Kamila Feddek summarises her key takeaway messages from the UACES Doctoral Training Academy 2018 to help researchers in European Studies engage with audiences outside academia and make their research impactful.
Researchers have a wealth of academic knowledge, evidence and expertise that can help inform, design, improve and test policies, and ultimately make a positive impact on people’s lives. The Economic and Social Research Council defines research impact as ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy’. Many researchers are passionate about making such a contribution, but don’t know how to go about it.
I recently had the honour of chairing a session that offered some insight, at the UACES Doctoral Training Academy hosted by Aston University in Birmingham.
Titled “Media, Public and Policy Engagement and Impact”, the session brought together speakers to share their rich and varied experiences and provide tips on the do’s and don’t’s of communicating research to the media, public and policy-makers.
They advised the audience of postgraduate and early-career researchers about the best attitudes and approaches to adopt in order to stay authentic and garner respect, while maintaining ‘critical proximity’.
Viviane Gravey (Lecturer in European Politics at the Queen’s University Belfast), shared her personal experience on how to get heard by policy-makers and promote one’s research online. She provided guidance based on her own work on the interactions between the direction of policy change and shocks to policy making systems. She encouraged PhD students and early-career researchers to communicate even the smallest projects that can form part of a bigger initiative in the future. She recounted various ways of contributing to the policy-making process through providing written evidence on the calls set up by relevant bodies, writing policy briefs or becoming a special adviser.
While Dr Gravey is passionate about the impact of her work on society, and environmental issues in particular, she also emphasised that researchers should not let the quest for ‘impact’ lead them too far astray from their professional development as academics.
Our second speaker, Kathryn Simpson (Associate Professor in Political Economy at the Manchester Metropolitan University), spoke about her vast experience with media, with special focus on her regular appearance on television as a commentator, mainly on Brexit and Irish politics. Kathryn is frequently invited to share her expertise on a range of media channels, including BBC television programmes.
She gave the DTA participants tips on engaging with the media focusing on how to get visible and how to get heard (for example, through reaching out to the university press offices and improving communication skills by completing a media course. In addition, Dr Simpson emphasised the importance of protect ourselves, to respect our own time and to set boundaries.
Finally, Nicholas Startin (Chair of the UACES and Head of the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath) shared his advice based on his long-standing and extensive experience on appearing on TV and radio as an EU politics expert. The audience were treated to a thought-provoking and honest description of the pros and cons of engaging with the media in this way.
Dr Startin highlighted the importance of preparation, not only in terms of the topic discussed, but also in terms of the practical set up: for instance, the time dedicated for the discussion as well as the target audience. Moreover, Dr Startin echoed Dr Simpson in underlining that while it is beneficial to regularly engage with the media to communicate research widely, this should not be at the expense of one’s time to focus on their main academic duties.
There was one common denominator among all three speakers that caught my attention: in addition to their expertise, they spoke passionately with excellent communication skills. Perhaps this also explains why they are frequently approached for their expertise, and is something we, as early-career researchers, should aspire to.
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As an EU researcher, and a social security law and money advice practitioner, I left this session even more convinced that in addition to developing expertise in a specific field, we should be able to justify the validity of our work and enjoy our research at the same time. We should strive to provide a meaningful contribution and positively impact the world around us.
Personally, this is why I balanced writing my PhD thesis while delivering and managing advisory services to people attempting to access their social security rights in Glasgow area. I have always hoped that my research on the practical implementation of EU law by member states could provide guidance on, improve the administration process of, or even extend access to legal rights.
Besides the practical and logistical advice, our panellists taught us that substantial knowledge in one’s field, a willingness to try new ways of expressing it and having passion about one’s work are crucial values for making academic work accessible with wider audience and valid for policy makers. This can also result in an extra boost of motivation for our day-to-day research.
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Kamila Feddek is a Doctoral Researcher in Law at the University of Glasgow. She is also the Book Review Editor for JCER (Journal of Contemporary European Research) and an elected Committee member of the UACES Graduate Forum.