This chat was hosted by Kerstin Fritsches. Kerstin used to be a research fellow in neuroscience and is now an independent trainer and mentor, helping postdocs with their careers through online and offline support. She blogs on her company’s website www.postdoctraining.com and can also be found on Twitter @PostdocTraining and LinkedIn. Here is a recap of the chat:
We started the chat with the question of whether participants were currently engaging with contacts outside academia for example in industry, not-for-profits, government, media or the general community. There was a wide range of different ways participants engaged already with community groups, media and industry. Others had not engaged yet and were looking for ideas.
Question 2 was to find out about the benefits of engaging with partners outside academia. Benefits mentioned were:
- establishing contacts and developing options for funding
- research and practice informing each other
- identifying practical applications for research
- communicating to a broader audience and making your research more accessible
- helping communities by providing an evidence base for decisions and actions.
Several participants mentioned they had difficulties identifying obvious applications or outside interest in their work.
Question 3 was about the downsides and problems encountered when engaging with partners outside academia.
It was clear that the different cultures and aims of academic research, industry, government and community can create problems linked to different priorities, difficulties finding common goals or deciding on an end product, and managing expectations and timelines. Managing intellectual property was also flagged as a problematic area. We agreed that creating an arrangement where all parties benefit can be a challenge.
Language was also raised as a potential problem – both for those ECRs who do not speak the local tongue, as well as work-related language barriers experienced by ECRs when communicating outside academia.
Finding the right audience was a problem for many, and suggestions for solving this problem are listed under Questions 5 and 6 in this recap.
Question 4 explored everyone’s perceptions about whether engaging with partners outside academia helps or hinders careers.
The majority thought that engagement outside of academia was good for your career, for example by helping to develop a profile and improving communication skills. For those working in more applied research, engagement was considered essential to having an impact and relevance. Gaining attention for your research outside academia can have its disadvantages if it results in controversy, however. Media and communication training was therefore considered very important to avoid misunderstandings and to manage outreach well.
Participants said that, in the US, engagement is a prerequisite for tenure, while in the UK and Australia, engagement is either an explicit part of work contracts or is gaining more attention and currency within universities as a measure of impact.
I asked Question 5 to find out how those who were already engaging made the first contacts. The most common avenues were:
- using existing contacts and help from colleagues and supervisors
- meeting potential partners at conferences
- using commercialisation / business linkage units within universities or institutes
- community meetings were mentioned as good opportunities to present to the public (for example see www.cafescientific.org)
- presenting at public outreach days (such as those organised by universities).
With Question 6 participants were asked to suggest what would help to start or expand engagement with partners outside academia. The main request for help was with securing opportunities to meet contacts, such as receiving support to attend professional conferences. As one participant put it: patience and tea (hospitality) really helps with forming relationships…
In summary we agreed that engagement – when done well – is of great benefit and can result in truly transformational relationships between ECRs and industry or community partners.
If you would like to see the full conversation, have a look at the storify. Thanks to everyone for a lively and interesting chat.