Thursday 12 September 2013

Stealing the spotlight from hot chocolate research and the royal baby

Posted by Katie Haighton

It seems there’s always a bit of interesting research in the news; so why isn’t it mine? I thought the media might pick up on my extremely important and immensely interesting research by osmosis with all those keen journalists reading my really enthralling academic papers published in scholastic journals; but for some reason it’s just never really happened. Why not, I wonder, when the media run stories about drinking hot chocolate to prevent Alzheimer’s disease? Well, that’s because I’ve never actively gone about publicising my own work, so when my latest academic paper was accepted for publication I contacted our press office and asked if they would do a press release; and they said yes!

Photo of me looking very serious on TV
Ok, so it wasn’t quite that simple. We had to come up with a key message that would attract the attention of the press while making sure we mentioned everyone involved and gave everyone an opportunity to provide a quote (mainly so they could get their name in the newspaper!). We needed to time the press release so that it coincided with the publication of our academic paper but also so that it didn’t arrive at the same time as the far more interesting and important royal baby! And then I was told that I needed to be available too! Now this is where I would usually, and quite willingly, hand the fame to someone else. It’s one thing writing about your research but quite another answering a barrage of questions, live, in front of hundreds, possibly thousands, of other people. However I’ve come to understand how important it is for us academics to leave our ivory towers and make our research accessible to others, so this time I bit the bullet and made myself available for interviews.

In the end the royal baby arrived in plenty of time for the press to give the birth full coverage before our paper was finally published and our press release went out. That first day I spoke to the press office regularly as we worried about whether there was going to be a delay in publication of our paper and if we’d included everyone we should and I was beginning to think I’d not have very much to do until the interviews came flooding in. My first interview was for a local radio station and was a recorded piece which would go out the following day – I think your first interview is never your best but it got me warmed up for three more which came in that afternoon and time to prepare for live interviews for the following morning.
It was a bit of a shock to me that I’d have to be up and ready for my first interview before 7am but in the end it wasn’t difficult as I couldn’t sleep anyway! As I brewed my tea that morning (maybe I should have had hot chocolate instead!) I Googled my research and was pleased to see there was already a healthy coverage in the media.  Then the first radio station rang to say my story had been moved to the headline and so could I go live early? The next 48 hours were a whirlwind of TV and radio interviews as my research made national newspaper headlines and even went international. Yes, apparently I actually do carry out really important and immensely interesting research! In the end I spoke about my work to many journalists over a number of hours and on most occasions they only used a 15 second sound bite to illustrate their own take on my work however I’m happy that my research has been recognized by others and that my academic paper has been read by many. Most importantly of all, however, is that my Mum can finally say that she’s seen me on the telly!

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