When it comes to placing value on something newly discovered or innovated in the scientific fields, a key yet somewhat lost-in-the-shuffle point is the ability to communicate to a wide audience why this discovery or innovation is rated as highly valuable. Most scientific discoveries, novel techniques, and significant leaps forward in knowledge and implementation are “communicated” via academic publications in journals that have significant value to academics and subspecialists but have limited general public exposure, and in specialty conferences and society meetings where only paying members and interested individuals are able to participate in.
Even when some of those journals are more widely distributed and recognized (Nature, Science, New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, etc.), the actual articles in those journals are written in extremely precise, yet somewhat too technical of a format, to capture the attention and translate the knowledge to the wide swath of the population that might encounter it. And Even when the conferences and meetings are more accessible and have reduced barriers to entry and participation, the actual presentations (the talks, the posters, the workshops) are all geared to communicate directly to peers in the field, not to an interested yet general-knowledge audience.
This is not to say the work itself and researchers doing it are not producing important knowledge. New discoveries and innovations are the keys to maintaining or improving the planet and all its inhabitants’ health. Knowledge is the key to propelling societies forward. The issue is that for so long, the methods of communication of this type of information has been restricted, both by the avenues that contain this information (journals and conferences that are inaccessible to the public) and the written/spoken formats used to transmit this information (articles and talks delivered in overly technical ways).
The missing ingredient in a recipe that would serve a much greater audience with something more palatable and engaging is called Knowledge Transfer & Translation (KTT). There are many definitions and formats that shape what the KTT factor is, depending on the organization that places importance on it. In a generalized way, I’ll define KTT as: a plan to disseminate newly acquired information to the broadest set of interested parties, accompanied with a framework of how to advance this new knowledge into actions that benefit (sometimes “profit”, in business sectors) the knowledge seekers and broad general public.
Knowledge Transfer and Translation has not always been a focus in academic research circles. Most scientists think of KTT as someone else’s job. I did! In the years it took for me to gain enough education and real research experience (a journey that spans more than a decade, from BSc to MSc to PhD to research fellowship), the vast majority of my time learning has been with the singular aim of discovery & innovation. Once the discovery is made, the only requirement my academic world asks of me is to report this discovery, in the form of a research article that only my peers in knowledge can truly appreciate in full, and maybe talk about this discovery in a 10-min presentation at a conference where many of my peers and interested members of the field I occupy congregate on an annual basis.
However, this traditional and old-fashioned view of the role of an academic has begun to change in the past few years. Discovery and innovation are still the driving forces of academic research, but increasingly, the values placed on those discoveries and innovations are complemented by how much Knowledge Transfer and Translation is placed behind these discoveries and innovations to propel them beyond the circles of subspeciality academic fields. Novel avenues of sharing knowledge have entered the hallways and labs of academia: Online platforms. The digital world with its massive reach and accelerated speed of information sharing is an essential and increasingly irreplaceable tool to implement the KTT directives needed to advance our societies. Science communication (#SciComm) has taken on a new meaning and many new forms that were simply unavailable a few years ago. Social Media has complemented and amplified the use of Traditional Media in broadcasting research and academic data that normally had few ways to reach the proverbial “center stage”.
I’ll tackle this ever-growing list of new and exciting ways of science communication on Part 2 of this series of blogposts, coming May 2021. Until then, you can always reach me for feedback or just to say hi (Twitter: @MoAlKhalafPhD), I am an “Extremely Online Scientist”!
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Mo is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, researching the connections between DNA damage, inflammation, and Heart Failure. Additionally, he serves in various committees to advocate for early career professionals and highlight research within the cardiovascular community. Early Career Social Media Liaison and Member of AHA Council for Basic Cardiovascular Sciences. Twitter @MoalkhalafPhD