Archives for category: impact

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Impact is not just coming, it is already here. Rant and rage, it’s a fact of academic life. In my view that’s (mostly) not such a bad thing. As a researcher I want my work to reach broad audiences, though I recognise that attempting to measure the impact of research is a fraught exercise with potential perverse effects. Our physicist friends tell us that observing a phenomenon changes it, and even “quality metrics” are pretty bad at capturing the kinds of value produced by culture. Scholarly work not only has intrinsic merit, but its “real world” effects or applications can take decades to manifest.

Yet like it or not, impact assessment is upon us. This means that historians need to spend a bit of time getting their head around what it means and how it might shape their work. And to my mind, there’s good political and disciplinary reasons for doing so.

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Last week I gave a talk on social media to post-graduates from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Foolishly (but only fairly) I promised to practice what I preached. So here are the salient points (and links) as I remember them.

Why you should think about the social media

Increasingly scholarly conversation is happening online – in curated and individual blogs, on twitter, and through other electronic forums. If you are not engaging with these forms of publication you are likely to be missing part of what is happening in your field.

Participating in the world of social media helps generate a bigger (and more diverse) academic audience for your research. Much of this will be  in aligned disciplines, or in different national contexts. If you are not engaging online, you’ll be missing part of your potential audience.

Social media also helps generate a broader non-academic audience, especially with those industries to which your thesis may connect. Try to consciously develop and promote your “shadow expertise”; that aspect of your work that might inform a non-academic sector. It’s tough in the academic job market, and this could well be where your post-phd career ends up going.

And finally, social media is increasingly a factor in every employment sector. Engaging online gives you skills that will serve you well, wherever you work.

But always remember the golden rule

NEVER LET YOUR MOUTH EXCEED YOUR VOICE.

This is Stefan Collini’s advice to public intellectuals in Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain and it should be etched onto the computer screens of every academic who reaches for the internet.  Have something to say that is well founded and established, and well supported. Be respectful of other people’s work and opinions and give them due reference. The last thing a junior (or indeed any) academic needs is to have a ruined reputation all over the internet.

If there is a second rule, it might be this: VALUE YOUR TIME – blogging & tweeting can be very rewarding because unlike most other parts of academic life you get direct feedback. But it’s a drug. Keep your main game in view and remember: your authority to speak will in 98% of cases come from your research. So respect it, foster it, prioritise it.

How to start

See how other people are doing it. Set up a twitter account and follow scholars you admire (and those you don’t!) Read the relevant blogs in your field – some of these are likely to be co-authored. If you are totally lost, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog page is as good a place as any to begin (and you have discovered this blog so you’re not doing too badly!)

People disagree on the merits of maintaining an individual blog as against contributing to established co-authored or other forums such as The Conversation, but my view is to go for both:

  1. Set up a blog site for yourself that will act a bit like your online CV:
    • use it to a) experiment with writing pieces and b) as a place to collect any material you publish on other platforms. WordPress is easy to use and integrates well with other social media.
  2. Generate content:
    • Work in progress & the process of working (see for eg. the Thesis Whisperer or Trickster Prince).
    • Communicate research you have published (eg https://t.co/UCbgE8RslC)
    • Wait for news item & apply research
    • Provide context through your “shadow expertise” – are you writing a Phd on the history of fashion? Contact fashion magazines and pitch articles to them.
  3. Maximise your reach
    • Connect to other people’s online content through using links, and cross-promote on twitter (using #hashtags), facebook, linkedin and academia.edu.au, among other social media outlets.
    • Write for established platforms, such as co-authored blogs, The Conversation, print outlets, your university, industry publications. The internet is a big place with a lot of shouting people on it, and you need to find a way to be heard. Established sites offer you support and a readership that is invaluable.

Parting comments

Academic research usually takes a long time to produce. It frequently works with complex information and tells stories that complicate what we think we know. The interwebs do not thrive on such complexity. This doesn’t mean you should go for simplifications , but it does mean you need to work with people’s attention spans. Put your argument up front, rather than at the end; try to stick to 500-800 words maximum. Inject some personality. Too often wonderful academic research is communicated in ways that do not make it easy for people to access or connect with. Paywalls and professional convention carry part of the responsibility, but as scholars we can do a lot more too to reach out to a public that has demonstrated a robust appetite for ideas.

Reading list

Prof Patrick Dunleavy’s Shorter, better, faster, free: blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated and How to write a blogpost from your journal article

LSE public impact blog and in particular their twitter guide and reading list on using social media for research and the 5 Ws of communicating your research.

The Times Higher Education magazine’s Tips for academics on Blogging and Social Media