- Database of practice
- Manchester GRADschool: Developing the Effective Research Communicator
Manchester GRADschool: Developing the Effective Research Communicator
- University of Manchester
- North West
- Date first submitted:
- 13 Nov 2009
- Date last modified:
- 19 Nov 2009
- Researcher-led activities
- Personal effectiveness
- Research project skills
- Academic practice
- Postgraduate researchers
Rationale, aims and outcomes
What is the rationale for doing this?
How does it fit with institutional strategy?
What are the main features of the provision?
What are the aims and expected outcomes?
Like other local and national GRADschools, this course uses a model of experiential learning through practical-based case studies and intensive self and team reviews.
The vision of this GRADschool is that the postgraduate research participants will leave better equipped to become effective communicators of their research in their future careers, either in the commercial world or academia, through developing a greater awareness of the principles of good communication. This communication takes place in a variety of mediums, from face-to-face, in print and via the interactive Web 2.0 environment through film and text. These skills are needed in the burgeoning knowledge-based economy where technically-expert PhDs must be able to clearly explain their research to different audiences, including academic peers, funding bodies, policy makers, the media, the public and school children, as well as being able to promote themselves online for competitive portfolio careers.
The participants join a multi-disciplinary team to undertake a complex and demanding project designed to represent the real skills needed for effective research communication. A wide variety of experts have been invited to provide relevant information on communication skills in a variety of formats. The goal is to provide a safe environment where participants can explore the communication of research and consider the ways they can communicate to a variety of audiences and receive valuable feedback.
The theme of sustainability is chosen in part as an acknowledgement of the University’s commitment to “inculcate the concept of sustainable development in all aspects of education, research and business strategy and operations and, wherever possible, to influencing local, national and international debate and policies on sustainable development.” (Board of Governors) The theme also allows for a diverse range to topics to be explored by researchers from a host of disciplines.
The participants are guided through this process via pre-course activities on the website (see URL in Further Information) and then given a detailed Participant's Guide emphasising their role in bringing their own personal objectives to the course.
The outcomes from this work were judged by a variety of practicing researchers and communicators from the British Science Association, the University of Manchester’s Office of Sustainability, the University Press Office, the Manchester Museum and the Manchester Beacon (a collaborative project for the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement).
There are two main aims for this course:
• To enable participants to explore what makes good research communication and how to deliver key messages to meet the needs of differing audiences. These aims will be explored during the team task activities;
• To enable participants to understand how to work in a team on a shared project, understanding their own personal effectiveness and able to give and receive open, constructive feedback with other team members. These aims will be explored during the team review activities.
There are also a number of specific objectives for the participants, namely:
• To demonstrate flexibility and open mindedness, self awareness and self discipline, motivation and initiative, through a series of open ended activities;
• To exploit one’s own, and others’, creativity
• To develop negotiating and team-working skills;
• To learn how to call upon support from others and how to manage that support, practicing the interpersonal skills needed to be an effective researcher;
• To increase individual self confidence; through feedback and coaching, enhancing strengths and addressing weaknesses, giving participants an awareness of their own skills and the current state of their own development;
• To build on and extend existing skills, e.g. data analysis, problem solving, time and project planning, and to provide an opportunity to critically evaluate individual skills.
• To share experiences with other researchers from a range of academic disciplines;
• To explore the process of film-making as a communication tool;
• To understand the principles of effective communication to different audiences;
• To become familiar with the principles of sustainability and social responsibility.
The learning outcomes from this course will assist participants to:-
• Understand the principles of effective communication, including how to deliver key messages to different audiences;
• Understand the key features of a team and the importance of team working;
• Understand the requirements for project planning in a longer term project and practice their time management skills within deadline driven projects;
• Be more confident and practiced in their oral and written presentation skills;
• Demonstrate a willingness to learn and acquire skills in a range of areas;
• Apply decision making and problem solving skills in safe, practical environments;
• Develop a better understanding of film-making.
They will have gained experience of:-
• Strategies to influence decision making and team organization;
• Both leadership and support for others and direct experience of the complex nature of personal interactions within teams;
• Rapid assimilation, interpretation and prioritisation of information and subsequent decision making under pressure;
• Communicating and presenting complex, unfamiliar information in a clear and concise format;
• The transferable nature skills, through exposure to a range of different contexts;
• Setting achievable targets for themselves and their team.
Are there any pre-requisites for engagement, e.g. levels of skill, years of experience, essential pre-activities?
How many participate in each 'activity'?
The course was designed for a maximum of 60 postgraduate researchers in the 2nd year or later of their research degree. It was open to all University of Manchester postgraduate researchers and two places were offered to each of the 11 higher education institutions in the Vitae NW Hub. A statement of interest was submitted by all applicants outlining their reasons for attending and to review their previous experience with communicating their research. These statements were used to determine the participants’ suitability for attendance.
Evaluation: benefits, challenges and next steps
How do you monitor effectiveness?
Who do you seek feedback from?
Do you have benchmarks?
The topic of effective research communication is a critical one with numerous potential benefits. Clearly describing research to funding panels can increase research funding. Communicating research outcomes beyond narrow discipline boundaries can improve the potential for collaborations for inter-disciplinary work. Sharing a clear understanding of a researcher’s topic can improve networking possibilities and enhance a researcher’s profile. And keeping the public informed about the importance of research in society can broaden support for researchers in general.
There is a perceived barrier between technical accuracy and clear communication that is often seen as insurmountable by early career researchers. The need for accepted jargon within a narrow discipline can serve as a valid shorthand for experienced researchers to progress to ever-more complex ideas. The concept that effective communication requires some ‘dumbing-down’ of these ideas for the non-specialist is widespread. Successful role models are needed from established academics who have managed this dichotomy and shown that research can be improved by more effective communication.
It is planned to have closer links with existing public engagement opportunities which could form either before or after experiences to bring to the workshop to share. A post-course reunion (after two or three months) is also planned in order to get further feedback and to give further opportunities to practice research communication.