Academics spend a lot of time writing, but direct much of that writing at other experts and can sometimes find themselves out of touch with the way the real world interacts with our research. Whether you're working in chemical engineering, international business, or sociology, your research will have real-world implications and a good way to get back in touch, or at least take a step back from the technical side of your studies is to keep a blog or Twitter feed about your research. Even if no one reads your blog, writing self-reflectively about your work can help you refocus yourself or sort out frustrations. Twitter is great because its 140-character limit will force you to find simple ways to express your thoughts, which is something with which A LOT of researchers struggle. Blogs and Twitter are also fantastic ways to get exposure and to crowd-source ideas.
2. Use your university's media relations team!
Not all universities have a media relations team, but if yours does, work with them! Find out who your contact person is and keep them informed. Make sure that administrators in your department know who to contact and have briefed the team on ongoing projects so that the media relations team will be ready for breaking news. If your school doesn't have a dedicated media relations team, find out your school's policy on media relations, and as long as you're allowed, contact relevant news outlets when you have something worth sharing. And keep up on the news. Your research may only be tangentially related to that new vaccine or the famous painting on display at the local gallery, but if you can tie in your research with current news, you'll get even more exposure.
3. Focus on answers to key questions
If you're going to be interacting with the media, whether through your university's media relations team or directly with a news office, it's a good idea to be prepared with a few answers to some of the key questions or points related to your research. You should concentrate on explaining:
1-Your primary message/goal – what is it you want people to understand
2-Your target audience – who should know this information and why
3-Why your work is relevant - what you do, how you do it, and why it matters
Remember that traditional and digital news sources will reach a wide audience, so keep your language and explanations clear and concise.
4. Forget that you're a shy researcher
Some academics avoid media exposure because they don't know how to engage with the media or are shy. It's easy to hide behind our writing, and even conferences can feel less exposed than answering a few questions for a newspaper or giving a radio interview. But you should remember that it's not about you – you are simply relaying information (often very important information) to the public, and the focus will be on what you're sharing.
5. Accept that your work will be explained in different (simpler) ways
We've already mentioned that working with the media is a great way for academics to focus their research, but even when you've simplified your message to what you think are the bare basics, it's likely that the media will abridge your work even further. It's hard not to be frustrated by this, but take a deep breath and step back from your work. Is the information accurate? Does it give a concise version of your overall research. Will it inform those without any knowledge of the subject and entice those with some experience to research further? If so, you've achieved your purpose, and you'll be surprised at how much positive and constructive feedback you'll get.
In the end, whether you're working with your institution's media team, or pitching your research directly to a media outlet try to keep your approach simple, relevant, and informative. Remember that you're providing information to the public that is valuable and important, and that interest in your work, even if that interest only scratches the surface of what you do, is positive and can lead to all sorts of opportunities in both the academic and public worlds.
Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA.