Ten good reasons to publicize research

At City College, I was fortunate to work with many prominent research-active scientists and engineers in a wide range of fields. Many were great sources of story ideas we could use to publicize the college as well as their work. Others, however, were publicity-shy, and concerned only with getting published in the relevant journals.

I met recently with a former colleague who, in the role of devil’s advocate, raised the issue: why should researchers publicize their work? After all, reviewers don’t take newspaper clippings into account when evaluating a grant. Here are 10 good reasons why, even if publicity doesn’t lead to more financial support.

  1. Visibility  Having a wider audience increases an investigator’s visibility in his or her field. It can lead to more citations, opportunities to speak at conferences and exposure to potential collaborators, in turn raising the investigator’s prominence in the field.
  2. Rankings  Research is a factor in many university rankings. Higher ranked institutions will attract more and better applicants. This could potentially increase the supply of graduate students who can become research assistants.
  3. Expert Status  Journalists constantly seek experts who can help them understand the topics they cover. Since research, especially fundamental research, advances knowledge in a field, active investigators are sought out because they work on the frontiers of knowledge.
  4. Campus Collaboration  Professors often know little knowledge about what colleagues outside their department do. Publicizing research findings to the college community builds awareness for what peers are doing. This can, in turn, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, especially when two or more professors are investigating the same subject from the perspectives of their respective disciplines.
  5. Community Relations  Similarly, members of the surrounding community often are not aware of an institution’s research role. Promoting that college faculty are actively investigating everything from climate change to human and animal behavior to finding cures for cancer portrays the institution in a more positive light and can improve town-gown relations.
  6. Enrollment  Research stories can reach prospective students, both graduate and undergraduate.  They can help familiarize them with an institution’s faculty and their work and influence where they apply.
  7. Promote STEM  The shortage of students in the STEM disciplines is a longstanding issue in the United States. Articles in the popular press about research investigations and other content can expose students to creative career opportunities they might not have otherwise considered. This can lead to more students becoming STEM majors.
  8. Knowledge Sharing  The wider the dissemination of information on a significant development the more people become aware of it. In turn, other researchers can use that discovery as a starting point for additional investigations, accelerating the advancement of knowledge.
  9. Public Awareness  Science communicators like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku and Bill Nye are popularizing science, helping to increase public awareness and interest.  At the same time that investigators are advancing knowledge, they can generate public interest and support for in their work, especially when it directly impacts people’s lives. Public support can translate into political support at a time when government funding for research is threatened.
  10. You Never Know  Corporations are constantly looking for new product ideas, ways to improve existing products and make their manufacturing processes run better. A well-placed story in front of the right person could lead to a lucrative licensing deal.

Research is a fertile ground for story ideas at a college, university or teaching hospital. It not only helps build an institution’s brand, but positions it on the front lines of discovery. And, it helps people see institutions in a different light, where academics not only train students, but advance knowledge in areas that impact their lives.

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