If there was ever an era when academics worked in ivory towers, it’s long past. Besides, who pursued their passion in a topic or profession with the express purpose of only talking about it in abstract terms, or with people who study rather than do?
Most academics would love to share their knowledge with a broader audience, but can find it difficult to work out ways to do it. However, you don’t need to develop a dual career in television presenting like the University of Manchester’s Brian Cox to make it happen.
Open your department’s doors.
All too often, the only people who grace the halls of our buildings are staff, students, salespeople and the occasional plumber. Any “Open Days” are recruitment events, and organised accordingly. There are many ways to showcase your research in public-friendly ways, however, such as exhibitions of documents and artifacts, open lectures, and conferences.
For example, the University of Cambridge runs an array of events that are open to the public, ranging from art exhibits and concerts to lectures about topics in business, science and the humanities. These act to make academic work visible, educate the public, and create local goodwill.
The University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education sponsors a series of Research Seminars each term that are free for teachers and other professionals. These connect research findings directly with the people who need to know about them. They can also be powerful recruiting opportunities, for possible new postgrad students and for local contacts who can help academics find places and people to research.
Open a virtual window on your world.
Chances are that your university’s public relations department would jump at the chance to help you increase the visibility of your work. You may be surprised at the practical help available if you think creatively, ranging from Web design to video creation and 3D modelling.
Here are three examples of how universities have put academic research online to increase its accessibility to the public:
- Virtual exhibits are visible at the Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Leeds
- The Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast features photos and descriptions of staff research projects
- The Norah Fry Research Centre at the University of Bristol offers specialist resources and other documents to staff working with people who have intellectual disabilities, free of charge.
Connect with the media.
Sheffield Hallam University, like many others, maintains a database of academic staff who are qualified to comment on newsworthy topics. This kind of work can be a bit daunting if you haven't done it before, so enquire about media training—there are a few easy tricks you can learn to avoid bottling it on camera, or putting your foot in your mouth.
You can also cultivate your own media contacts by contacting any specialist reporters whose work you respect, and letting them know directly that you are available as a source.