Melville says it is more important now than ever for academics to share their research.
“Academic life has changed significantly over the years. We as academics face new challenges, not only in our research environments but also because the media has changed drastically with the emergence of social media, WiFi technology and digital news platforms, among others. These are new opportunities for sharing information."
Q: Why is it important to share?
A: By using the media effectively, academics will enhance their research and establish themselves as experts.
“When academics share information, it does not only have publicity value, but is also seen as more reliable than an advertisement.” He says this will help faculties to position their staff and units or schools and also aid with income generation and attracting top students, especially postgraduates.
“There is a wealth of knowledge available but the sad news is that few people know about it.” Melville says academics should realise that universities have become business units. “Research has become paramount for promotion, quality and competitive purposes. It also contributes to the standing and positioning of the university and to the National Research Foundation (NRF) rating of researchers.”
Q: But why, taking into account the wealth of information and benefits of sharing, are some researchers not keen to do so?
A: Research has shown they cite time constraints and not knowing how to write popular articles as the main reasons. Some researchers also feel that it is not their task to share and that the general public will not find it interesting or benefit from it.
Q: How do we address the lack of sharing?
A: Melville believes in leading by example and that is why he is actively involved in creating awareness among his staff. “You need to make them understand there is a market for their research.”
To motivate staff it is important to make it part of your strategic plan. “Also make it part of the bonus criteria and inform staff of media coverage on a weekly basis. Once they see that their research is featured, they will become more enthusiastic.” He says this will create a healthy competitive environment.
It is also important to teach staff how to write popular articles through workshops and conferences.
There is help for academics who are wary of putting pen to paper to write non-academic articles. University journalists, other journalists and interns can also assist academics in getting the message of excellent research to a wider audience.
“Invite members of the media to events. Once you know who the journalists are it will be easier to give them news leads. Create a partnership between you and the media.”
He says once researchers start getting the first articles published, it is important not to rest on their laurels. “Keep your presence in the media and remember it is a continuous process.”
Melville says in the end it is beneficial to all. “Telling your story may have a bigger positive impact on your research than you could have imagined. It may also open up other avenues of research and pave the way for collaborations with universities worldwide.”
During the MACE workshop, Prof Melville Saayman said researchers need to tell their research success stories to a general audience and not only an academic audience. This can be done on many platforms, including social media, websites, radio, television and printed media.
Academics should share their
Prof Melville Saayman, director of Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society (TREES) on the NWU’s campus in Potchefstroom, believes that academics should share their research with a wide audience.
Melville and his team’s commitment to sharing their research news through the media has regularly placed him among the NWU’s top spokespersons. He explained his views on sharing research during the national Marketing, Advancement and Communication in Education (MACE) workshop that took place in Potchefstroom in May.