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Communicating your research as a comic strip - reflections

Last week I ran a session on 'Communicating your research as a comic strip' for the second time.

You can access my presentation above or via Prezi.

A few things didn't quite work the first time I ran the session (as blogged here).

Last time I got the attendees discuss their research in pairs and then have a go at starting a comic strip on their own. Feedback said it would be nice to discuss the ideas people came up with as a group. This time I asked them to pair up and try to draw a three panel comic strip about their research. I suggested they might want to use the structure of research idea (panel 1), current stage of research (panel 2) and what's next in their research (panel 3), as used in career story-boarding (Hooley, Law & Bentley, 2013).

The attendees were a little anxious about drawing to start with, but seemed to enjoy it once they got stuck in. A few used the suggested structure and others used it as a jumping off point to look at how they could communicate their research idea more clearly using illustrations. Then the group discussed how they had managed to portray their research. Participant feedback highlighted this as a really useful exercise to help them think about ways to effectively convey complex ideas.

One of the attendees, Brenda Padilla, has already put a comic strip up on her Departmental Blog, and I know others are working on ideas for how to use comic strips.

Some of the barriers to using comic strips were discussed, mainly:
- When is it appropriate to use a comic strip approach? I had suggested that posters, presentations and when communicating with the public might be suitable opportunities, but there is still the worry that it might not fit with particular Departmental/Discipline cultures. This is something each researcher would have to decide for themselves and/or find a venue where they felt safe to try out using cartoon illustrations to gauge the reaction.
- I'm not an artist! I think having a go at drawing a strip helped a little with this anxiety. I'm also of the opinion that the art doesn't have to be spectacular - it just has to clearly communicate an idea and this can be possible with stick men. However, some researchers might think that simple art might reflect badly on them and would prefer to hire a professional artist. Paying an artist is always going to be a barrier, especially for PhD students.

Overall the feedback was very positive, and we hope to run the session again later in the year.

Hooley, T., Law, B. & Bentley, K. 2013, Exploring the Turning Points in Researchers’ Lives: Using the three-scene storyboarding technique, CRAC, Cambridge.


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