MiSciWriters member Kristina Lenn chatted with Nick Wigginton, the assistant vice president of research at the University of Michigan, about the importance of communication among researchers and the big responsibility science writers carry in the current political climate.
Anyone who has ever done collaborative research can list the benefits of being able to work with another group and learn about the cultural differences between researchers. Dr. Nick Wigginton knows better than anyone else how important communication is to successful collaborations.
Prior to his tenure at Michigan, Dr. Wigginton received his doctorate in Earth Science, and his dissertation was a collaborative effort by his department, physics, chemistry, and biology. This interdisciplinary gauntlet gave him the tools he needed to succeed as an editor for Science magazine where he needed to address the research and cultures of multiple departments.
For the first in our series “Conversations about Science Writing,” MiSciWriters editor-in-chief Irene Park chatted with Kara Gavin, a lead Public Relations representative for the Michigan Medicine and the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Irene asked Kara some questions about her experiences that led to her current position and whether she has any tips for new, budding science writers.
The transcript is lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
MSW: Could you describe your current position?
KG: I am one of seven writers on the staff at the Michigan Medicine Department of Communication. I find and tell stories about research for a very broad audience to internal and external worlds – about the research going on in medical school labs.
I’ve been at the University for almost 18 years. When I first started, there was not a lot of research coverage. It was very much hospital PR [public relations] with very little research news. Over time, we noticed that we could get so much more attention with research news than clinical news. So it became more about finding stories about research and translating them into stories to represent the institution.
The advance of social media means that everything we produce reaches many audiences. We are always looking for reporters to get interested in the research we write about, so there is a media relations function still. Now, everything I write goes up the University of Michigan Health Lab blog. The blog was created last year as a platform for sharing not only research news but reflections on science and society and Q&A’s with researchers.
My job is equal parts writing, connecting reporters with our experts, and cultivating future stories by giving talks. I give several talks a month: teaching researchers how to use Twitter as professionals, or why they should engage in the PR process.