From The Globe and Mail to The Times and Psychology Today – Trent’s Dr. Karen Blair continues to find ways to make her research, and that of her students, accessible to non-academic audiences.
“As university professors and researchers, we are publicly funded to conduct research, yet the final outcome of that research is all too often an academic publication in a peer-reviewed journal,” says Dr. Blair, professor of Psychology and director of the Social Relations, Attitudes and Diversity Lab at Trent. “These articles can be difficult for a lay audience to understand or even access. It’s important to find other ways of communicating research findings to the general public that are more accessible.”
Professor Blair provides her students with many opportunities to publish their research in mainstream media, and students start writing blog posts as assignments in their second year to learn how to communicate complex information to a diverse audience. She believes that these assignments encourage students to think about the broader impact of their research and making sense of the aspects that might be of significance to non-specialist audiences.
Bre O’Handley, a M.Sc. Psychology student in Prof. Blair’s lab, agrees. Bre’s work focuses on 2SLGBTQ+ communities, a group historically excluded from research and knowledge mobilization.
“If we want our research to inform decisions and support our community, we need our research to be accessible to the community,” says Bre, whose work with Prof. Blair on the experiences 2SLGBTQ+ youth during the pandemic was recently featured in The Globe and Mail.
“Undergraduate and graduate students spend so much time learning how to communicate their research to academic audiences, but by neglecting communication skills to non-academic audiences our research can get lost in translation,” she explains.
Sharing student research
Prof. Blair believes that giving students the opportunity to write about their academic research in a way that is accessible to the general public, yet still maintaining research accuracy provides them with a range of transferable skills for their future careers.
“Being able to communicate complicated information in a clear and accessible format without sacrificing too much of the nuance is a skill that is needed in nearly every area of employment,” she explains. “For example, an accountant working in financial reporting may need to write reports of complicated financial information for investors and finding someone who has the talent to do this with finesse is something that businesses value greatly.”
Both Abigail McBride and Kavya Chandra recently co-authored blog posts on Prof. Blair’s Inclusive Insight blog on Psychology Today.
“Publishing my own article has given me the opportunity to contribute information that I’m passionate about to the field, and I’d like to think that it might engage a younger audience and spark a passion in them as well,” says Abigail, a fourth-year Psychology student.
“Working in the KLB Research lab has, and continues to, prepare me for my future as an academic,” says Kavya, a third-year Psychology and Forensics student. “You get to engage in not just an insider view on translating your work in an accessible fashion but also how to identify the needs of key demographics. The lab encourages critical thinking and you can see your ideas come to life, surrounded by individuals who want to help you get the best resources and knowledge.”