Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Academics: Should we be more image conscious?

At this time, I am preparing for my first attempts at conference presentations for my PhD research: one oral presentation and one poster presentation. I’m committing myself to doing the best possible job of communicating my research to my audience. I work hard at my PhD and want people to feel some degree of enthusiasm and interest in it. I strongly believe in the use of images and pictures to help illustrate my messages. Quality pictures can say a lot more than words do and are more engaging than bullet-pointed lists and paragraphs of text (he says, writing a blog post!).

The use of images is important to me because I believe researchers should aim to do more than impart information cold. As an audience member, I want to feel something about what the researcher is doing. I want them to succeed in delivering an engaging presentation. I want to be moved a little, not just intellectually, but on an emotional level, too. In fact, I’m desperate to have this experience when I go to a conference. I don’t want a mechanical presenter. I want to feel something of what inspired that individual to do their research in the first place – it will hook my attention. And as a newbie to presenting, I would like to nurture this style too. Though this is in large part down to the personality, confidence, and experience of the individual presenter, I believe that the carefully considered use of images, and design of posters, can assist with this as well.

But image hunting isn’t easy. Sometimes, I have problems finding and using the ones I want. I can’t just use any that I like the look of – there are copyright laws and to take these without consent would be illegal. There are some excellent images that can be used but these may have to be paid for. They can be expensive but, unfortunately, I don’t have access to the funds that would enable me to buy these. For example, today I was quoted £50 to use an image that would have looked great on my slides (that includes a student discount too!). Of course, this left me feeling disappointed but I feel unable to hold the cogs of capitalism responsible for this one: these prices seem to be the standard and I can’t blame other people and organisations for wanting to earn a living from their work.

But my point is this: I don’t think, yet, that we value highly enough the need to communicate our work to others. Is there anybody that makes allowances in their research bids to buy high quality images? We do think about dissemination in general but I can’t say I’ve sat with researchers and tried to answer questions such as: what is the best way to communicate our research to others? What resources do we need to do this? Are we prepared to pay to access professional resources to help us? I think that we need to address this. I don’t like being denied the use of resources I need to do the best job I can. It’s embarrassing. I just want to present my work to the highest possible standard.

Anybody have thoughts, opinions, or experiences they would like to share? Am I asking for too much? Or maybe too little?

And, just in case you’re interested…

I’ll be delivering my first PhD oral presentation at Salford on June 9th – do come along and listen if you can. I will be speaking about the great civilization of Stoke-on-Trent and why we can’t rely on traditional scientific methods to inform us of the rich experience of our love for such places. See SPARC.

My first poster presentation will also be at Salford on June 16th. I’m very excited about this one. It would make me immensely happy to see you there and we can discuss progressive ideas in poster presentations. More here. Can’t wait!


  1. What did you want image of? Did you ask twitter? I find lots of great ones on Flickr cc

  2. The main one I was after was an image of Tony Blair and Noel Gallagher at the 'Cool Britannia' party in 1997. It's owned by the Press Association and I've been in contact today to ask for permission but they require a fee. Incidentally, the same image is on Flickr but are 'All rights reserved' - and not listed as owned by the PA. Not sure what the PA would think about those people claiming to own their image, mind you! I didn't dare ask them!