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23 August 2017
Public Science Communication at the National University Of Science And Technology (NUST) Print
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 12:48

Heather Ndlovu, an M Phil student in Science and Technology Studies at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) and DRUSSA bursary holder, is a Lecturer in the Department of Records and Archives Management in the Faculty of Communication and Information Science at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Zimbabwe. She shares her experiences of studying for her M Phil and outlines her research report topic.

The M Phil programme opened up a new world for me - a world of science, research, performance measurement, indicators, research institutions and universities across Africa involved in Research Uptake and evaluation. I also learned more about other players involved such as governments and policymakers, and communities involved or affected by research.

"NUST to develop its research and Research Uptake capacity to bring out high quality output and innovations that would reinforce the development agenda of Zimbabwe’s economic policies"

Public Science Communication at NUST

The topic of my research report was prompted by the module on Science and its Publics and Science Communication. The research that I conducted was on the ‘Status and strategies for public science communication by academics at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Zimbabwe”. The aim of the study was to determine whether and how academics at NUST communicate their research findings to non-academic audiences such as the general public, media, and policymakers. The study also aimed to understand their attitudes towards the process of public science communication, specifically toward the media; identify institutional support structures (policy and training); and the challenges that affect the process of  effectively communicating research information.

 

At the time of the study there was no science communication or research uptake policies at NUST. However the university does have a draft Research Policy that stipulates that the University should make a concerted effort to encourage its academic staff members to engage in science communication and that such efforts should be centered on publishing of research articles in peer-reviewed journals and communicating research findings to the stakeholders affected by the research work. Although the University encourages academics to communicate their findings to the public and policy audiences, there are no rewards or incentives from the University directed at supporting engagement with such audiences.

 

Challenges for public science communication

A census survey of all academic staff members was physically conducted at NUST across the seven (7) faculties. Questionnaires and interviews were employed as the data gathering techniques. Findings of the study revealed that the major channels of communication preferred by most academics was presenting research findings in conferences and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. In other words academics mainly communicated their research findings amongst fellow academics, with very few academics reaching out to the public and policy audiences. The main reason for this, as indicated by most of the academics, was that they found it difficult to explain scientific facts to the public in a way that they could understand. Academics agreed however that they have a responsibility to communicate with the general public, both in terms of the importance of scientific knowledge for society and the right of the society to know.

 

The study also revealed that the media is rarely engaged by academics in the communication of research findings. However, most academics indicated that they would be willing to partner with journalists so as to share their findings with non-academic audiences.

The major challenges to public science communication at NUST were identified as: inadequate funding of research by the university without a budget for public science communication; lack of time by academics because of heavy teaching loads; and inadequate time to engage in communicating research for uptake by non-academic audiences resulting in public science communication being seen as a low priority activity as compared with other academic duties.

 

Strengthening Public Science Communication at NUST

The research study indicated that certain measures can be put in place to improve public science communication at NUST:

  1. The University should draft a public science communication policy and communication strategies to engage with non-academic audiences about the potential utilisation of research findings;
  2. Provide adequate support for public science communication through budgets, rewards and incentives;
  3. Introduce training programmes for public science communication and communicating research for uptake, delivered by a professional science communicator;
  4. Put in place effective governance structures and management to guide the development of appropriate policies and mechanisms to deliver high quality scientific research to strengthen the use of research. These will provide leadership and strategic direction to ensure that research output is of good quality, relevant to the country’s needs and communicated to appropriate interest groups and audiences.

"The opportunity that I had as a student to network with other students in the programme from different countries, with various academic backgrounds and experiences, and with wide-ranging viewpoints on research uptake was incredible"

As a product of the M Phil programme, the exposure and expertise that I have gained will go a long way towards assisting NUST to develop its research and Research Uptake capacity to bring out high quality output and innovations that would reinforce the development agenda of Zimbabwe’s economic policies. NUST is currently working with the Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa (DRUSSA) programme to come up with a Research Uptake Strategy and in turn to set up a Research Uptake Office to which I have been seconded as a Research Uptake Manager (reporting directly to the Director of the Research and Innovation Office).  My duties are to set up and spearhead all Research Uptake projects at NUST and to operationalise the strategies. The office is set to start operations in the last quarter of 2015. Since I have been tasked with the responsibility of running the Research Uptake Office at NUST, I am looking forward to pursuing the CREST PhD programme on Science and Technology Studies so as to further my knowledge and expertise in the convergent fields of Public Science Communication and Research Uptake.

The opportunity that I had as a student to network with other students in the programme from different countries, with various academic backgrounds and experiences, and with wide-ranging viewpoints on research uptake was incredible. I am very grateful to NUST and CREST and extremely thankful to DRUSSA for the scholarship that I received.


Heather Ndlovu is a Lecturer in the Department of Records and Archives Management in the Faculty of Communication and Information Science at the National University of Science and Technology and the NUST Research Uptake Manager (reporting directly to the Director of the Research and Innovation Office)

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