Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Professors speak on public engagement through research

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(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

By Bonnie Chen, Collegian Staff

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Four professors spoke on their involvement in furthering public engagement as well as their contributions to the book “Making Research Matter: A Psychologist’s Guide to Public Engagement” on Feb. 2 in the Hadley Room of the Campus Center at the University of Massachusetts.

The book was edited by Linda R. Tropp, a professor in the psychological and brain sciences department at the University of Massachusetts.

The paneled event was sponsored by UMass’ Public Engagement Project and organized by Sarah Miller from the sociology department. Three of the panelists were UMass professors, including Tropp, Ezra Markowitz, assistant professor in the environmental conservation department and Amy Schalet, associate professor in the sociology department. The fourth was Meg Bond, a professor of psychology at UMass Lowell.

Moderator M.V. Lee Badgett, a professor in the economics department, briefly described the Public Engagement Project before introducing the professors.

“We are here to think a little bit about how we can take the work that we do here on campus and do something just a little bit more with it,” Badgett said. “More than publishing it in academic journals but actually getting it out into the world and using our knowledge and our work to help create social change, to speak to public debates, to speak to issues, important issues of the day.”

Before speaking about the book, Tropp thanked the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues for their involvement in the book and shared how half of all the royalties gained from the book will go to the society in order to further their work in public engagement and social issues.

Tropp said the reason she decided to work on the book was that, “This is the type of book that I wish I had had when I was coming up through the ranks in grad school, in my early years.”

She also spoke on how her publisher originally wanted the book to have one sole author. Tropp insisted it be an edited one in which a variety of engaged scholars could participate in the initiative in order to broaden the scope of public engagement and making their research relevant to matters of social issues.

Bond spoke on the chapter she contributed to in the book based on her work with community-based organizations. She stressed the significance of community-based organizations as a resource to accessing certain communities that can play a role in helping researchers better understand specific groups that may contribute to a greater social issue.

Bond also discussed a project she took part in, called “The Healthy Diversity Project.” The project’s central research question is “How do we understand the dynamics of diversity in the work place? How work places manage dynamics around race, ethnicity and gender.”

She worked with a community-based organization that lacked racial diversity and took from her experience a relationship that can evolve between the public and the researcher. According to her, the public can learn as much as the researcher can from the experience in order to face societal issues, like racial diversity, in the workplace. Bond views the process as a collaborative relationship in which both parties work toward a certain goal.

Schalet spoke on how to engage with journalists and her findings through her interactions with them.

“There’s a general rule that as we move, as academics, from our world into the other world, it’s just as important to not just understand what we’re trying to communicate, but what are the needs of the people we are trying to interact with? What is the culture that they operate in? What do they need in order to be able to use our knowledge?” Schalet said.

During the panel, Schalet quoted Barbara Ehrenreich, an American author and political activist, saying, “There is a single crucial difference between sociology and journalism, it’s the two professions’ relation to time.” Through the quote, Schalet emphasized how the timing between journalists and researchers are often misaligned and how sometimes when journalists need information, researchers just don’t have it yet.

Schalet laid out a specific guideline for talking to journalists, which consists of utilizing the opportunity to access a certain audience and recognizing timing as a factor when relaying information. She also stressed the need to be clear, concise and straight to the point, saying, “Don’t lead with context like we do in academia.”

Markowitz spoke last on UMass’ strides toward public engagement and the challenges that staff and the administration face in their efforts.

“We have some miss matches sometimes in terms of our priorities and incentive structure between doing this kind of public engagement work and being good scholars, being good employees of a UMass system,” he said.

Markowitz commended UMass on its efforts at outreach, especially the work of Civic Engagement and Service-Learning, and how it’s been embedded into UMass’ identity and institution on numerous levels. However, he also acknowledged that there is still work to be done when it comes to the service aspect of public engagement.

Genevieve Chandler, a professor in UMass’s School of Nursing, works on resilience training with UMass athletes and has written editorials on them, but she would like the public to know more about it.

“I really believe in the idea of bringing your research to the public, and I think it’s so important that people know what we’re doing,” she said.

Bonnie Chen can be reached at [email protected]

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