Future of academic research

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 15, 2012, Western News celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special edition asking 40 Western researchers to share the 40 THINGS WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NEXT 40 YEARS. This is one of those entries. To view the entire anniversary issue, visit the Western News archives.

*   *   *

To truly realize the value of publicly funded research, a key priority of the coming years and decades will be to mobilize knowledge derived from scholarship for the public good. This will involve both technology (i.e., harnessing digital media and developing information visualization tools mapped to interactive and engaging interfaces that synthesize complex data) and tapping into our new (and old) social connectedness to share, shape and expand knowledge.

Whether in epigenetics and cancer or violence prevention, we need to truly connect people making all kinds of decisions with contextualized and usable knowledge. From historical insight to frame public policy development to the latest in nutritional science to inform day-to-day food purchases, bringing our research to bear – directly or indirectly – on public discourse underpins the academic exercise.

The trick will be to balance needs and expectations to provide ‘evidence’ for existing concerns, with the freedom to explore new knowledge areas that lead to true game-changers.

Nadine Wathen is a professor in the Library and Information Science program in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.