18 June 2007

Translation: The Value of Research

An article today's Globe and Mail notes that SSHRC's new director is "eager to update the image of the humanities and prove that educating Canadians in philosophy or film studies is just as vital to the country's success as investment in science, technology and medicine."

The article calls for a balanced understanding of the value of various kinds of research. But there is also some dissent. CAUT's James Turk argues that the current focus on applied research is just pandering to political pressure to show direct links between research and some kind of pay off. Chad Gaffield, SSHRC's new director, "says no one is suggesting that all research should be applied, but he also says scholars in the humanities and social sciences were wrong in the past to resist efforts to measure the impact and quality of their work and to connect it to society."

It is this connection that lets us build on all knowledge, however contingent, in order to ensure that research results are applied, to the immediate context in which we work but also to others we may not otherwise think of. The article says research clusters, communities of practice "which bring together academics from many backgrounds and locations to focus on a single problem, are a favoured research model and increasingly reaching out to members of the community who could use or be influenced by their work." The value of any science should be in how it can build our collective body of knowledge.

My own research has benefited from SSHRC funding. I held a SSHRC fellowship as a doctoral student and worked as a research assistant on SSHRC-funded projects. Recently I received a SSHRC standard research grant for a study called "Advanced Patient Education for Cancer Survivorship (APECS): Using the Internet to Build and Maintain a Community of Survivors." This work is at the intersection of technology, education, health care and systems design, and as such benefits from perspectives from all four areas.

Research that translates to multiple contexts offers great benefit. This could be technology transfer, but it could just as well be transfer to other academic disciplines in fields I might not otherwise think about linking to.

Translation and transfer (knowledge, technologic) are ways we, as publicly paid researchers, can show how our work benefits those who fund us.

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