One of the things academics often struggle with is engaging the public or a wider audience through their research. More often than not, their research has significant general relevance, but they have difficulties translating that into terms where it is apparently why this research is important. However, those of us involved with academia in some way need to do a better job of interacting with general audiences. We need to show why what we’re doing is important and this is why it matters. There’s only one real way to engage: engage.
During my PhD, one way I’ve been trying to share my ideas and research with the general public is through writing blogposts (like this one, even though my writing here is not strictly about my research!) and opinion pieces. This is often the easiest and most efficient way to share your ideas. While writing these types of pieces can sometimes be time-consuming, I find the pay off to be worth it. So far, I’ve had writing published in some significant venues like Responsible Statecraft and The Washington Post. It’s been great to hear from folks talking to me about my pieces who I might not normally interact with during the course of my PhD. At the same time, I’m establishing myself as a thinker on topics of interest to policymakers and the public and contributing to important debates. It’s very rewarding to have someone with influence in a field reach out to you and say they liked your work and they want to discuss with you further.
But writing these types of articles is the only way to do public engagement. Approaching research or political organizations, think tanks, or policymakers and asking them about opportunities to support them and their work is a great way to get yourself out there and let people know you are someone they should consult with. You’d be surprised how many fruitful relationships start this way. It would also be a good idea to present your work at non-scholarly conferences or try to get on panels where you can interact with other stakeholders who are not fellow academics.
If public engagement is important to you, then it’s absolutely something you should try to get involved with. During my doctoral degree so far, I have found this extremely rewarding, and I plan to continue my efforts in the months and years ahead.