dinsdag 17 januari 2012

Dangerous expectations

Walking is dangerous. Snow and avalanches are serious threats in the Alps. The water and inundations can become a real peril in the Netherlands and had been warned of when we headed off for the walking seminar. But as it turned out we were lucky. The water level was extraordinary high, yet the paths had remained dry.

While walking we talked about - sometimes also dangerous - expectations of audiences.

There is your research. You know what you have done so far, what you are doing at the moment and what your plans are for the next couple of month. In other words: You know what this is all about. But not so others. Your colleagues or professors, your friends or family have little knowledge, sometimes no clue about what your research is about. As you meet them you give short descriptions, introductions and explanations. Then, you hear comments and remarks. These moments of encounter are both, brief and instructive.

How do you introduce your research topic to which audience? For instance, what do you say in academic research seminars and what to "the public", your family sitting next to the Christmas tree? What do you have to explain where?

Once you have introduced your topic, what are the comments that you hear most often? What does your audience expect? For example, what approach do they assume that you take? Or which topics/chapters might they expect in a thesis like yours?

In which ways do you fulfill these expectations? And more importantly: In which ways does your research differ? How can you steer the expectations? How do you frame your object in a way that clearly indicates what you are doing and what not?

And how - on a good day - might you even play with the expectations of your audiences?

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