I am sure I am not the only one here who started her PhD program thinking about all the impact this intellectual pursuit will have in solving some of the word’s most impressing issues. Sounds idealistic? I agree! Prior to pursuing my PhD in Islamic Civilizations Studies, I was working with an NGO that that develops sustainability initiatives for underprivileged communities. My experience in working with communities struggling with environmental pollution pushed me to advance my understanding of root causes of such issues and how to solve them. Shortly after transitioning into academia, specifically in my second year, I faced the first of many existential questions that I am certain most PhD students face at some point it their journey, which is: “What’s the point of all this?”
In academia, we are often encouraged to share our work and findings in professional conferences and top journals in our fields. When we do share our work with the public, it is often not recognized as a scholarly contribution. In my humble opinion, this should not discourage us from pursuing public scholarship. I have always grabbled with this question “how to can excel in my PhD while also being a public scholar at the same time?” I sat to look for what others are doing right. Here some of the lessons I learned along the way:
Find your purpose: What do you want to see changing? And how your research can contribute to the betterment of your targeted community-- or ecosystems? Answering these questions can help you crystalize the purpose where your interests, skills, and passions align.
Find your publics: What is your targeted audience? In carefully identifying your public audience you will be able to assess how your scholarship can help in solving pressing issues or spread a much-needed awareness.
Find your community: Effective Public scholarship does not flourish in isolation. This process becomes more rewarding and effective when working with individuals or organizations that share our interests. Not only will this improve your scholarship, it will also help you be more consistent with your contributions.
Find your tools/channels: Finally, figuring out how this public scholarship is produced and conveyed is one of the most important elements of public scholarship. Producing publicly engaged texts or visuals is the initial step in the process, but I believe that the real challenge lies in communicating your material to your targeted audience in an engaging manner. Here are some great examples of my personal favorite public scholarship projects in Religious Studies and Environmental Humanities that utilizes digital tools: Race and Muslims in the United States
These are some of great examples that I came across in my field, please add your favorite projects from your own fields in the comments section. I hope this helps you in getting started, or at least in thinking about how to situate your research outside the Academy.