By Boniswa Matiwane, Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management student
The Centre for Postgraduate Studies (CPGS) recently held a two day conference aimed at opening up the academic conversation between researchers at Rhodes University.
Conference committee member and Master’s student at the Institute for Water Research, Kopano Mokoena, set the tone by encouraging participants to engage with one another, as research is not one dimensional, but complex. She asked attendees to consider the question, “How does your research contribute to or challenge the conversation?” for the duration of the conference.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Dr Peter Clayton, opened the event by stressing the importance of sharing in research. “For academic work to continue to grow in excellence and diversity there needs to be dissemination,” he said. “A system of collaboration must exist as it gives birth to deeper research and more nuanced literature.”
Dr Clayton reflected on some of the trends and the changing landscape of academic research. “There are developments towards open access, for instance, which seeks to create a publishing platform for research to reach the broader public. This is working well to eradicate socio-economic boundaries.”
After Dr Clayton’s opening, a group of academics discussed their research endeavours. The panel included Professor Lynette Louw (Raymond Ackerman Chair of Management and the Deputy Dean, Faculty of Commerce), Dr Oghenekaro Nelson Odume (Senior Researcher/Director, Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality) and Professor Christopher McQuaid (Chair of Zoology and SARCHI Research Chair in Marine Biology).
The panelists provided personal and interactive responses to questions from attendees about their research experience. One of the challenges researchers commonly face is in making their research findings practical, as well as to ensure their research topics are not treated as mere hypotheses, but as real issues that affect real people. The speakers found that much of their work has been focused on creating research that opens itself to the people it studies, about as opposed to excluding them from the conversation.
“There is a need for popular science writers raising awareness of ecological issues across the world. National Geographic stands as a progressive example of this… in its move from providing specialised scientific writing to becoming a popular science interface. This ensures scientific concepts are more easily consumed by the general public,” said Prof McQuaid.
On the issue of making research more relatable, Prof Louw recommended that research findings be turned into practicals and developed into training material. “Use websites and social media as a vehicle to mobilise academic writing. Report back to community in informal ways or by having conversations on the radio. Work collaboratively with experts that know how to write for your intended audience,” she said.
Conferences such as this one, as Dr Odume highlighted, establish a platform for ‘organic conversation’, where researchers are able to engage, exchange and expand. “It allows for the development of multiplex studies that transcend borders, boundaries and disciplines,” he said.
At the core of the two-day conference is the call for academics to have free-flowing conversations with one another and allow this to cement a culture of sharing. “Knowledge is not constructed, it evolves organically,” concluded Prof McQuaid.