There are a lot of reasons why social scientists and humanities scholars may choose not to publicly engage. Time constraints, lack of institutional support, internet trolls and vitriol, the list could go on. Public engagement can be fraught with hurdles. However, there are personal and professional benefits of public engagement for you as the scholar while also expanding the societal impact of your work.
The benefits of public engagement can be beacons of motivation for social scientists and humanities scholars. By actively engaging with the public, scholars can reach beyond the confines of their academic domains. Doing so can provide a multitude of personal and professional advantages that extend beyond the conventional boundaries of research. And there are many ways social scientists and humanities scholars can engage with the public.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of public engagement, supported by data and research, and demonstrate why public engagement is a vital aspect of a successful academic career.
Benefits of Public Engagement
Increased Visibility and Impact
Public engagement provides scholars the opportunity to reach outside the boundaries of academia and connect with a broader audience, one that can be directly impacted by their research. Studies show that researchers who actively engage with the public have a higher citation count and increased visibility for their work (another source). We wrote a bit about how Twitter can also help increase your research visibility and citation count. By making research accessible to a wider audience, scholars contribute to societal discussions and positively impact public opinion.
Deeper Informed Research and Broader Perspectives
Researchers can gain a deeper understanding and broader perspective of their research by engaging in two-way dialogue with a public audience who are impacted by the research. This does not mean your research participants! Think about all the people that can benefit from you research, those directly or indirectly impacted. This is your audience, and you can learn so much from them.
Audiences bring unique, and often lived, experiences and perspectives that can inform researchers’ thinking and theory development (Source Source). Conversations with your audience who are directly impacted someway can shed light on new angles, dilemmas, and questions for inquiry (Source).
Conversations and relationships formed through engagement can give researchers access to insider knowledge about upcoming policy decisions, institutional constraints and opportunities, etc.
Additional Funding Opportunities
Public engagement can open doors to grant and other funding sources. For example, public engagement practices can fulfill requirements such as Broader Impacts for grants and the service mission of land-grant institutions (Source). Collaborations with non-profit organizations, government agencies, or industry partners may lead to funding opportunities that align with the societal impact of research.
Communication skills associated with public engagement can help a researcher write a more impactful grant application, thus increasing their chances for funding.
Skill Development and Networking
Engaging with the public helps develop a diverse set of skills crucial for both personal and professional development. It requires effective communication of complex ideas to a lay audience. Communication, outreach, and collaboration skills are refined through interactions with non-expert audiences (Source).
Public engagement can also improve ones empathy and strengthen listening skills (Source*). Through public engagement, one can also learn to connect with their audience through shared values and appreciate the value of conveying warmth (Source*).
A longitudinal study found that scholars who participated in public engagement activities reported significant improvements in their ability to communicate their research effectively.
Additionally, public engagement fosters valuable networking opportunities, connecting scholars with professionals from various fields (Source).
*This is an affiliate link. I loved this book and believe it is a crucial read for any scholar interested in engaging with a public audience. I may get a small commission if you purchase this book through this link.
The benefits of public engagement for social scientists and humanities scholars are vast and substantiated by research. From increased visibility and impact to more funding opportunities, the benefits of public engagement are vast. Embracing public engagement not only propels research into the public domain, it also helps scholars develop professionally and personally. And here is a guide on how you can publish your research for the public. As the academic landscape continues to evolve, integrating public engagement into scholarly endeavors becomes not just advantageous but imperative for a meaningful and impactful academic career.
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