Today, for the first time in a long time of studying multiple texts, from multiple disciplines, at great depth and with great rigour, I tried speaking about one project in only 1 or 2 simplified messages. A surprisingly hard task that I am still thinking about now.
I chose teaching and research as a career because I love people, and words. I love people most in small doses, and words, often in big doses. Turns out, rather shockingly for all of us more introverted academics, that part of good research is communicating that research beyond your colleagues – which often means more people and less words. Now some academics are naturally good at this. I think of Crystal Abidin, Sonia Livingstone, Will Davies or Clay Shirky, amazing communicators, with amazing research who are able to easily translate their research to the public, emphasize the importance of their work, and reach a broader audience with apparent ease.
I, on the other hand, often feel awkward in public situations, and may try to avoid those situations where I have to talk to lots of people about things they may not be interested in.
And this is exactly the problem. I chose academia because it involves more back stage than front stage work. In my job, I work with students, research participants, media texts, and other researchers, who tend to understand my affinity for words and for the back ground. Yet, meaningful research is meant to have ‘impact’ – a measurable effect on the world – which means communicating with the public.
In theory, I understand this. I understand I should use clear language for only one or two focused messages rather than my beloved ‘jargon’ – which has taken decades of reading and research to master. While I won’t reveal all of our trainers’ secrets, I will say that their training helps researchers clarify key points and identify what matters. This exercise was really helpful and surprisingly difficult. The training may have been about how to deal with the media, but it was also about how to clearly communicate complexity, a standard feature in so much of what we do. Regardless of where you want to communicate your work, this training helped me to focus on and communicate what matters, even to myself.