“I help scholars make their work more open, accessible and shareable,” said Collister, who frequently meets researchers who want to write for the public or help their scholarly ideas reach more people while still maintaining the rigor of their work.
“Sometimes that involves making research more accessible to different audiences,” she said. “For example, by publishing it in an outlet like The Conversation, where a broader audience may encounter the scholarship and science that is being done here at Pitt.”
Unlocking academic research
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Independent and not-for-profit, The Conversation is a global network of newsrooms launched in 2011 to provide “academic rigor and journalistic flair.”
“We are mission driven,” said Eric Zack, director of university relations at The Conversation, in a recent presentation to Pitt faculty members. “We want to unlock the research and expertise in academia to inform and educate the general public.”
“It’s really critical to our mission in communications to help faculty make an impact on the dialogue beyond the academy,” said David Seldin, assistant vice chancellor for communications in the Office of University Communications and Marketing. “One of the things we think can have the most impact is this partnership with The Conversation to tell stories in a meaningful way to a broader audience and extend their reach through the distribution it gets.”
‘It was all very easy.’
Collister learned of The Conversation after completing her PhD in linguistics. Her advisor received a request that The Conversation was seeking experts on a variety of topics—including emojis, which Collister researched for her dissertation.
The Conversation’s editorial process was straightforward, Collister said. She contacted Nick Lehr, an editor at the organization, to discuss ideas and settle on an angle, and then Lehr helped her refine her writing for a lay audience. “His advice and guidance were incredibly helpful and I learned a lot about how to tailor my writing for this kind of audience,” Collister said.
Lehr created an account for Collister in The Conversation’s online writing portal, and she uploaded her first draft. “It was all very easy,” she said. Read Collister’s article on emojis at The Conversation.
The Conversation’s editors are all former journalists or reporters in their respective subject fields, which range from arts, culture and politics to health, medicine and science. “These people will understand what you’re talking about, and they’ll help you make it readable and simplify it for the general public,” said Zack. He also emphasized author approval: “The best thing about it is that after the editorial process, the last person to approve the article before it’s published is you, the author.”
Work on The Conversation is published under a Creative Commons license; it is free to not only read but also republish. Media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and many others use content that first published on The Conversation.
The Conversation has strict republication guidelines to ensure original researchers’ work is not altered without permission or used without attribution. Additionally, through The Conversation’s portal, researchers can track traffic, republications and various other metrics.
Collister’s articles have appeared in Quartz, The New Republic and Time and have led to several interviews with NPR. But she also found unique collaboration opportunities, like live-tweeting the American Dialect Society’s “Word of the Year” nomination and voting sessions.
The Conversation does not pay researchers for their articles, and there is no compensation for reuse in other publications, but Collister enthusiastically recommends the experience: “Because it was an extension of my scholarship, I was happy to share it open access with the world.”