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23 August 2017
If I can do it you can: A challenge to busy academics Print
Wednesday, 18 May 2016 09:04
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With limited budgets and big ideas the realities of Research Uptake can often be an uphill battle for a media liaison officer. At Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) the battle has gotten a little easier over the last year thanks to a collaboration with a new platform called The Conversation Africa (TCA).  Lauren Kansley discusses TCA and the opportunity it provides to bridge the divide between academics and journalists by making research more understandable and widely published on media platforms.

“With the support of our institutional Research Office, my role as a media liaison has enjoyed a surge in interest from researchers and the local press thanks to actively utilising TCA as a tool to accomplish my aims. With its roots in the old Technikon era, CPUT is a young university (only 10 years old). Despite our age we are at the forefront of some of the most exciting research developments on the continent. From putting satellites in space to race cars on the Silverstone racetrack there is no shortage of stimulating projects on the go. Despite this our researchers are reticent to share their work in the mainstream media and seem happy enough to plod along and achieve exceptional results quietly.

"As newsrooms often lack full-time science writers the press are desperate for expert research-driven opinion on topical issues, which is exactly what TCA provides in a neat
e-newsletter format directly to inboxes everyday."

TCA has helped me counteract that trend. Academics register on the site and declare their research interest or suggest a topic. They then work closely with an experienced TCA editor to produce a news article which gets published on the site. After that the real magic happens. Thanks to a creative commons licence media houses are invited to lift the copy and republish it. As newsrooms often lack full-time science writers the press are desperate for expert research-driven opinion on topical issues, which is exactly what TCA provides in a neat e-newsletter format directly to inboxes every day.

So far 26 CPUT academics have published on the site on topics ranging from the uses of fruit waste to gangs in schools, and, most of these stories have been picked up in the popular press achieving close to R1 million in unpaid for pure editorial coverage for CPUT.

Embracing The Conversation Africa as an amplifyer

The benefits are clear. But what do I do to keep this little information train chugging along? Firstly, I regard myself as a brand ambassador for The Conversation Africa - I grasp every opportunity I can to evangelise about the benefits of embracing the site. My work takes me to seminars, workshops and meetings and I can regularly be seen at these doing a 5-minute pitch during the lunch break to some unsuspecting academic. I also utilise the variety of communication tools at my disposal in the Marketing and Communication Office. That means I do email blasts to staff, write about it in the staff newsletter and create electronic billboards so that the message is always out there. Recently one of the TCA editors visited CPUT and I arranged three departmental meetings resulting in face-to-face meetings with around 60 staff members. When an academic does publish on the site I'm notified via an e-alert and I immediately write to the author copying in the Head of Research, HOD’s and other important line managers congratulating them on embracing Research Uptake. I hope these make the academic feel appreciated and noticed. So, as you can see it is a never-ending marketing blitz that I hope will continue to see benefits for many years to come.

"Prof Robert Van Zyl knows first-hand the benefit of getting published on The Conversation Africa. A piece he wrote on the space race in Africa was republished in a full page article in the Mail and Guardian (SA)"

CPUT’s Director of the Africa Space Innovation Centre, F'SATI, Prof Robert Van Zyl knows first-hand the benefit of getting published on The Conversation Africa. A piece he wrote on the space race in Africa was republished in a full-page article in the Mail and Guardian (SA), was declared an Editors pick by Tech Central and was also published on the World Economic Forum’s website ahead of their African conference in Cape Town.

Van Zyl says he never expected that much traction from one story and is already planning his next one.

“It just shows what an article on The Conversation can mean,” he says.

Prof Janet Condy was the first person from CPUT to get published. She wrote a very personal piece on her experience using digital storytelling to overcome racial barriers in the classroom. Condy says all academics should register and at least attempt to write a story.

“If I can do it so can everyone. The benefit of this kind of platform is that my research can get out to many more people faster than if I had to publish it. It’s great that we can share snippets of our research with interested people,” she says.

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Register on The Conversation here http://bit.ly/1KZaoy9

Check out the website here https://theconversation.com/africa   


Lauren Kansley is the Cape Peninsula University of Science and Technology’s Media Liaison Officer, a member of the DRUSSA Digest Editorial Board and one of the University’s Research Uptake Communicators

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