Translating research ‘for the masses’

Chemistry PhD Veronica Berns has pulled off what for many researchers might seem all but impossible – she’s translated her highly complex thesis project into a format that has non-chemistry buffs scrambling to read. It’s true! What format, you may be asking, could it be?

Image courtesy of Veronica Berns.

Image courtesy of Veronica Berns.

I’m guessing comic book might not be your first guess. But comic book it is.

Berns was featured in a post titled “How comics helped one woman translate her chemistry thesis for the masses” that ran yesterday in the Washington Post blog Speaking of Science.

Hers is a stroke of creativity we don’t often see in the realm of scholarly communications. She was quoted as saying she created the comic as a means to explain her work to her friends and family.

“I was just beginning to write my academic thesis and I became very frustrated with myself when trying to explain the work to non-scientist friends of mine,” Berns, now 28, said in an e-mail to The Post. “Yes, it is complicated material, but following the underlying concepts is actually quite manageable if you’re motivated to do it.” — Chemistry PhD Veronica Berns as quoted in the Washington Post blog, Speaking of Science.

While we won’t be suggesting comic books as the new format to bridge academia and mainstream, the article does highlight an issue that researchers are facing increasing pressure to address: The challenge of being able to explain and show the value of their work to non-academics (and beyond their friend and family circle!). Increasingly, funding bodies and governmental institutions are requiring it.

At Co-Action Publishing, we are encouraging our authors to incorporate a single paragraph prefacing their articles; we will call the paragraph/section “In Context”. Similar to Berns, one of our editors characterized the paragraph as a description aimed at explaining your work briefly to “your mom or dad or grandma” (assuming Mom or Dad or Grandma don’t share the author’s professional pedigree).

Challenging though it may be to articulate, we are reaching a point in time where it is becoming essential. But as our authors take a deep breath and tackle this layman’s paragraph, hopefully they can take a measure of inspiration from Berns.

Post by Co-Action Publishing Marketing & Communications Director Angela Walseng

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