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The public paid for your research: Let's tell them about it!

Melissa McGowan
Melissa MCGOWAN,
Deputy Director of Office of Clinical Research,
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

The public’s investment in health research is considerable, supporting the NIH to find answers to some of the nation’s most vexing health problems. At NIA, we know that an aging population is paying particular attention to research, hoping for treatments—and advice—to stave off a myriad of conditions, like disability or Alzheimer’s and related dementias, that too often accompany advancing years. Healthy aging and healthy brain aging are very hot topics in today’s news.

One of the best ways to share accurate information with the public is to tell them about your research. You can do this in a few different ways—you can reach out to the news media when your findings are published and respond to reporters’ questions. You can also blog and tweet about it.

Besides, it’s the law! Did you know that the 1974 legislation establishing the NIA mandates that we “…carry out public information and education programs designed to disseminate as widely as possible the findings of Institute-sponsored and other relevant aging research”? In our view, it’s important not only to offer the public the best data on health, but to let them know that their investment is generating a good return.

How can you help?

We want to feature your research in engaging, informative—and timely—ways. For outreach to the news media, let NIA and your own communications folks know as soon as you know that you have an upcoming paper. You can contact your program officer, who can pass the notice on to us in the NIA Office of Communications and Public Liaison, or get in touch with us directly, along with your own public affairs team. Advance notice allows all of us to connect, discuss the findings for their potential interest to the public, and prepare and finalize a press release or other kind of feature if we decide the public might want or need to know about a particular research result.

Rest assured that we always respect embargoes. Most journals allow a heads up to funders, and, indeed, sometimes provide us such notice themselves—although often later in the process than is most feasible for us.

Considerations for sharing

Here are some specific things to consider about media or other outreach about your findings:

  • When you submit a paper to a journal, please think about whether the public might be interested in your results. Will this work affect their lives and that of their family and community? If a basic study and not of immediate clinical interest, is it an important step to understanding a mechanism or etiology for a given disease or condition? What makes your finding interesting or significant? We and the experts in your communications office can help facilitate this thought process.
  • Send your institution’s communications office a copy of the manuscript and talk with them about possible outreach. (Yes, we know it hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, but it would be important to start this conversation early.)
  • Let your NIA program officer know that you’ve submitted the paper for publication – or at latest contact them as soon as it has been accepted. And remember to send a copy of the paper. You can cc the NIA’s Communications Office or ask your public affairs shop to get in touch with us.
  • Start thinking about how you would explain your results to the lay public. You’ll want to focus on three or four main points about your paper that are accessible to non-scientists.

Different ways to feature your work

Sometimes, we create a full press release and media outreach plan. Other times, we may prepare a “media availability,” which offers NIA or NIH staff as a media resource to help provide a broader context to a specific result. Or, we might feature your work on our website in research highlights or feature stories, in scientific presentations by NIA scientific staff, through social media on our Facebook or Twitter activities, to name a few.

You can get a sense of what is featured in these varying ways by clicking on any of the links provided just above.

Please get in touch

Of course, we can’t promise that everything you send will be highlighted. There are lots of considerations in addition to timeliness alone – for example, trying to work judiciously with media and the public by selecting just a few items and a representative mix of research to feature.

But let’s start talking. You can contact the NIA Communications Office at any time, and we’ll gladly follow up with you and your communications staff. We look forward to hearing from you!

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