13 March 2015

Selfish Reasons for Publicizing Your Research Results

Richard Fienberg

Richard Fienberg American Astronomical Society

I straddle two worlds: astronomy and science communication. I've been fortunate to be able to work at the intersection of these worlds for nearly three decades, first at Sky & Telescope magazine and now at the AAS, where I serve as Press Officer. Staying on top of what's happening in astronomy is easy: virtually every astronomy-related press release issued by every university, observatory, space center, and other research institution on the planet shows up in my IN box. One of the resources I rely on to stay on top of what's happening in science communication is Matt Shipman's Communication Breakdown blog at SciLogs, published by Spektrum der Wissenschaft (the company that publishes the German edition of Scientific American) in association with Nature.com. His entry for 6 March is entitled "Selfish Reasons for Researchers to Publicize Their Study Findings." It's the best, most succinct article on the topic that I've seen in quite some time, so I thought I'd call your attention to it.

Shipman begins, "Researchers are not obligated to publicize their research findings — and they shouldn’t be. Some people enjoy public outreach. Some people don’t. But those who are on the fence should know that there are very practical, selfish reasons to publicize their work." By "publicizing research findings" he means "anything beyond publishing those findings in a peer-reviewed journal or presenting the work at a professional conference." As he writes, "Researchers already have a lot of responsibilities: grant-writing, lab work, writing papers, preparing presentations, working with grad students and postdocs, being grad students or postdocs, having a life outside of work, etc. So — why add publicizing research findings to that 'to-do' list?"

He lists six reasons:

  • Boosting scholarly impact metrics
  • Making funding agencies happy
  • Informal networking
  • Opportunities for formal collaborations
  • Finding grad students
  • Getting interest from the private sector, policymakers, and nongovernmental organizations

For each, Shipman provides an explanation and/or example drawn from his firsthand knowledge or experience, and for some he links to survey data or other supporting information.

"Publicizing your work doesn’t have to be particularly time consuming," writes Shipman. "If you work for an institution that has public information officers..., let them know about forthcoming findings in a timely way (i.e., as soon as you get your acceptance notification). If you have friends or colleagues who have been successful in promoting their work, ask them how they did it."

Shipman concludes, "If you don’t want to engage in publicizing your work, that’s fine. But please don’t do anything to belittle those researchers who do." I encourage you to read his complete article.