|image via iStock|
by Tseen Khoo, former Senior Advisor (Research Grant Development) at RMIT University
In the last five years or so, I’ve completely changed my attitude to communicating research.
Guess how much I used to do before?
I published in journals and scholarly books. I presented at academic conferences and ran a research network. I dutifully applied for research funding. I thought of myself as a good, productive academic.
And that was it. I wasn’t really on Twitter and I blogged about our network activities – but only really for our members. I didn’t do community forums or write for other non-academic publication outlets.
Don’t believe me? Read on!
I wrote what appears below in June 2012. It talks about how I regretted not being more involved in community outreach and research dissemination while I was an academic. At the time I wrote it, I’d been in a professional role for about a year and a half.
The further I move away from academia career-wise, the more I realise how little I contributed to general commentary about issues relevant to my research interests.
I never had an op-ed published.
Actually, I never even tried to write one.
I only attended a handful of community engagement events. I actively avoided having to be the one quoted voice about particular Asian Australian issues.
My hang-up was that it’s all very complex and I didn’t want to have what I said ‘dumbed down’ to a sound-bite (I know, I know, just bear with me here…). This feeling of being misrepresented in the media was widespread around the areas I moved in academia, and it led to a general suspicion about talking to journalists or pursuing other outlets for research findings.
Now, as one half of Research Whisperer team and working as a research developer, I can see what a negligent and dense attitude that was. Given the sociocultural critique of existing values and hierarchies in Australian society that made up my academic career, what was the point of the research I was doing if it wasn’t communicated to a broader audience in an accessible way?
This complete change of attitude is fed very much by increased confidence in what I’m doing, and the advent of things such as blogging and Twitter (two very effective ways to represent yourself and your work with little mediation, or to ‘set the story straight’ if you needed to). The growing numbers of online news sources, too, is excellent for the flow of more and different kinds of stories and topic concentrations.
Now, when I’m not a full-time academic anymore, I’m thinking about writing for online publications and engaging more broadly all the time.
I love the idea of The Conversation and how it presents university research and commentary in accessible, non-jargonistic language. There are also heaps of web magazines and social issue blogs to which I think I could make a contribution. I’m already involved as a founding advisory editor for Peril: An Asian Australian magazine of arts + culture, and the team has decided to start a rolling series of posts from the editorial group as part of the publication’s development. I published something with Right Now back in late March  – Validation and Solidarity – and I’d like to do more of this kind of writing, with less of a focus on me and my experiences (cos it’s not all about me…).
As I am no longer a full-time academic, though, I start wondering whether having my ‘voice’ out there is worth less because of its lack of professional gravitas. Similarly, I wonder how long I can continue as a convenor or ‘leader’ in the AASRN when I am no longer actively researching in the field (this gives you an idea of the things I’ve published and researched).
For the first time, I actually said to someone last week that I was no longer an active researcher. It felt weird, but it was true. I was an active (academic) researcher for almost twenty years (including my MA and PhD). This doesn’t mean I don’t do research now, but I don’t do it with a view to publishing in academic outlets or building towards a major academic research project.
With a 9-5 day-job that is non-academic, I can’t commit time to that kind of work anymore. The offers and opportunities are still being made – some more attractive than others – but I’ve turned them all down. I still write a lot, but it’s channelled into different modes: professional and personal blogposts, Twitter, fiction, reviews, and more process-driven work stuff. Having the burden of representation eased by stepping away from academia has meant that I feel much more willing and able to get word out there. Let’s see how it goes.
Now, I can’t imagine not getting the word out about research through various channels, and feeding project findings and conclusions out to the communities that informed my work.
I once sent an academic article to a local council because they contributed to the work through several interviews. Thinking back on that now, I cringe. I would do things very differently today.