Educational neuroscience in the media
Written by Annie Brookman, a PhD student at the Centre for Educational Neuroscience
On Monday 25 April 2016, researchers interested in educational neuroscience were invited to an ‘Introduction to the Media’ event hosted by the Wellcome Trust and Education Media Centre. It was an opportunity to find out how to engage with the media from both the journalists themselves and researchers with prior experience.
An Assistant Headteacher spoke of the growing interest from the teaching profession about research into the science of learning and the difficulties involved in accessing reputable information. She suggested that many teachers would be influenced by what they read in the media, urging experts to ensure their voices were represented in such stories. She encouraged researchers to talk as much about what is not known as what is known, so that teachers might become more discerning of bold claims made by less reputable sources in the media.
The tension between researchers wanting to share scientific messages, as opposed to bold news-grabbing headlines that a journalist or newspaper might be more interested in was discussed. Reassuringly the journalists explained that they are keen to tell the full story as accurately as possible, including the caveats and nuances of the science.
Two senior researchers spoke of the support from their institutions, and they discussed how media engagement is increasingly acknowledged within academia. An early career researcher in the audience asked an interesting question about whether or not more junior researchers would have anything worth publicising through the media. It was suggested that researchers needn’t only share their own findings. A researcher wanting to be involved with the media could engage by debunking neuromyths for instance.
A PhD student in the audience enquired about how the journalists measured the impact of their stories. Although it was agreed that the impact of research in the media would be a difficult thing to measure, it is known that the public regularly engage with the media. Therefore as educational neuroscientists, psychologists or educational academics, a particular priority should be to share educationally-relevant findings with teachers and policy makers, and working with the media would be one way to progress towards this goal.
Many benefits of engaging with the media beyond the dissemination of knowledge were shared. For example, raising awareness via the media could help to recruit participants to a study. Academic citations might increase as researchers find out about relevant work through the media, and contact might be made between researchers, leading to future collaborations. Benefits outside of research can include being paid for contributing articles and developing transferable communication skills.
A big take away from the day was that there are independent organisations that can help researchers to engage with the media. The Education Media Centre and the Science Media Centre both work with researchers who want to provide scientific evidence to the media. Researchers should remember that they are experts with exciting insights that the public want to hear about. Rather than keeping specialist knowledge to themselves, researchers have a duty to explain important research to the public. Talking to journalists and engaging with the media can be scary, but as the researchers on the panel explained, it can also be great fun and hugely worthwhile. Most importantly, it could impact the teaching practices of educators, or affect the next change in education policy. Evidence-based education is what educational neuroscience is all about, so researchers should use the opportunity to share their expertise with as wide an audience as possible.
Tips for engaging with the media:
- contact your institution’s press office to talk about your options
- avoid jargon and technical language
- ask to record interviews with journalists to ensure words are reproduced authentically
- know what your aims are
- know what your key message is
- start a blog to get practice at communicating to a general audience
- be polite and persistent in your communications with journalists
- only say things over the phone or in an email that you would happily say in person
- attend media training
- choose a good time of the year for your story if possible
- ask a journalist to call you back in an hour if you need some time to think clearly about what your message is