The question is actually not whether you can afford to spend time on public science communication. It's whether you can afford not to!
This was the message of Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU) in handing over the inaugural Media Excellence Awards, giving recognition to 30 of SU's top media commentators and newsmakers for 2018
The awards were made earlier this week (Monday 13 October) and formed part of the launch of a special edition of SU's annual research report, Research@ Stellenbosch University, held at the Wallenberg Research Centre at STIAS.
The awards, an initiative of the Corporate Communication Division, were bestowed in three categories, namely newsmakers, thought leaders, and for co-workers – those contributing towards getting other colleagues in the media.
“Having a positive media profile is crucial in vision attainment at the institutional level, but research leadership and science communication go hand-in-hand. Investing time and effort in effective communication helps you to become a better scientist," De Villiers said.
Pointing to studies on science communication, De Villiers said sharing research with the public also holds benefits for SU and its academics. “Visibility in the media helps academics build their own research profile. We now have research evidence that a high media profile – mass media and social media – can boost your academic networks and citation rates, and that it provides a pathway to policy influence.
He also highlighted the importance of communicating the institution's research to the public in an accessible way saying that it will inform, educate and inspire the public. “May these awards inspire more and more colleagues to communicate their work through the media."
He added that the University is among the top three universities most of the time in terms of total volume of media mentions and for the past two months number one in the country in terms of research reporting.
Commenting on the inaugural awards, Mr Martin Viljoen, Manager: Media, said that the awards symbolised a start to giving recognition to not only those who regularly feature in the media, “but also to those who are always available to the media – even at the weirdest times of the day!"
He stated that the process and criteria must now be refined going forward. “For the inaugural awards we relied heavily on volume – the number of times our colleagues 'featured' in the media – according to data provided by the University's media monitoring service provider. This was also measured against our own list of colleagues who are always ready to provide comment and to be interviewed.
“In refining the process, one will need to, for example, compare the 'importance' of say writing an opinion editorial with being interviewed on a news programme on radio or TV to get to a score to be eligible for an award. Add to that comparing being featured seven times in a provincial newspaper versus being interviewed for a national newspaper and it is quite a challenge. Another consideration is increasing the number of categories, distinguishing between commentators and thought leaders, for example. There should also be a way in which we can honour those who are always available to the media."
The Newsmaker category honoured entities at the University that ensured a great deal of media coverage. The recipients were the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences' TB Research (award received by Professors Anneke Hesseling and Gerhard Walzl), the Stellenbosch University Choir (Mr André van der Merwe), the SU Law Clinic (Dr Theo Broodryk), AgriSciences' Landscape Art Project (Prof Danie Brink) and Maties Sport. The sward to Maties Sport Award were presented to Ilhaam Groenewald at the 2018 Maties Sport Awards function on 15 October.
The Media Thought Leaders 2018 Awards gave recognition to those colleagues who either commented, who took part in interviews, who wrote opinion editorials and in some way shaped thinking in our country via their contributions in the media.
The recipients are: Prof Thinus Booysen (Faculty of Engineering), Prof Nuraan Davids (Faculty of Education), Prof Faadiel Essop (Faculty of Science), Prof Abel Esterhuyse (Faculty of Military Science), Prof Johan Fourie (Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences), Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (Research Chair, Studies in Historical Trauma and Transformation), Prof Amanda Gouws (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), Prof Pieter Gouws (Faculty of AgriSciences), Prof Jonathan Jansen (Faculty of Education), Prof Chris Jones (Faculty of Theology), Prof Nico Koopman (Vice-Rector: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel), Ms Irene Labuschagne (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences), Prof Michael le Cordeur (Faculty of Education), Prof Thuli Madonsela (Faculty of Law), Dr Morne Mostert (Institute of Futures Research), Prof Piet Naude (Director of the SU Business School), Prof Renata Schoeman (SU Business School), Prof Erwin Schwella (School of Public Leadership), Dr Nic Spaull (Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences), Prof Jantjie Taljaard (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences), Prof Anton van Niekerk (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), Dr Leslie van Rooi (Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation) and Prof Jimmy Volmink (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences).
In the third category, awards were made to staff members who made a significant contribution to facilitating processes to ensure either the University or other colleagues are featured in the media. For 2018, Corporate Communication excluded their own staff to avoid bias. The recipients are Ms Wilma Stassen, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences; Ms Wiida Fourie-Basson, Faculty of Science and Dr Marina Joubert, CREST.
Photo: Prof Jonathan Jansen of the Faculty of Education, was a recipient of an award in the category Media Thoughtleader 2018. (Photo by Hennie Rudman)