Is popular science positive for a research career?

The latest issue of the paper for Swedish Association of University Teachers deals with exactly this in the article “Popular science can be great for research careers”. The opinion of whether popular science is considered good for a research career differs a bit depending on field of expertise and country of affiliation. Although the climate has changed in Sweden during the last decades, the attitudes are still rather reluctant in comparison to the US. Common arguments as to why researcher should not engage with the media are that it is not qualifying, and that the only thing of importance is scientific publications. It is even argued by some that popular science might hurt a researcher’s reputation.

In my mind, the one does not exclude the other. When I was first accepted as a PhD candidate I was very shy when approached by the media. I turned down every request, feeling insecure and thinking that popular media was not important for academics. Senior researchers even warned me to be careful of associating myself too much with certain media.

Since my field, fashion studies, is very much in the public eye right now, the media often approaches my colleagues and me. After some time, when I became more secure in my role as a researcher, I came to realize how helpful the media can be in spreading ones message and how lucky I was to be active in a field that people are interested in. Once I started to work with the media, I found that not only was it rewarding to voice my opinions and my research –it was also helping me become a better researcher. Academics are experts of speaking the language of academia, but often not as good when it comes to packaging our knowledge to fit other audiences.

Academics and journalists have much in common in that we work with producing knowledge, spreading information and contributing to society at large. Sometimes the interests part, and journalists must be critical of the academia, which is necessary and something to be welcomed. I have definitely hit a few bumps in the road, when I have felt that what was interesting in what I said was left out in favor of rather shallow quotes. I even wrote a quite heated post on this blog last year when I felt that a paper I had been in contact with had been dishonest. Yet, academics have a habit of finding it difficult to communicate to audiences outside of the academia, and in my experience it is important to learn how to speak in different forums. However, this is a difficult task, and I feel that I am very much still learning. To communicate our knowledge in the academia is not only a matter of choice, it is our duty according to public outreach, in Swedish den tredje uppgiften.

Pexel cc by Jaymantri