Tips for media interventions as early researcher/doctoral student

Started by adel9216, August 23, 2020, 07:52:04 AM

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Hello everyone,

I would like to get some advice when it comes to media interventions (print, radio, online, television) and being an early academic/researcher/graduate student.

Let me explain.

This summer, I got a very large amount of media interviews due to something very major that happened in the news. I study themes related to that topic so my name circulated a lot to offer commentary. I was quite overwhelmed to be honest, but things have calmed down because the news cycle changed and I am only starting to process what happened now.

I'm not the type of person who will walk away out of fear, that's just my personality. So even though I was unsure and nervous, I did all of the interviews as long as they were closely related to my research area and my doctoral project. I also got requests for topics that were a bit further away from my doctoral project, that I ended up turning down after speaking with my thesis committee to make sure I don't come across as being an "expert of everything" (even though that's never how I do present myself).

I also quickly trained other people who I felt were also qualified to offer commentary to take on those interviews if I was not available. I did a few trainings on media interventions a few years ago at my university, so it helped me to get better skills. I try pass on this knowledge on informally to others, whenever I can (mentorship).

My concern is regarding the fact that I have just finished my first year as a doctoral student. I do have previous research, lived experience and work experience in my field, but still. I don't feel like I am 100% credible, from a research/academia perspective, to offer commentary on topics that I am still studying and that I don't have research data or academic publications for, yet.

People tell me I am seen as a very credible and reliable source for the media but also for the general public (which is the most important thing to me as a researcher, I do research for people, not for the elite). But I don't think I am credible when it comes to the research side of things and the academic world, and I am scared that it could do me a disservice in the long term. I still need to be wise and strategic about this, I believe even though I don't do what I do for the elite. 

My thesis committee said it would be stupid of me not to accept those interviews because it really puts me "out there" as a scholar who wants to do research for the public good. They also said that I am not a typical doctoral student, so I have a sense that they also do not know exactly what to give me as advice when it comes to this. They said I get more invited in the media than researchers who have 36+ years experience for example. Which could eventually cause some frustration towards me, if it is not already the case, but that is not my problem I have been told.

But is there a way I can formulate my answers to the media in a way that cannot be used against me as a doctoral student and future researcher ? I don't want to turn down interviews, and I won't. I just want to do them in a way that is also ethically unreprochable from a research standpoint. But I am unsure how to do that. I just feel like I need to say yes, but I also need to be careful.

Has anyone here been through this? I have to be honest: I'm looking for some kind of mentorship from other scholars who have experienced this when they were early graduate students.

Thank you,


Quote from: adel9216 on August 23, 2020, 07:52:04 AM
But is there a way I can formulate my answers to the media in a way that cannot be used against me as a doctoral student and future researcher?

No.  Anything you do in public can be used against you, particularly as you become a true public figure.

You can and should think carefully about where you are the expert by virtue of experience/study and where you should gracefully decline while giving suggestions on better people for a given topic.

I agree with your advisors that you should be capitalizing on being the expert in a relevant, currently active area, but you're right that being publicly viewed as an expert where you are not will be a problem for your career.

You will not make everyone happy ever, but you can be mindful of the distinctions between being expert, being expert enough, and being the name high on the media contact list by people who don't know anything about the field.
Quote from: hmaria1609 on June 27, 2019, 07:07:43 PM
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!


For the readers at home:

Time spent training others on media presence does not move the dissertation forward nor does it count towards comps.

Time spent preparing and giving interviews does not help with comps, dissertation, or other measures of progress towards degree.

It's entirely possible to be emotionally supported and encouraged in the professional areas of public discussion of relevant research and yet still get dinged in other areas (possibly with extra vehemence by the quietly unsupportive who are more rules bound) for an overall judgment of 'unsatisfactory progress' towards degree.

This is how great teachers doing fabulous service get denied tenure for insufficient research.

This is how people get denied tenure for starting a new program or chairing the accreditation report instead of teaching in a teaching institution.

This is how good employees out in the world don't get raises and promotions because what they did doesn't check the right boxes, even when they were told to work on the less desirable project or the lower value task force and made it successful.

Being excellent in the 'wrong' category often doesn't immediately turn out well on a given career path, but does make finding a more aligned path easier.
Quote from: hmaria1609 on June 27, 2019, 07:07:43 PM
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!


I worked as an EA in a department with a lot of high-profile folks who got a lot of invitations from global-level reporters for comments, essays, op-ed pieces, and articles.

My sense was that they would do one or two short-answer replies to media questions on a breaking topic, especially where the potential for wrong-headed blabbermouths to take the thing in their teeth and run with it existed. 

I think they saw this as an expected form of "giving back" to the field, made it short and sweet, and let it go.

The longer pieces, they would accept one request, often from a small journal in a poorer part of the world where the impact of their piece would help the journal sell copy and keep it afloat. ( They could choose well, having worked in those parts of the world on-the-ground).

The area that was most interesting was the referrals to junior scholars.

Rather than hoard those speaking platform/opportunities, the really good scholars shared them with their (also decent, experienced) appointees. They built the junior scholar up to the reporter as someone who'd "been there more recently than I have," (maybe only by a couple weeks, but, whatever!), gave the junior scholar a few moments' prep (not that it was needed, always, but to suggest bullet points or remind them of recently published findings) and referred them on.

The junior scholar or the reporter might name the senior scholar or the program, so the niceties were observed, but it was basically a win-win.

(A few senior scholars didn't do this, and did have a rep. for hogging the limelight)...

It sounds to me like you might already be in the place of those junior scholars, but needing to start acting more like the senior scholars in cultivating a small corral of folks (colleagues? Conference co-presenters? Co-authors?) you can share the opportunities with as well.

It's a way of being able to shape the global dialogue without impairing your own work as much, and of keeping your name "out there" without coming across as a glory hound.

Just be sure there's a tight sense of agreement and shared respect among yourselves, and keep reflecting glory back on each other. Don't undercut the others or you'll be back to doing all the work yourself.

And then, as Poly observes, keep getting on with your dissertation....

Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

Reprove not a scorner, lest they hate thee: rebuke the wise, and they will love thee.

Give instruction to the wise, and they will be yet wiser: teach the just, and they will increase in learning.