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Success story: Dal student prevails in national research storytelling competition

- April 3, 2013

Catherine McGoveran working with the Social Media Lab's 96" multi-touch display screen. (Danny Abriel photo)
Catherine McGoveran working with the Social Media Lab's 96" multi-touch display screen. (Danny Abriel photo)

Every research project has a story: an idea that kicks off the exposition phase; characters that drive the plot forward; rising action as the project comes together; and, finally, the climax, when questions are answered and the characters triumph or regroup to try again.

But what’s the most effective way to tell that story? Academic papers and conferences reach peers — an important but limited audience. Some research projects catch journalists’ attention, but there are countless others that don’t. And there are only so many elevator speeches that an individual can deliver on a day-to-day basis.

Earlier this year, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) challenged university students across Canada to come up with a compelling way to tell a research story — using video, audio, text or an infographic.

Dalhousie’s Catherine McGoveran, a master’s student in Library and Information Studies, was named as one of the top 25 entrants in the competition, winning $3,000 and an expenses-paid opportunity to take part in a storytellers workshop at the 2013 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences this May in Victoria.

Sharing social media research

“I was really interested in learning how to use different software and tools to communicate the goals of a research project,” says McGoveran, who created a video highlighting Dal’s Social Media Lab, where she works as a research assistant.

“It’s important as an information professional to be able to effectively communicate what it is you do to diverse groups, shifting the material to connect with different audiences,” she adds.

“Connections” are what the Social Media Lab is all about. In her video, McGoveran succinctly explains the lab’s goals and its multidisciplinary work on how individuals communicate and connect online. The animation moves quickly, with colourful images that help show the lab’s work in action.

The lab plans on using the video on its website, as well as taking it on the road. Philip Mai, the lab’s research and communications manager, says lab director Anatoliy Gruzd is already using it to open his presentations.

“It came out great,” says Mai. “It does an amazing job explaining why what we do matters.”

Synthesizing information

McGoveran came to Dalhousie after completing her undergrad in Political Science and French at Carleton University. She was drawn to Library and Information Studies after years of working in libraries, including an internship at the Library of Parliament.

“I really love finding information and researching to support a broader goal, be it something like policy development or, in the case of the Social Media Lab, connections between people,” she says.

She got involved with the lab last year when she learned of its plans to study Twitter conversation around the fall municipal election in Halifax. She was one of three students who helped pull the research project together.

“I’m so glad I got involved. It’s all about collecting, analyzing, synthesizing and communicating data and information. I think that’s hugely relevant to Library and Information Studies. You can apply data analysis to any form of research, and I’ve been using it in my research study on GIS analysis.”

Making video to explain her research, however, was an entirely new experience, but she quickly found a knack for it.

“I really enjoyed the technical side of things, finding the images and pulling the script together with audio and the video,” she says.  “It’s always a challenge being really concise, but it’s really important: saying only what’s important to convey a message clearly.”

McGoveran, who plans to return to Ottawa after graduating this May, says she hopes to continue using video to explain her work in the future.

“It really gives you an opportunity to showcase what you’re working on and share it with others in an effective way.”


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