Christine McKenna Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
“The social sciences and humanities touch every facet of our lives,” says Ursula Gobel, Director of Communications for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). That is why research in these fields is so important – and why spreading the word about research is a positive step toward affecting change in society. To demonstrate how social sciences and humanities research is impacting our lives, SSHRC created Research for a Better Life: The Storytellers, a competition aimed at promoting some of the valuable research going on at post-secondary institutions across Canada.
Launched this year in January, the inaugural contest invited students from across the country to submit a digital presentation describing a SSHRC-funded research project, whether conducted by the entrants themselves or by a professor, to communicate how research in the humanities and social sciences can help us to understand and improve the human condition. The submissions were evaluated by a panel of communications experts and journalists, who selected the Top 25 entries based on a list of criteria. As part of their prize, these Top 25 Storytellers will travel to Congress 2013 to participate in SSHRC’s Storytellers research communications workshop and showcase, where they will present their work to a panel of judges comprised of acclaimed thinkers Jay Ingram (writer, broadcaster and former co-host of Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet), Shari Graydon (founder of Informed Opinions, and award-winning author, educator and activist), Pierre Normand (Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Vice-President of External Relations and Communications) and Antonia Maioni (Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University and current president of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences). From there, the top five storytellers as selected by the panel will have the chance to present their work at the World Social Science Forum in Montreal this October.
By creating this competition, SSHRC hopes to get people excited about research, encourage young scholars, and investigate ways of connecting researchers with broader audiences. Communication and engagement is an important step in the process of studying human behaviour, thought, and culture, and SSHRC is reaching out to students to help achieve this step. By the nature of their demographic, young scholars are, according to Gobel, “very connected and are keen to share their stories and experiences with others across academia and beyond. This marks a great opportunity to further promote the value of studying the social sciences and humanities, as well as to connect research with those who can benefit from it.”
One of the ideas behind the Storytellers contest was to be open in terms of the submissions, and SSHRC encouraged entrants to be creative in their storytelling methods. Gobel says, “there are many ways to effectively communicate and engage people, but we didn’t want to be too prescriptive. The students here are showing us that there are always better and more creative ways to do so.”
Through this initiative SSHRC also hoped to achieve the engagement of Canadian universities, and so far this goal has been realized. Institutions across the country have keenly promoted the Storytellers to students, who have gone on to connect with faculty, peers, and their communities.
Close to 100 submissions came in from postsecondary students across Canada over a four-week period, with topics ranging from “the effects of gender stereotypes on women’s math performance” to “youth empowerment as part of disaster recovery”. The diversity of the subject matter spoke to the importance of diversity in research, and Gobel says of the submissions: “There were so many gems – while the jury picked the top 25, I hope the universities feature all of their students entries as a showcase of the research talent on campus.”
Since coming together quickly at the start of this year, the Storytellers: Research for a Better Life competition has gained steady momentum. SSHRC plans to continue the contest in the future, with an earlier call for submissions allowing for increased preparation time.
To learn more about the competition and the Top 25 submissions of 2013, visit the SSHRC website, or attend the Storytellers showcase at Congress from 1-4 PM on Monday, June 3rd in the McKinnon Gym. This event is free of charge and open to the general public.