Dear CHI Researchers: What You Share Is How We Grow.

Julia Wang
Oct 10, 2018 · 3 min read

Why is it important for researchers to share their work with the general public? Because the purpose of research ultimately ripples down to those immediately affected by it.

In our newly launched study from the University of Washington, Dr. Gary Hsieh, Dr. Katharina Reinecke and I seek to understand what it is about communication that is daunting for fellow Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) researchers to embark on.

What is stopping researchers from sharing their research with the world? Is blogging a good place to start? I’m testing this for myself, and I can already say that it’s definitely not easy.

The most prevalent challenges and barriers keeping researchers from consistently working for communication are expected. Time (rather, the lack thereof), unrewarded effort or lack of incentive, and the flat-out difficulty of simplifying complex concepts into “normal English”. But each group of respondents is slightly different.

General self-evaluation across disciplines concerning communication efforts

Of the 142 responses we have collected thus far, one of the most interesting (yet least trustworthy) questions is “In terms of public communication, do you think you do 1) Too Much, 2) Too Little, or 3) “Just The Right Amount.” As the purpose of the survey was to figure out why we aren’t doing enough as a community, it was interesting to discover that the “Too Much” response group was entirely made up of full professors. Our population of full professors is extremely small, but still worthwhile to note.

A predicted trend disproved through our data was that social media would be more prevalent in younger researchers. Instead, we found that 76.7% of associate professors discussed their work on public social media — while only 57.1% of PhD students did.

It is understandable that the time PhD students are saving from public interaction is going into their studies or internal communication. “Public” social media might be confounding — Does sharing work with family and friends count in this category? Or must they post for the purpose of being noticed? For the goals of this study, any post is valuable. Interestingly, 92.9% of the PhD students admitted to doing Too Little.

Closely related but noticeably different, associate professors give back to their communities. They are actively involved in all ages of classrooms and host workshops tying various disciplines together. Regarding audience diversity and outreach, this is the strongest group in evenly spreading information as much through professional events as casual ones. 66% of those surveyed spoke monthly at general audience events, and 76.7% posted on social media.

Industry researchers, significantly isolated in their audiences and permitted events, are limited to internal sharing within their respective companies. They seek improvements in outreach and recognize that they are doing Too Little (88.5%). Yet these are the same researchers who are the clearest and most succinct about condensing their work into less rigorous explanations.

Researchers have many responsibilities. In the context of these responsibilities, what level of priority should be given to public communication about their research?

Postdoctoral researchers are the largest population of avid social media users (40% at 10+ time/month, and 80% at least monthly) and the least involved in face-showing situations. They are strong at online interaction and enjoy “short and sweet” work updates. How do we get them onto the stage and into the hands of the public in tangible form? And how do we learn from them in terms of online interaction?

In conclusion, CHI researchers are limited in their self-perceptions of the time commitment and lack of interest in their work, all in different ways. But some are doing well — small group interactions, forums, and discussion bases. What if there were a platform where they could share their posts, interact with one another, and learn how to make communications more efficient?

70.6% of surveyed researchers believe they do “Too Little” to publicize their work, and 85.2% see moderate value and above in proliferating said publication. Let’s see it happen.

Join us in our study here to take the first step forward in this journey.

Julia Wang

Written by

HCDE/CSE Research Intern at the University of Washington.

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