Monday, October 15, 2012

The “Reach” in Research


From October 26 to October 30, the Office of Research Communication (in other words, Jim Hathaway and Christina Kaemmerlen) will be using this blog to “live-post” from the national science writers convention in Raleigh. This year is notable because two of the major national science journalism conventions – Science Writers 2012 and ScienceOnline 2013 are both happening in our state. More than 500 science journalists (research institution public information officers, freelance journalists and salaried journalists) will be coming in October to see what “state-of-the-art” science our state has to offer.

Since this blog is about research activity at UNC Charlotte, you might reasonably wonder why we will be using this space to blog about science writing at a convention in Raleigh. Well, there are some major UNC Charlotte connections:

·      The UNC Charlotte is one of the co-hosts of the conference, along with Duke University, NC State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
·      UNC Charlotte faculty will be among the research presenters at the part of the symposium known as “New Horizons in Science,” a grand tradition in American science journalism that is now in its 50th year.
·      One of the conference’s major field trips will be to the North Carolina Research Campus, a major new research park in the state, where UNC Charlotte partners with the other host schools (and others) in reinventing the science of nutrition.

However, to dwell on how our university is participating in the conference really misses a much more important and larger point: research, whether at UNC Charlotte or elsewhere, is not really a single-institution activity.

Research is one of the most collaborative activities known to humanity. When most researchers publish papers, there are generally multiple authors and usually those authors come from multiple institutions.  A critically important part of the success of any researcher depends on the scholar having strong connections with other scholars in the field and in related fields so they can draw on joint expertise. A professional researcher needs to put together a powerful and effective research team to study any given question or problem. In a sense, every researcher’s team or lab needs to form a greater research think-tank when it tackles any of the complex issues in modern research.

In these days of digital connectedness, this kind of collaboration can easily connect researchers that are on opposite sides of the world, and, frequently, it does. Still, geography remains important because researchers who can meet occasionally in the same room and visit each other’s labs often find their collaboration to be especially productive.  This is why North Carolina’s deep roots in higher education (the University of North Carolina is the oldest public university in the country), its especially rich collection of research–intensive institutions of higher education (both public and private), its strong tradition of research collaboration with industry (RTP and now NCRC) makes the state an amazing place for researchers, no matter what institution signs their paycheck. The native soil here for doing collaborative research is exceedingly rich.

This is the reason why a host of these universities – who are, in a sense, all competitors -- find it easy to collaborate in hosting a conference such as Science Writers 2012. We are all pulled together into one team in the pursuit of research, and our close geographical connections make that bond even tighter.

So this is why this blog will be reporting on this conference, though only a fraction  of the presentations will be from UNC Charlotte. We are part of the same impressive regional research community that journalists are coming from all over to check out. And, under the flag of knowledge, we are all citizens of the country of research. We would like to try showing you a bit of the bigger picture.  

Stay tuned…

Note: The conference program can be found at: http://www.sciencewriters2012.org. For those you you using Twitter, we will also be tweeting on sessions using the conference hashtag,  #sciwri12 .

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