Research in Isolation

As an old radio interview of Balen Shah, Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City is going viral over some PhD holder’s snooty remarks, made me want to write this blog. I am a freshwater researcher and the complexities that goes into this system is incredible. But will it be of worth if I cannot explain this to a layman?

I am of the belief that research cannot or should not work in isolation. Of course, the complexities that goes into any research might not be understandable for a layman but it is profoundly important that we try to break it down into bite size morsels. It boils down to three important factors for me-

  • Increasing awareness on the importance of the topic: Not many people know of the complexities of life under microscope but all know what COVID is. If a layman asked what the disease is, would saying read some papers on this issue and come back for a good discussion make any sense? Would stating, COVID is thought to have zoonotic origin and its particles are “organized with long RNA polymers tightly packed into the center of the particle, and surrounded by a protective capsid, which is a lattice of repeated protein molecules referred to as coat or capsid proteins. In coronavirus, these proteins are called nucleocapsid (N).” make any sense to a layman? If it was just left to researchers and experts just working in isolation, the devastation caused by the pandemic might be even higher.
  • Increasing curiosity: For any research to go forward there is a need for new researchers wanting to take on the study. Curiosity cannot be generated if we do not know what is being said or what is not being said because of the presumed complexities.  
  • Tapping into funding schemes: Researchers don’t fund other researchers. Most often than not, we get funding from agencies not all versed in the complexities in the research topic. Making research appealing to funders requires explanation in simple terms.

Now circling back to Mayor Balen’s experience of PhD not being able to rely information to a layman, PhD students work mostly in closed circle; networking often has a negative connotation as being pushy and overbearing, the idea being PhDs are independent thinkers that their work will speak for them with technical skills and publications being good enough. This might give a false sense of understanding that research is in-house and need only be circulated within the expertise.

However, according data from the National Science Foundation, >60% of PhD graduates end up unemployed or in postdoc position which is not counted as employment by most government. This is even higher for PhD graduates of life sciences standing >80%. A recent survey published on LinkedIn showed that 85% of jobs are filled through networking efforts.

I myself started blogging because I wanted to make my work more understandable and reachable to laymen. Maybe perhaps raise curiosity in some or attract opportunities. And I really do believe research should be relied to the wider public in simple readable terms.

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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