Teacher and / or researcher and / or communicator
In our modern world, the general public is increasingly interested in topics such as nanotechnologies, stem cells, nuclear energy, climate change, GMOs, endocrine disruptors … And many others that require thoughtful and enlightened exchanges.
However, it is clear that the scientific community is still chilly to explain their approaches and results in an accessible way. When not directly solicited on these issues, they also have a duty of training and transmission. Yet how many of us have already observed a certain discomfort, or even a form of irritation, in some members of the academic community when they have to leave their throne for a moment and explain what they do to « normal people » ?
Now you tell me I may be going too far. Well, a little, but not that much. Many excellent scientists are poor communicators just because they have not been trained to play this role. Some of them also consider that they have nothing to gain by transmitting their results in a simpler form than complex articles, intended for their own communities (which is the basis of their job, though). In France, the EPSTs (CNRS, INSERM, INRA, etc.) create full-time research positions without no obligation for the academics to teach, which can undirectly reinforce the phenomenon.
Internet is evil … Or so they say
Against all odds, the web might be the answer to create bridges between academics and the general public. Internet, you know : this thing that intellectuals tend to stuck up at, this parallel world (as if the real world was not enough!) , this disruptive force that even the classical media have such a hard time mastering.
I won’t make you lose your time by spreading generalities on the speed of information, the variety of formats, the reliability of sources etc. However, in order to remain relevant, universities had to fit in: after investing in social networks these recent years, they are now looking among their cohorts of professors for « champions » who could be both experts and entertainers for MOOCs, blogs, Youtube channels and so on. No doubt, the work of an academic is being transformed. Whereas we used to come from outside (the public, the students, the press …) to see the academics, now they are the ones making the step towards the other, more and more. This is partly due to a growing number of pseudo-scientific magazines, almost forcing them to enter the debate. If they do not, they take the risk of either letting untruths go or being left outside alone.
The Revenge of the Sites
Hopefully, in this context of uncertainty a new hope arises. In France, this began around 2010. By investing in modernity through the social web, the earlybird schools had to find these famous « champion teachers », young and motivated. Of course, they aspired to be hyper-relevant to their community, but in a world made of images and representations, they also aspired to those famous Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. And why not: to work on their personal branding ! Hell’yeah !
It is therefore only natural to associate communicators with teachers and create attractiveness for the school. I’m not talking here about seducing potential students, but most of all the media and the press, always in search of experts to quickly analyze a situation. Thus, they also hope to attract other scientists who will be happy to have their work brought to the limelight, if they just accept the idea of simplifying access at first glance.
The academic world is changing, maybe at different speeds here and there, but we no longer hear in the corridors of « I do not understand how one can one get paid to spend their time on Youtube » and that is a good thing. On the other hand, we heard in recent years more and more of « I liked this short movie you’ve made with this fellow-teacher about black holes, but why didn’t you ask me though? « Or » Can you help me create a blog? « , And that’s also a good sign.
Within the conversation about new media initiated by public relation managers and students, today deans, presidents and researchers engage too. There is more and more talk about influence, exchange, transmission of knowledge. Transmission which, let’s recall, is the first commitment of an academic.