How can communicating your research benefit you as a researcher? This was the theme of module 3 of the Public Health Science Communication Course and also a question raised on this blog in a previous post. To my surprise finding good literature on this topic was not easy, but thanks to the help of you readers (thank you for all your tips) and the students in the class we did manage to come up with a list of benefits which I’d like to share here. Some might disagree with them, but I guess it all depends on who you are as a researcher, what you’re conducting research in, and on where and how you’re doing it. Anyway, here’s the list, divided into benefits for the researcher and benefits for science. Please do add to the list or voice your disagreement in the comments section.
- Cash! – The premises for doing most research is cash – at least if you want to make a living on it. Most grant proposals include a section asking how you plan to disseminate your findings. By living up to this (and by explaining what your research is about) you can make sure for example that a pay check comes your way every month, that you can go to that awesome conference in Hawaii, that you can get a new laptop and the latest version of SPSS.
- Personal satisfaction – Hairdressers like to be complimented for their talents with a pair of scissors. Students like to get good grades, actors like to get good reviews and have good ratings. Scientists are no different. Finding that a wide audience is interested in/bothers to learn/listen/read about your work can be energizing, especially if your work is usually only of interest to a few scientists. It can also help establish your name as an important expert or resource person in your particular field – which can also be personally satisfying.
- Career development – Communicating can impact positively on your career. It’s evidence of your work, skills and accomplishments! And it can help show that you have an understanding of the role of your research contribution plays in the context of society.
- Make your name known – The more you communicate the likelier it is that your name will become familiar to other scientists, including those in different fields of study, potentially helping with career advancement. It my also increase your chances of getting funding, as your name is known and funders can read some of your work (e.g. by Googling you). All of this is of course under the condition that what you are known for is your high quality research!
- Get to know your ‘enemies’ – your enemies or competitors may one day end up as your future partners in research. By communicating (which opposed to disseminating is an two-way process) you may get in closer contact with your colleagues, competing institutions, stakeholders etc. It gives you a feel for the movements and trends in the field or industry and it may provide good background knowledge for if you end up competing for the same position/funds etc.
- Networks! – Communicating makes your network grow. Networks are important when you’re looking for your next job, need recommendations, are crowd sourcing ideas, seek support (financially or academically), or help to spread your findings even further. Invitations to be part of a new or emerging research project is a potential outcome. Very often, these take the form of interinstitutional and/or interdisciplinary grant proposals. (Words like “interinstitutional” and “interdisciplinary” are increasingly popular with the folks who review grant proposals these days).
- Keeping track and keeping motivated – By communicating you are indirectly keeping track of what you are doing. It makes it possible to refer back to different stages of the research and learn from your research process. Communicating along they way can also keep your motivation going and see that you are actually moving forward…
Make your research meaningful to the world – communicating what you do can help you to see the relevance of what you do to society. When it boils down to it most of us like to feel that our time is meaningfully spent.
Help shape your personal identity as a researcher – by communicating you are almost automatically provoked to reflect upon your work and your role as a scientist. Are you truly communicating (dialogue-based) and not just disseminating this benefit may be even stronger. It may also help you focus on what exactly is the core of your research.
- Become a better communicator – the more you communicate the better you get at it. It’s a simple as that.
What is in for science?
- Feedback – Feedback is an essential component of almost every discipline, whether you’re learning to ice skate, write music or teach Spanish. If taken seriously and responded to this feedback may improve the outcome of your work. Research is no different. By communicating it, the world becomes aware of the project’s existence and can offer advice and inputs, share experiences and give suggestions for improving and validating the research.
- Cash – The premise for most research is money. Grant proposals often include a section asking how you plan to disseminate your findings. By living up to this (and by explaining what your research is about in the actual proposal) you can make sure that a) the project becomes reality, b) the necessary staff can be hired, c) the necessary IT/lab equipment is available, c) That your research funding may be followed up by a new round of funding.
Crowd sourcing and validating – Several minds contribute better than just one. By communicating, asking questions, collecting experiences and information from your network research be improved with new incorporating new perspectives, ideas, confirmations etc. Getting inputs from the surroundings may also help qualify and validate the research and prepare it to potential critic.
- Increased impact – Communicating through different channels increases the likelihood of the research being found and used in real life.
Contribute to a positive image of science – By communicating research, documenting the outcome of the investments in science and being transparent about how money is spent something is fed back to the contributors, which makes them feel that they got something out of their investment (of time or resources) and makes them feel investing in science is worth while. In addition, it can help to make clear how science contributes to society. All of this of course requires that the research done is of high quality and have followed good research practices.
- Transfer of knowledge – You may get a better job, you may go on maternity leave or realize that you always wanted to be a R&B singer. Having communicated what you did makes your contribution remain also after you have left and lets other learn from your experiences – in the end contributing to science.