Guest post: Why we should talk to the media (part 2)

claudia hammondFollowing the guest post from Lisa Munoz at SPSP, this week we hear from Claudia Hammond, an award-winning presenter, writer and psychology lecturer, on why she thinks young researchers in particular should engage more with the media. In addition to being part-time faculty at Boston University’s London base, she presents All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4 and Health Check on BBC World Service, and is the author of “Time Warped: Unlocking the mysteries of Time Perception“.

In my many years hosting radio programmes for the BBC I have interviewed dozens of young researchers. When a new paper comes out, we like wherever possible to talk to the people who have done the research themselves instead of relying on a commentator. From our perspective it makes science programmes sound better, providing listeners with a direct link to the scientists.

So that’s what’s in it for us as broadcasters, but why should researchers bother? Scientists can sometimes feel frustrated that their work is misunderstood by the general public. Science literacy varies massively amongst the population and speaking about your work to the media can help to demystify it. All my work, whether making radio or TV programmes or writing books aims to make science accessible and to increase the understanding of the importance of evidence. Researchers themselves have a vital part to play in this and by doing interviews they can reach vast numbers of people in one go. BBC World Service where I host a weekly programme featuring newly-published health and medical research, has 44 million listeners.  If the public is to be expected to continue to fund scientific research they have a right to know how their money is being spent and this is a great way for scientists to get their message across about the importance of their research.

There can also be advantages for researchers themselves. Increasingly grant-giving bodies are making public engagement a condition of their grants, so it’s as well to start practising early in your career.

I also know of many situations where appearing in the media has led to new research collaborations. People often get in touch with me after they hear an interview wanting to contact someone they heard on my programme. When we have studio discussions the participants often exchange emails afterwards so that they can work together. I’m surprised at how often they are unaware of other researchers in the same field. It sometimes feels like a researcher dating agency, but it’s good to see people sharing their ideas.

Sometimes researchers worry about what their peers will think and to be honest, the secret to doing to a good interview is to imagine you are explaining it to a non-scientific friend. Don’t imagine your supervisor by your shoulder. You know your own work inside out and you can explain it. You’re not going to be asked questions which are so in-depth that you can’t answer them, but it’s important to consider the context of your research. Has this topic been in the news recently? How big is the problem that your research addresses?With a little preparation before an interview, you can have an impact.

Website

Advertisements

Guest post: Why we should talk to the media

This week we have a guest post from Lisa Munoz, the Public Information Officer at Society for Personality and Social Psychology. She spoke at the recent SPSP conference in New Orleans on how researchers can get their message across in the media – today she tells us why she thinks that’s a worthwhile thing to do. 

A Love Letter for Public Outreach

As I write this post, it is Valentine’s Day week, one of the busiest weeks fordog-with-valentines-day-heart (1) psychology in the news. Relationships, gift-giving, sex, cultural norms, group dynamics – all provide fertile ground for popular press stories at this time of year. This media draw toward psychology may make some scientists wary as they wonder, for example, if the press will misrepresent their work just to get out a cute Valentine’s story. While the chance always exists that a reporter will distort or water down your research to “sell” a sexier or cuter story, to deny yourself the opportunity to reach a broader audience would be a huge disservice.

I can list at least a dozen good reasons to talk with the press and the public about scientific work: among them, publicizing your research to potential funding agencies and future collaborators; attracting people to your specific field of study; and raising the profile of the science. A sometimes overlooked reason for talking with the press is simply to share the excitement and joy of your research with others who have similar interests.

You study social psychology to explore questions about human behavior that have piqued your curiosity throughout your life. Undoubtedly, most of us have or will have asked ourselves some of the same questions at some point in time. It is rare to be in a profession that shares so much in common with so many people, thus putting you in the rare position to constantly teach and share.

Just this past Sunday, Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University, wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times about his relationship research – yes, taking advantage of Valentine’s Day. His work found that married couples who spent just 7 minutes at a time, 3 times a year writing about their fights from a neutral point of view were happier in their marriages. The title of the Op-Ed, “Dear Valentine, I Hate It When You …”, is cute yes but the message is far from trivial: For all couples, this research hits home, offering insight into how we can more constructively tackle relationship problems.

Reaching out to the media to share your research is an enriching experience that I hope you all will undertake throughout your careers.

Lisa M.P. Munoz, Public Information Officer, SPSP

spsp.publicaffairs@gmail.com | @SPSPnews