Knowledge Translation: Articulating and Communicating the Research

This week in Research Literacies, as part of our continuing conversation about Knowledge Translation we looked at the 3 Minute Thesis and talked about communicating our research. Being able to talk about your research effectively is so important I think, especially because to me, it seems that when I talk about it to non-specialist people that’s when it becomes clearest to me what I know best about my research and the parts I don’t have a good enough grasp on. Talking it out makes it apparent to me what is and isn’t working. I suppose that might be part of the appeal of the 3 Minute Thesis (outside of personal benefits if you win of course) the fact that it forces you to really nut out what’s important about your research and to realise how well you know it if you have to present the crux of it to a lay audience armed with only three minutes and one slide.

Working in groups to practice communicating our research to non-specialists was really valuable and a lot of fun. I found it really exciting to hear about what other people were working on and they were all really fascinating stuff. We had a girl working on improving treatments for heroine addiction, a guy looking at masculinity and queer identity in men, and another girl looking at gender in street art culture. It was wonderful for me to see a friend of mine from day one talk about her research, why sporting technologies designed to improve performance have not been integrated into the Australian Netball set up, and see how far she’s come in terms of articulating it. She seems so much more confident in it now, I’m so happy! In the same way it was great to hear from another great friend of mine, my partner in crime in this degree as we have a similar focus, except hers is more interested in bringing non-academic forms of history into the classroom and educating kids on how to understand them. She’s really started narrowing down her focus in the last few weeks and it was great to hear her talk about her plan right now which includes looking at how Tintin could be used. The best thing about this exercise was to hear everybody’s  passion for their research and its certainly a testament to them that I can at least briefly describe their research (at least I hope I’m getting it right!)

As for me, I think I still need to work on this. I’ve never been particularly good at articulating ideas, I’ve always found writing them out to be far easier. It might sound a bit pompous but my brain definitely moves faster than my mouth does and I tend to fall over words and get flustered. I’m also one of those people that gets ridiculously handsy when I speak about something I’m passionate about. Hands fly everywhere and I think that might throw people off. Also this showed me that I’m not all over what I want to do yet, I’ve been thinking in recent weeks in different directions and I have an idea (you can see my Research Update 11 May 2016 for more details) but I’m not sure if I could articulate it that well when I was explaining it to my group. They seemed to follow it well enough but I didn’t feel good about it. I felt better than when I had to do basically the same exercise in a class the day before for my unit Engaging Discursive Fields so maybe it really is about practice and fine tuning. The better I know what I’m doing, the easier it will probably be to talk about it. That’s the gist I guess.

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Knowledge Translation: As Simple as it Sounds?

Truth be told, I thought that ‘Knowledge Translation’ sounded like a really straightforward concept. I thought, ‘oh right, being able to take your research out of the dripping with jargon version that would appear in the thesis and talk about it to or with a non-specialist audience.’ Seems simple enough. I did not anticipate that there would be such different ideas about what it meant and rather naively, I didn’t really think about all of the reasons that its so important.

The first thing Jack really explained to us in the Research Literacies lecture on Knowledge Translation was that this was a concept far more prevalent in the hard sciences, particularly health sciences. Being pretty well confined to the Humanities, I didn’t realise this at all but found it really quite fascinating nonetheless. Although there still seems to be some contention about exactly what it means and involves among scientific institutions, it seems to follow the basic idea of getting the research from the lab to the people that can practically use it in an ethically sound manner. I guess in the Humanities the similar thing would be to use research findings to make recommendations for policy changes or educational reforms or whatever kind of practice the particular research work can be put to. It also involves, for both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and HASS (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) research, the dissemination of the research findings, the sharing of information and new knowledge essentially.

Of course, things in this world are never just about democratisation and social benefit, and money worms its way in here too. To have a chance to get your research funded you have to be able to explain what it is and what its going to achieve. This is knowledge translation too. How do you explain your research in a way that will get your grant application approved?

At the end of the day, I wasn’t necessarily wrong, it is about being able to explain your research to non-specialists, I just hadn’t really considered the wide ranging areas that it can be applied for benefit or for money. I suppose I should start to view my 50,000 family members asking me what I’m doing and why I would want to do that every time there’s a family get-together as an opportunity rather than a chore. Instead of reverting to the more academic version – “I’m looking into theories about historiography  in relation to the representation of history in non-academic sources, particularly feature films, and how that effects how people and societies understand and identify with history” – I should really work on being able to explain my topic in simpler terms – “I’m interested in how movies about history are representing and engaging with it and how these movies can help or hinder us in understanding history.” How’d I do?