Tips on Being an Exposed Academic Scholar
June 20, 2012 10:36 PM   Subscribe

How does media exposure fit into an academic career? Should I be writing articles for general publications and/or doing interviews? Or am I wasting time I could be using to write journal papers?

Hi All.

I'm an academic that's recently gotten some media attention and written a few opeds. While I love the media exposure, I'm starting to think about how I might fit this in to my existing work as an academic.

Currently in Australia the focus is definitely on getting Category 1 grants and publishing journal articles, so I'm just not sure how important it is to be doing this kind of press. This sort of leads on from my previous question here, because now that I've thought about it I want to make sure that it actually makes sense to be doing this.

Does anyone have any resources that talk about how media, journals and grant writing fit into an academic career? My supervisor was definitely "publish or perish", but less helpful in training me about the other two points. Personal anecdotes would also be great, of course... :)

Thanks all.
posted by ranglin to Education (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Come over here and ask, you will get thoughtful responses.

Where are you in your career? Do you have tenure or secure reappointment? If so I think you should embrace the op-eds and other opportunities to get your name out there as a public intellectual. On the other hand if you are pre-tenure or have to do traditional academic things for reappointment, and especially if you are not clearly exceeding the expectations, be careful. I could easily see jealous colleagues saying "Well, I see the Doctor Editorial did not get his book out--let's deny him tenure."

Good luck.
posted by LarryC at 10:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

We don't really have tenure in Australia, but I am on a continuing full-time contract at the Senior Lecturer level, if that helps.
posted by ranglin at 10:55 PM on June 20, 2012

Well, if the institutional support for The Conversation is anything to go by, universities are definitely interested in academics who can write for a general audience. Journal articles are obviously important, but getting your institution's name out in the public debate is valuable to them, too. I think it's great, I think we need more of it, and I hope you'll keep doing it even if there is no immediate career benefit.
posted by robcorr at 11:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a friend in Australia who is an academic and who was hired because he could also provide regular commentary to Sky, 730 and others. His department specifically wanted to increase its media profile (political science). If the department does not require this of you, focus on ERA first.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:08 AM on June 21, 2012

It's also worthwhile bearing in mind what's happening with ERA's equivalent in the UK, the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The next round of REF will include for the first time a measurement called "impact," which will assess the degree to which each academic's research has percolated into the public domain. This was unexpected, and has led (apparently) to a flood of academics suddenly rocking up to libraries and museums looking to engage in partnerships and exhibitions.

If Australia follows developments in the UK with regards to "measuring" research output (and this has been the pattern in the past), you could well find yourself in the same position. Establishing personal links and lines of communication with particular editors and journalists now, so that you're the person they go to for quotes, articles, or comments in your area in the future, might be a useful thing to do.

You might also want to have a look at how UQ economist John Quiggin handles his academic outreach.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:22 AM on June 21, 2012

It depends quite a lot on your institution. In Go8 Universities academic promotion is usually based on grants and peer reviewed publications, and media work doesn't count for either of those (at the ANU, where I was employed most recently, it's extremely explicit – if you're in discipline x then you must have at least y peer-reviewed publications and/or z ARC/NHMRC grants to be eligible to apply for promotion).

They tend to also give some value to "service to the academic community", which tends to mean sitting on committees, but you might be able to argue that promoting your work to the general community counts as service. Non Go8 universities don't tend to be quite so narrowly focused on the publications/grants combination for promotion in my (somewhat limited) experience.

The short answer is that if you're at a Go8 university media work doesn't actually count for anything useful. It's not explicitly frowned upon, and might get you invited to external events that you wouldn't otherwise be invited to. It also tends to have more impact on policy than peer-reviewed research (because policy makers don't tend to read the journals, but they do read the Australian). But if you're doing it at the expense of peer reviewed publications and grants then you're undermining your career.

Having been an academic who did stuff that was occasionally of interest to the media, the media stuff was often more fun than the academic stuff. But now that I'm not involved in either, I miss some aspects of academic life a lot more than doing media interviews.
posted by damonism at 5:48 PM on June 22, 2012

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