Lights, camera, action! UI researchers learn how to communicate research

Lights, camera, action! UI researchers learn how to communicate research

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Project launched by Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research
Kajsa Dalrymple prepares for an interview.MIchael Gallagher, left, and Joshua Quinnett prepare Kajsa Dalrymple for a practice interview. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Researchers’ work doesn’t end in the lab, in the field, or even after their findings have been published. In the digital age, they must communicate what they’ve learned—to educate the public, open avenues for additional collaboration, and increase opportunities for funding.

With this in mind, an environmental research hub at the University of Iowa has enlisted faculty and graduate students to record videos that help them learn to explain what they do and to communicate the value of their research to society.

The initiative from the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) began last summer with recordings of 13 graduate students in chemical, engineering, and environmental fields. CGRER staff currently are working with faculty from the UI’s water sustainability initiative—one of five interdisciplinary groups created by the administration to tackle pressing issues affecting health and society—to produce short videos in which they explain their research in easy-to-understand terms.

The project has the backing of Greg Carmichael, CGRER's co-director. "It's important for the scientific community to better communicate their work to policy makers, key stakeholders, and the general public,” Carmichael says. “This will enhance everyone's understanding of science and its impact on society, and, ultimately, will lead to more progress."

To create the videos, CGRER staff interviewed the researchers and drafted short scripts. These scripts were then edited and finalized by the researchers. The result: A concise, elevator-pitch message that could be given to audiences ranging from potential donors to family and friends.

Rachel Marek, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering who expects to earn her doctorate in May, says communications is a vital conduit for people to learn about her research activities.

"It is really important to share scientific research with the general public,” says Marek, 28, from Ames. “This video project was an additional method of communication, and the process of writing the script and filming helped me improve my communication skills."

Faculty found the exercise just as valuable to honing their message.

“This is a really great opportunity to show what researchers at the University of Iowa are doing in a new, multimedia format," says Kajsa Dalrymple, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "I think especially in regards to the Water Sustainability Initiative, this is really great because we were all hired to reach out to the community. So any way that we can help explain our research to the general public is great for us.”

The graduate-student videos are available on the CGRER Research Focus channel. The water sustainability initiative videos will also be available on that channel by the end of the month.

The UI’s Obermann Center for Advanced Studies is looking into replicating the CGRER project for its own video series featuring its scholars.


Michael Gallagher, Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, 847-903-0216
Joe Bolkcom, Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, 319-353-2681


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