I often hear earnest researchers bemoaning the fact that there is insufficient funding for their research. Objectively this is true: a point we made in our submission to the recent Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment consultation Te Ara Paerangi. But there is a part of me that wishes we, the scientists and engineers who lead innovative change in New Zealand, would put more effort into simply telling our stories.
The public responds to great stories, but they need to be told in an interesting way. Our training makes us cautious, pedantic, precise. But there is no scientific rule that prevents us from trying to be inspirational at the same time.
A simple rule of thumb is to explain how this new thing we have discovered or invented will contribute to good change. Why else should the listener care about what I am saying?
What problem are we solving, or what opportunity is opening up? Who will benefit, and is the change sustainable?
We all have access to social media, but we need to get better at using it. We need to consider the audience we want to reach with each communication.
For science and industry colleagues, LinkedIn or Twitter can be effective professional tools. If our intended audience is the general public or politicians, then we probably need the weight of our employer’s communications team to get our stories to the attention of a TV, radio or print journalist.
There are excellent well-researched blog sites like The Conversation and widely read long-form journalism in the Listener or North and South.
It is easy to criticize the stream of misinformation that makes its way to those glossy pages. It is much harder to generate gripping human-interest stories based on accurate science to displace the drivel.
My age is a factor in the fact that I have not yet worked out how to use the massive reach of TikTok to generate clever, witty material that will attract young people into agricultural science, but I’m sure it can be done, if we put our minds to it. And the challenge is that if we fail to get our stories heard, then our passionate opponents, suspicious of technology and critical of past environmental failures, will dominate the public’s mind.
We already know that each piece of our scientific endeavour is not finished until the refereed publications come out making our work available for peer critique, but somehow we then need to go a step further and make the outcomes of our endeavour known to our science investors and the general public. Only then will we begin to see increased science investment, and reverse the trend away from STEM subjects in our schools.
So, c’mon NZIAHS members – in the words of the unlovely Francis Urquhart in the British political drama ‘House of Cards’ to the aspiring journalist Mattie, “You have to put yourself about a bit!”
Prof Julian Heyes
Agricultural Innovation, a major within Applied Sciences, was introduced in 2019 in response to the changing agricultural industry. It is designed to focus students’ learning on the major issues and innovative solutions required to support the future of the industry, as well as developing leaders to drive it forward.
Dr Craig Bunt (Te Ātiawa) last year was appointed as the inaugural Professor of the programme. Dr Bunt’s leading scientific contributions span veterinary pharmaceutics, food science and environmental management tools.
The deadline for nominations and applications for NZIAHS Awards this year has been extended to 20 May.
We have a range of awards for members, recognising achievement in agricultural and horticultural research and providing assistance towards the cost of undertaking research.
There are awards for communication in agriculture and horticulture and for services to the Institute at the local section level.
The NZIAHS Leading Student Award is offered to students at Massey University and Lincoln University.
We congratulate the two 2021 award winners – Troy Bosher (Massey University) and Hamish Dunbar (Lincoln University). Click on each name to see their research synopsis.
We know our award winners often go on to make significant contributions to the country’s primary industry. We look forward to the contributions from Troy and Hamish and wish them all the best with their careers.
Please note these events in your diary:
The NZIAHS Canterbury Forum
“Can New Zealand farmers mitigate climate change?”
Wednesday 26 October 2022 – 9.00am to 4.30pm
Stewart 1, Lincoln University, Lincoln
The NZIAHS Annual General Meeting
Wednesday 26 October 2022 – 4.30pm
Stewart 1, Lincoln University, Lincoln
ISHS XI International Symposium on Kiwifruit
20-25 February 2023
Plant Science Central Conference
4-6 July 2023
Massey University, Palmerston North