Your uni wants to help you. It really does.
The problem is, it can’t. It’s too big, too clunky. It has goals that are beyond the interests of individual researchers.
Your uni simply can’t provide the level of support young academics needs to build the website and profile of a growing lab.
Most university IT systems suck. The website parts are particularly inflexible, dated and generic; the exact opposite of the qualities we associate with good researchers.
There are also barriers to entry and gatekeepers, which make using the websites unnecessarily difficult.
Right. It’s not a match made in heaven.
The results is lots of amazing research doesn’t get the publicity it deserves; the public grows to misunderstand and fear research; and, researchers grow to resent research communication.
How universities respond
Universities begin by trying to manage outreach the way they manage most other things: they delegate. They assume communicating research is part of a scientist’s job.
They’re then asked to look into providing researchers with resources (like training, money, time and institutional support) to do it effectively. Sometimes this includes acknowledging communication efforts in workload management and performance metrics.
When this doesn’t work, they freak out at the scale of investment required to actually do it properly and the loss of message control. Then, they start thinking researchers should stick to doing what they do best (i.e., research) and hire research communicators to take up the responsibility of telling the stories.
Eventually, they end up with a strange hybrid approach, where researchers can communicate relatively freely, access basic training if they want, or hand over their comms to a couple of staff in the research office – almost always young interns without real research experience that are physically located in a different building.
There are some exceptions but, largely speaking, most universities can’t really help their faculty.
Researchers are left to pick up the pieces.
Most researchers know that having a poor online presence is likely costing them opportunities. They know it might be limiting their ability to attract quality grad students and be sending the wrong message to colleagues (including grant reviewers).
They also know it can look really bad in the eyes of the public. Where are the taxes going? The public wants to see return on investment. They want to ‘find out about stuff’. They want to be inspired and challenged, even though they might find it difficult. Hey, facts are facts, what can you do?
Most researchers that I talk to, particularly new Assistant Professors, want to engage. They want to build and progress. They want to help the public move from ignorance to understanding.
They want to build a platform that can take them beyond traditional metrics of papers, grants and graduations – especially if they’re chasing tenure.