THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

July 14, 2011

Some see blogging as a pastime for "spotty, girlfriendless young men banging away at their keyboards", but could it be used as a demonstration of research impact?

Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, believes it could. Writing on his Reciprocal Space blog (http://bit.ly/kyufI0), part of the Occam's Typewriter blogging community of scientists, he highlights the increasing pressure on academics to convince funders of the "impact" of their research.

Professor Curry recently gave a speech at the London School of Economics during a conference called Investigating Academic Impact. An audio recording of his speech, "Innovative Methods for Impact and Engagement", is provided on his blog. It centred on a particular aspect of a grant application, a section called "Outline of public engagement plans".

Professor Curry said: "I had a slight guilty conscience that I wasn't fulfilling my duty to the taxpayer by engaging more actively with the public about the science I did using their money.

"In about 2007-08, I gradually became aware of the scientific blogosphere, and it did strike me that starting a scientific blog might be a good way of fulfilling this duty."

On the personal benefits of blogging, Professor Curry said that being included in collections of the best science blogging had given him more faith in his writing abilities after a period of academic seclusion. "If you are going to get into blogging, it helps if you can write," he said. "I didn't think I could write...(In my) 20 years as an academic I've written lots of papers, but we all know the dry style that academic papers are written in."

He rejected the notion that bloggers are "spotty, girlfriendless young men banging away at their keyboards".

For him, blogging has inspired involvement in public debates and campaigns, notably Science is Vital, which fought against proposed government funding cuts.

Thanks in part to such campaigns, the sciences were given a "relatively beneficial settlement" in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review. "What was great about this was the way in which we could use blogging, Twitter and Facebook to mobilise a truly grass-roots reaction to what was then a very serious situation," Professor Curry said.

There are "many ways scientists can get involved with wider society", he argued, pointing to the scope for "writing about your research" or talking "to school students around the country". Professor Curry highlighted the website I'm a Scientist! Get Me Out of Here (http://bit.ly/ivQcfY) as an example. The site offers an opportunity for scientists and students to communicate, which he says supports public engagement at the school level.

Professor Curry added that the freshness of speaking to young children about what they wanted from science has helped him to "think more deeply about the particular science I do and whether that is, scientifically, going to (help address) the problems our society faces".

Returning to the next section on his grant application, "Pathways to impact", Professor Curry had little trouble filling it with details of his blogging. He hopes the peer-review panel agrees with him.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to john.elmes@tsleducation.com.

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