Neil Armstrong said, “Research is creating new knowledge.” Research provides us with the ability to test new theories. Explore new ideas. Experiment with new things. For example, without research, we would not have learned about the link between genetics and hereditary cancer. Without research, we would not have new innovative technologies for cancer screening and prevention. Without research, there would be no “new knowledge.”
Yet, research for research’s sake is not enough. As academics, we must utilize our own acquired research knowledge, interpreting, and applying it. I propose the following three steps to do so.
Step 1: Identify your contribution. What are you an expert about? Are you an expert on a particular topic? In my case, that’s previvors—individuals with an inherited mutation but who have not been diagnosed with cancer. Are you an expert on a context? Again, in my case, I am trained in health communication and decision making about genetic risk and hereditary cancer. Are you an expert in a method? I am working to become an expert in patient-powered research where patient and community stakeholders are involved in the research design, data collection and analysis, and write-up and dissemination process. Or are you an expert in a particular skill? For example, in a current project, I am co-creating a continuing education workshop on digital health literacy for genetic counselors. Determine your expertise first.
Step 2: Search for opportunities. Opportunities, especially digital opportunities, abound; you just need to find them. One way you can search for opportunities to translate your research is identify professional organizations and non-profits related to your expertise area, familiarize yourself with their mission and services, and sign up for their listservs so you can offer your assistance. Another way is paying attention to significant media stories relevant to your work and contact media outlets to offer your expertise. Last, use social media such as Twitter and Facebook by utilizing hashtags specific to your expertise. A few that I have found particularly helpful in networking and collaborating include the following: #AcademicChatter, #AcademicTwitter, #bcsm (breast cancer social media), #ayacsm (adolescent and young adult cancer social media), and #HealthComm.
Step 3: Share your research. At the minimum, share your research with your department by sending emails to your chair. Share your research with your college and/or university. At my institution, there is a digital form you can fill out to announce recent, impactful publications, or grant funding. Share your research with your profession using your professional organizations and societies. In my field, scholars can submit to the National Communication Association’s Communication Currents or the International Communication Association’s blog. One can also submit to the CDC’s Health Communication Science Digest, which is a monthly PDF that details recently published journal articles and reports about health communication and marketing science.
However, for your work to have a broader impact, it’s also important to share your research with the public. While there are many ways to do this, I have found five strategies to be most fruitful and worth my time and effort: guest podcasts, guest blogging, TEDx talks, non-field conferences and events, and Twitter.
- Guest Podcasts: Podcasts are a great way to share your knowledge and expertise, which can reach a larger but specific audience but also enables you to provide the story behind your research. For example, during the summer of 2020, I was featured in the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC)’s “Genetic Counselors & You Podcast” series where I spoke about uncertainty in genetic testing and offered ways to navigate uncertainty.
- Guest Blogging: I recommend guest blogging – not maintaining your own blog. I did that initially, and it was too time-consuming for the reach. Instead, find opportunities to highlight your research findings on others’ websites. For example, when I published an article in the journal Health Communication, which analyzed almost 100 websites about Angelina Jolie’s 2013 New York Times op-ed about her preventive double mastectomy, I also wrote a guest blog post for the Cancer Knowledge Network’s website summarizing these findings and discussing the importance of this celebrity health narrative.
- TEDx Talks: TEDx talks are another great way to share your research findings but relate them to people’s lives. These talks build your credibility in the university, but they can also get picked up and featured on the TED website. Moreover, videos tend to attract more attention as well as can be stored and shared. For example, drawing on my research but also my personal health experiences, in my TEDxUSF talk, I addressed how to make decisions based on uncertain, and sometimes surprising, information.
- Non-Field Specific Conferences and Community Events: Share your research with the communities most impacted by your results by presenting at relevant, non-field specific conferences and community events. In my case, I focus on medical communities and hereditary cancer communities. For instance, I have presented at the Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE)’s annual conference, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives and families facing hereditary cancer, and I also have spoken at community events such as the keynote speaker for a sorority event during October for Breast Cancer Awareness month.
- Twitter: Finally, share your research results broadly using social media platforms like Twitter. Many academics and more recently journals are disseminating not just their article references but creating and sharing key findings visually. Simple and free tools to do this include Canva and Venngage.
In short, it is not enough to simply discover knowledge. We must share our knowledge so that more might benefit.