This morning, I received a more detailed itinerary for my upcoming trip to Norway in May. The twelve days in Stavanger at the Centre for Age-Related Medicine will be full of collaborative research meetings and networking events; presentations to a variety of audiences, including health care providers; and quality time with colleagues and friends. And let’s not forget the gorgeous surroundings of the fjords. All of this came about through purposeful engagement on several levels, including a willingness and drive to share what I do in my program of research, as well as to include in that program of research digital methods and tools.
Engaged scholarship is a term that increasingly gets thrown around in academia, along with words like impact and community engagement. The Carnegie Foundation defines community engagement as follows: “Community engagement describes the collaboration between higher education institutions and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.”
Essentially, I do what I do because I believe that care and compassion are important and because I know that we all need help along the way. I spend my days wearing my thinking cap and working on strategies and tools for symptom management and caregiver support in dementia, as well as exploring the impact providing care for someone with dementia can have on families and friends. And I’m fortunate to work with amazing scholars from across the country and around the world in these efforts. Together, my colleagues and I develop tools, design and test interventions, and explore social media data all in an effort to support these families.
But it doesn’t mean anything if what I learn and discover isn’t shared with the world. If my goal is to make the lives of caregivers better, then I can’t hide my scholarship under a bushel. The Office of Community Engagement and Outreach at the University of Tennessee has a page on its website outlining ways of sharing one’s research, stating “a fundamental part of the engagement process is sharing research findings with those in your discipline and with community members.”
Earlier this month, I collaborated with my College of Nursing colleagues Carole Myers, Robin Harris, and Terri Durbin on a colloquium for our PhD and DNP students about leveraging communication tools in new ways to promote engaged scholarship. We spent the morning working with our students on recognizing and owning their expertise as nurses, honing key messages about their work, and using tools like social media, elevator pitches, and media interviews to get these messages across to stakeholders. I explained to them how I use social media as a way to share and conduct my research, providing examples of how I use my colleague Wendy Looman’s approach of curating, connecting, collaborating, and creating on Twitter to engage with other scholars and the community. More and more, people are recognizing my work through that platform, coming up to me at conferences and telling me that they follow me or by sending me a direct message with an idea for collaboration.
It’s a big part of what is taking me back to Norway, after getting me there for the first time in 2017. My colleague and friend Ingelin Testad, the director of the Centre, and I have collaborated for several years now on manuscripts and symposia. But on this trip, she specifically wants me to work with her and her colleagues on these aspects of engaged scholarship because she has observed the impact this approach has had for myself and others.
So how does one get started if engaged scholarship sounds like a good idea or worth pursuing? During the colloquium earlier this month, my colleagues and I asked our students to think about what it is they wanted to say about their scholarship and how they wanted to say it. Sounds simple, but it is easy to get sidetracked in a digital world. Find platforms and outlets that work for you. I like Twitter and get a lot out of it. Others prefer to write editorials or do a podcast. My colleague Carole does all three.
Regardless of the medium, one must have a clear goal in mind. I use Twitter to engage with folks interested in the care of older adults. I like Twitter because the platform allows me to foster that engagement with academics, clinicians, advocates, and people in the community. Twitter is one way that I can share the what, how, and why of what I do in my professional life with more people than I would ever encounter at a research conference, community event, or through a paper that I publish in a journal. But I still do all of those other, more traditional things. My presence on Twitter and blogs is an enhancement and adjunct to those more common outlets and metrics.
How do you keep from tumbling down the rabbit hole? I suggest that people can simply set a timer. The Pomodoro Method is a great way of managing your time and is a strategy that works for some people. As with any strategy, it only works if it works for you. Too often, I think that we find ourselves giving up when trying to implement some ideal strategy or method because it really doesn’t fit our personality or circumstance.
The same can be said for the ways in which I approach engaged scholarship. My methods and media are not for everyone, and that’s okay. I get a lot out of it and not just international travel. The level of engagement is what is truly important to me. When a caregiver tells me that my editorial made them feel seen or when a fellow scholar reaches out online to let me know they appreciated a resource I shared, I feel like I am making a difference. It’s a humbling and rewarding experience.