Academic Communicators Network helps UChicago faculty connect scholarly work with target audiences

October 30, 2019

In today’s news environment, how research and thought leadership are recognized is continuously evolving. As the demand for academic voices increases, experts who share their scholarly work with public audiences are shaping public perception, and gaining recognition for their ideas.

The Academic Communicators Network (ACN), offered through the Faculty Development Program in partnership with the Office of the Provost and the Office of Communications, hosts communications-focused workshops throughout the academic year. Designed specifically for UChicago academics, the ACN prepares faculty to communicate effectively with external audiences, and connects faculty with reporters and editors who are looking for experts on newsworthy topics. 

“The Academic Communicators Network helps University faculty members develop effective ways of sharing information about their research and scholarship with external audiences and promote their work among important audiences, such as media, potential donors, and partners,” says Paul M. Rand, Vice President for Communications. “With increasing news content and a corresponding need for subject experts, the role of the ACN is more important than ever in today’s news environment.”

Best practices for communicating about your research and scholarship

The ACN offers hour-long sessions on a wide range of topics. Previous sessions have included op-ed writing with New York Times and Washington Post editors, media training with award-winning Chicago TV anchor Mary Ann Childers, an introduction to podcasting with a former NPR podcast producer, how to perfect messages for prospective donors with University development leaders, and more. Surveys of faculty who have attended ACN sessions show that more than 90% of attendees would recommend the program to their colleagues.

ACN sessions often lead to tangible and positive results for faculty participants, whether it’s providing essential communications tips or introducing them to key op-ed editors. For example, some of the op-eds that have resulted in part from ACN sessions include pieces in the New York Times by Micere Keels, Associate Professor in Comparative Human Development, and in the Washington Post by Damon Jones, Associate Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy.

Robert Carrillo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, attended ACN media training and op-ed writing sessions. “These sessions were immensely beneficial to understanding how to disseminate one’s work to a general audience and influence public opinion and policy,” Carrillo said. “Most scientists lack training pertaining to communicating our research to non-scientists. These workshops provided a basis for not only how to identify opportunities to publicize our research via various media outlets, but also how to prepare for interviews.”

Emily Lynn Osborn, Associate Professor in the Department of History and the College, appreciates that the ACN brings in communications experts that may not otherwise be available resources for faculty. “During the op-ed session, it was illuminating to learn the process that editors use to decide on editorials, and they offered lots of good advice,” Osborn said. “Workshops like these also help UChicago academics foster a wider network of connections and broadcast the important research that is being carried out here on campus and beyond.”

Elevating your work to targeted media outlets for increased visibility

ACN members are also part of a select media resources group comprised of scholars who are widely known as experts in their fields. Journalists regularly seek out academics to address topics of interest in the news, and the ACN helps facilitate those connections. The media resources webpage for reporters now features more than 300 expert profiles, highlighting faculty and their work. ACN experts are promoted regularly via the University’s “Monday Outlook” email roundup of trending news topics that is distributed to 300+ national editors and reporters.

How to participate in the ACN

UChicago faculty interested ACN can attend the following upcoming sessions:

  • Perfecting Your Message for Prospective Donors on November 7, led by Katie Bailey, Senior Associate Director, Foundation and Corporate Relations, and Scott Ummel, Senior Associate Director, Outreach and Volunteer Engagement, UChicago Medicine and Biological Sciences. Register for the 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. session.
  • Op-Ed Writing: Making Your Opinion Visible on November 12 will feature Brooke Masters, Opinion and Analysis Editor of the Financial Times. Register for the 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. session.
  • Media Training for Academics on December 5 will be led by Andrew Gilman, President and CEO of CommCore Consulting Group. Register for the 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. session.

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