Nearly all federal funders are increasing emphasis on “broader impacts”—whatever they choose to call this section—from making it part of the program itself, e.g., PCORI, to NSF, to others. This pressure creates a dilemma for notoriously social-media-shy scientists, since social media are an easy way to fulfill the broad part of that mandate (see numerous articles on this phenomenon, starting with this one: http://marketbusinessnews.com/university-scholars-resisting-social-media/16866.) Why so many scientists have been slow to jump on the bandwagon is complicated, but google will deliver lots of information on this topic to your fingertips.
Instead of delving into the Why, this newsletter will, hopefully, introduce you to some fora that are relatively easy to use and not-too-scary, and maybe provide a nudge toward working social media platforms into the ‘broader impacts’ sections of your proposals in creative and interesting ways. Really, the possibilities are endless. In case you need more of a rationale for exploring these outlets, here’s an excerpt from an article in PloS Biology:
An established track record and well-thought-out online outreach strategy can satisfy broader impacts criteria that are increasingly required by funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation…. In some respects, the internet can be a more powerful force than traditional channels—when content goes “viral,” the reach can be truly global. Two projects aimed at changing the perception of science and scientists themselves have recently gone viral in the online science world: the hashtag #iamscience (soon to be turned into a book and podcast) and “This is What a Scientist Looks Like” (http://bit.ly/SayFt2). These initiatives are meant to raise scientists’ profiles, dispel ubiquitous stereotypes, and highlight the unconventional career paths followed by most scientists. Such campaigns would be difficult to pursue within the formalized structure of research and academia.
http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001535. Here’s the whole article, including how-to flow charts and a decision tree guiding you through various internet platforms.
Getting started without a big time investment….
The least time-intensive way to increase reach of your work is simply to upload presentations or blog entries to share sites. Two of the bigger sites, speakerdeck.com and slideshare.net, are similar, though slideshare feels a bit slicker and fluffier. You can upload presentations into different categories (research, design, etc) and there are also featured editors’ picks. The good thing about starting with presentations is that you don’t have to grapple with copyright issues, unlike sharing published papers. You can take papers you have published (or even just ideas you have) and create a presentation in PPT or any similar tool, and share away.
However, it’s possible no one will ever read these. One way around this problem is to do a guest blog entry about your work on an established research blog. The beauty of this is that most bloggers are looking for (desperate for?) guest content so they don’t have to come up with blog entries all the time. This is a small time commitment for you and, if you pick a blog with a following, a great way to expose your work to thousands of people. I highly recommend this method as it’s low input/high yield. C3 will be happy to help you with a blog entry. To get started, check out some blog aggregators and see which blogs you find interesting and look at the size of their following. There is Scienceseeker, http://scienceseeker.org/about, Research Blogging, http://researchblogging.org/news/?page_id=8, and many more–Science Sushi is one of my favorites, and there are lots more).
If you want to go multi-media….
If you want to be less traditional than the printed word, think about other ways to describe or even advance your work. There are video games, like Fold It or Eterna. Or, less resource intensive but still inspired and informative animations, such as Jason Brown at Pendulum Swing Media creates. Check out an animation Jason created with Shawn Douglas (and C3 Science) to promote the Biomod competition. http://pendulumswingmedia.com/page_id2762/. The world of science communication is changing as fast as science itself, and we need to take advantage of new media and portals to get results out in new ways. It just requires some time and thought, and a bit of money of course. As always, I recommend budgeting for these new creations in your proposals, so you aren’t scrambling to pay for them later. It’s my new mantra…budget first, so you don’t have to scramble later.