October 27, 2014

Health & Ed | April 8, 2013
Changing the world in three minutes
Bridging gaps in communication between academia and society
Written by | Visual by Robert Smith

McGill’s Office of Sustainability, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society recently held an event titled “Three Minutes to Change the World.” As the title suggests, this event was designed in a way that allowed graduate students to present their research in an accessible way – in three minutes or less. The ability to effectively translate knowledge from the academic community to the general public is an extremely important skill that is not nearly as widespread as it needs to be. According to a number of student presenters, this event helped them realize the need to be able to communicate research in everyday terms. Dianah Msipa, a master’s student in Law who participated in the conference, reflected that, “These types of events are so important because they cause you to think about how you would explain your research to someone else…Because [the research] is not really intended for me, it’s intended for someone else.”

Even within academia, researchers across different fields do not often have opportunities to effectively communicate their work to the public or to each other, and often have difficulty doing so. Alexandra Fletcher, a student in Family Medicine research realized that “…people in different fields think in a different way than me. And it was very interesting to experience.” Even basic vocabulary use is something that needs to be taken into careful consideration, because each department has its own jargon. Feng Qi, a Chemistry student, stated, “I’ve been in chemistry for more than six years, and I thought that the definition of solvent should be common sense. But I realized after practicing for this presentation that it wasn’t a word that was well known. If we want to communicate with the public, what kinds of words do you want to use?” By learning to talk to each other, academics are able to build connections between different fields. This furthers the benefits of interdisciplinary research, which is becoming more and more important in today’s research-driven world.

Ultimately, the goal of research should be to create positive change in society – whether that change is a cure for a disease or better implementation of diversity in workplace environments. One unique focus of this event was to highlight the social impact of diverse types of research. Martin Kreiswirth, the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, told The Daily, “One of the things that McGill adds to [these events] is the sustainability part…We think that all research, in some sense, big or small, can change the world.” Universities are responsible for creating individuals who will go on to become leaders in tomorrow’s society. Lilith Wyatt, fund administrator at the Office of Sustainability, reflected that “…the impact of any higher education institution on the world is through the people that it educates and the citizens that it cultivates.” From curiosity-driven to applied research, the hope for all studies is that they will add to our understanding of our world and contribute to a better society.

Academia is prone to encasing individuals into the bubble of their respective departments and small circles of interest. Though sharing knowledge is important, widespread communication of research is not something that often happens on campus. According to Kreiswirth, “The problem with any big institution, McGill being one of them, is that it’s hard to get awareness about anything. Nothing much goes viral in McGill that is not social or political. Academia going viral is not something that usually happens.” One of the best ways to better communicate research is to train our researchers to be more effective communicators. The hope is that, even outside events made for this purpose, researchers will be able to share their valuable knowledge with the rest of the world.

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