The benefits of actively participating in a thriving research community far outweigh any personal costs. However, it’s often difficult to find a group of like-minded researchers. Have you considered building your own research community?
Building and promoting a research community is a challenge that requires your creative ability to network and communicate effectively to meet your research community’s demands.
If you don’t know how to start your own research community, just keep reading. I’ve set out simple signposts for you to find your own way to cultivate a research community.
So how do you get started? Use the following five tips to get yourself started on building a Research Community, with a loyal membership.
Clarify your purpose. What do your members want to achieve? How do you ensure that different interests are represented?
From experience, these are important issues to consider when creating a sustainable research community. A sense of purpose is more likely to lead to a cohesive group and the adoption of group values necessary to achieving the group’s goals.
Inevitably, there will be diverse aims and goals for discussion, negotiation and agreement. In order to meet the challenge of accommodating different requirements, researchers need to build a research culture oriented toward sharing similar issues and concerns; but it’s equally important to create a supportive and safe space within which different interests can be served.
Much consideration, therefore, needs to be given to growing a sustainable research community by building mutual understanding of the aims of the group, building trust between members, and encouraging membership engagement and commitment.
How do we then accomplish this goal?
Build a face-to-face research network. One way is to create a group that meets face-to-face on a regular basis. Advantages include sharing expertise, information and resources; wider access to connections and networks, leading to joint working or other new opportunities; mutual support and inspiration; addressing specific individual needs or goals.
We could fill this blog post with a list of examples of the positive benefits of developing a research community.
Although all members should have the same membership status, the practical requirements of running a group, including decision-making, need to be met by several members willing to work together to share this commitment.
Years ago, a colleague and I started an informal mental health research group. Its primary purpose was to create collaborative research relationships and generate new research ideas.
We organised regular events, once a month, where one or both would introduce the event and sometimes present our research, and allowed sufficient time for the informal gathering to network with each other.
Other researchers (internal and external) presented their research, and we encouraged others to share their knowledge to educate the research group. This was accomplished by also asking members to identify knowledge gaps that we addressed with workshops.
We always provided refreshments, and sometimes lunch when funds allowed. Setting up the informal research network was a great way to bring researchers together from a wide range of disciplines related to mental health research.
Organising and maintaining the research group required a heavy time-commitment from both of us. We were, however, rewarded with lively debates, the pleasure of engaging with researchers with similar issues and concerns, the exposure to different views and opportunities for research collaborations.
Encouraging interest by using social media. But, from my experience, building a research community of diverse academics is not easy. In practice, there is often a tension between achieving the benefits of being part of a research community and disinterest.
When we set up our mental health research group communication was limited to emails and newsletters. These contact limitations restricted our ability to engage with the research group. However, it’s absolutely possible to build a successful research community using social media.
Now there are more varied and effective ways of keeping group members engaged in your research community, such as websites, discussion forums, private social networks, blog posts, webinars, and videos, and a host of other social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to rely on.
Combine a face-to-face and virtual group. To create a successful research community requires that both types of communities, virtual and face-to-face groups, be combined in order to achieve your aims. Using social media tools, it’s now easier to promote your research community, build a cohesive research group profile, and create opportunities to broadcast your events.
Using social media tools makes it also easier to interact with your existing and potential new members.
Why your research community needs social media. Social media provides an unprecedented opportunity to grow and maintain your research community – to share good news, or to promote your events.
Consider supporting your group with an online or virtual research community, using a blog and other social media tools. Members who receive a positive information experience, or social media message, are more likely to recommend your research community to others – word of mouth – and are more likely to become loyal members themselves.
This post answers a question submitted to me recently by several Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers who asked: How can we develop a research community in our department?
Do you have any additional tips for creating and growing a sustainable research community? Share your tips with us in the comments below.
In Part 2 of this blog series let’s look at 5 reasons why you should use social media to build your research community.
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