Engaging with the media – some tentative first steps

Rachel Norman and Anthony O’Hare, Faculty of Natural Sciences

December 2015, this time last year, was an exciting time – we wrote our first article for The Conversation on how to use game theory to decide whether to buy someone a present or not. The article received close to 20,000 readers and was republished in several different news outlets. The buzz around the article resulted in multiple newspaper articles and media appearances with Rachel appearing on Sky News and Anthony on BBC Radio Scotland.

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Newspaper clippings generated from the article

The media lovingly referred to us as “maths boffins” and the flurry of attention gave us a very positive taste of media engagement and led to a wide variety of other opportunities. It gave us the chance to see how novel ways of communicating our research can grab the attention of the media and the wider public.

As well as external attention the success of the article was recognised at the Principal’s Conversation awards where we won the prize for the most memorable article! We found the experience of writing for The Conversation very positive and the editors were very helpful. So we’re keen to write for them again and we are always on the lookout for opportunities with perhaps a novel take on events in the news.

Since last Christmas Rachel has published another piece for The Conversation, more closely linked to her research interests, in response to a news article in April on food labelling by Mars and is currently writing another wide-ranging piece on food security as the introductory article in a series on different aspects of food security which is very exciting.

Rachel was also invited to present at the November 2016 “Standing up for Science media workshop” where she spoke about the glamorous side of appearing on TV (aside from Rachel – “it was cold, dark and wet – and I didn’t manage to brush my hair!”)

The experience of writing for The Conversation and subsequent interest has made us both think about ways to raise the profile of our research through social media and other activities. We are both active on twitter (@AFSRachel and @DrAntonyOHare) and, having written for a few other people, Rachel has recently started her own blog.

So, having tentatively dipped our toes in the water of wider public engagement and media, we are keen to do more and will continue to look for ways to publicise our research and raise the profile of both what we do and of the University. So, if you have a novel idea for an academic spin on a festive story, we would recommend that you pitch it to The Conversation – who knows where it might lead!

Oh and the theory behind our article still stands so make sure you have read it before finishing your shopping this year!