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Communicating Scholarly Research to Nonacademics

Cornell prof will lead hands-on workshop for doctoral students

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Caroline Levine

Caroline Levine, a Cornell University professor of English, is on a mission to help young academics reach audiences beyond their scholarly fields. Photo courtesy of Caroline Levine

As a doctoral candidate in English literature at Birbeck, University of London, Caroline Levine wanted to write her dissertation on knowledge in 19th-century fiction in a style that would make it accessible to a broad audience. Her advisor thought that was a terrible idea. “She wanted me to use the rigorous, specialized language, so I would be taken seriously as a thinker,” says Levine, the David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of the Humanities at Cornell University.

Levine says she stuck to the academic script—until she completed her dissertation. After that, she committed herself to writing for a broad audience. “I’ve always gone for a kind of clarity for myself—what does this mean, why does it matter,” says Levine, the author of three books, The Serious Pleasures of Suspense: Victorian Realism and Narrative Doubt (University of Virginia Press, 2003), Provoking Democracy: Why We Need the Arts (Blackwell Publishing, 2007), and Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Many younger academics today start out wanting to write for an audience beyond their scholarly expertise, says Levine, who has published articles that range from Victorian poetry to television serials. They tweet, blog, write op-eds, and talk to the media. Levine wants to help students get better at all this communicating—or learn how to do it in the first place.

She will lead a hands-on workshop, The 21st-Century Doctorate—Academic Research and Public Engagement, on Friday, February 16, at the Photonics Center. Sponsored by the Associate Provost for Graduate Affairs office, the workshop is aimed at doctoral students in all fields.

Levine will explore the use of narratives, visualizations, slide shows, podcasts, tweets, op-eds, and live discussions to communicate the complexities of research without losing the audience. Participants will have the chance to practice presenting their research on multiple platforms, she says, and learn “how to tell a story about how you got excited about a problem you’re trying to solve now.”

Levine has spent her career exploring why the humanities and the arts matter. “We’re going to talk about who the public is and why research is for the public,” she says. “I think universities are really under threat right now, partly because the public doesn’t think about why research is for them. I want to help people think about how to communicate in different genres and forms, rather than just falling into the formulas.”

Her experience with different genres includes her first op-ed, for a local online newspaper in 2016, on why she was departing the University of Wisconsin–Madison for Cornell: “Enough with [Gov.] Scott Walker and the GOP—I’m Leaving.” The op-ed was shared widely via Twitter and drew more readers, Levine says, than anything she has ever written.

The 21st-Century Doctorate—Academic Research and Public Engagement, will be held Friday, February 16, in the Photonics Center Colloquium Room, from 2 to 5:30 pm. Sponsored by the Associate Provost for Graduate Affairs office, the workshop is aimed at doctoral students in all fields. A reception will follow.  

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Sara Rimer, Director, Research Communications at Boston University
Sara Rimer

Sara Rimer can be reached at srimer@bu.edu.

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