Academic communication not something to be done ‘on the side’

Researchers frequently have too little time to share their knowledge on a broad scale and to respond to social issues. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is making recommendations on how this can be improved.

illustration Aleksei Naumov / iStock

Increasingly, researchers are expected to promote their work to the general public. This is important for creating trust in science and can contribute to shared solutions to social problems, the KNAW writes this week.

But that is easier said than done, as many researchers do not have enough time and support to focus on this aspect of their work. Researchers at VU Amsterdam have made a summary of what is currently happening in the field of academic communication and what the impediments are. The main problem, they found, is that academic communication is something that researchers do ‘on the side’ and that performance in this area plays little or no part in their assessment.

Major part

On that basis, a KNAW project group has come up with some recommendations. Academic communication must in any event be a major part of the academic duties, just as it is for research, teaching and academic leadership.

Academic communication should also be part and parcel of every research project, from start to finish, and some of the research budget needs to be set aside for it.

A discipline in itself

Another recommendation is to regard academic communication as a discipline in itself. Researchers who want to become proficient in it must receive training and exchange experiences with other colleagues, so that everyone does not have to reinvent the wheel.

Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf is pleased with the investigation and the recommendations. This spring, he made funds available to set up a national centre for academic communication. If the plans are approved, the centre can go into operation in the autumn of 2024.

Wetenschapscommunicatie aan TU/e

Science communication at TU/e

On 1 December, 2021, science journalist and physicist Margriet van der Heijden was appointed professor of science communication at the department of Applied Physics for a period of five years. Her endowed chair is an initiative of the Netherlands’ Physical Society (NNV) on the occasion of its centenary. At the start of her professorship, she said that in her new role she hoped to contribute to effective communication and a fruitful ‘conversation’ between physics and society.

“The ever-increasing body of knowledge (in natural sciences, ed.) has brought with it an enormous degree of specialization,” Van der Heijden says. “This makes it increasingly hard to understand one another. And this applies not only to scientists among themselves, but also to scientists and non-scientists. At the same time, it’s absolutely vital that we have a mutual conversation. It is therefore important that we investigate what works in communication and what doesn’t.”

She also said that she hopes for more continuity in the conversation, to ensure that the bond with discussion partners is sustained over a longer period of time. “It’s not just a case of doing a podcast once in a while, and then a fun interactive game. It also means that you show what doing research entails.” According to van der Heijden, physics is often still considered an abstract and difficult subject. “I want to show that it can also be beautiful and wonderful!”

Van der Heijden, incidentally, took part in TU/e’s podcast series Sound of Science last August, in which she talks about the questions she wants to explore during the next five years. On November 17, Van der Heijden will present her book ‘Ongekend,’ which focusses on overlooked women in natural sciences. (HK)


Share this article