Tag Archives: social media

Unknown Researchers

Growing numbers of professors across the United States now use social media to highlight their research, share their ideas, expand their connections and attract new funding.

Not so in this corner of Eastern Europe. Facebook is widespread in Moldova but Twitter is not. Instagram is still catching on. Many Moldovans prefer Russian-language social networks such as Odnoklassniki or Vkontakte. And, of course, faculty members who hope to catch the attention of English-speaking journalists may have difficulty communicating with them.

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The deeper challenge, though, as I discovered when leading a workshop at Moldova State University on Friday, is that researchers in this post-Soviet state have no training or infrastructure to help them explain their work to the public, whether on social media, through journalists or otherwise. IMG_3407Moldova State University, the country’s flagship academic institution, doesn’t even have a news office, much less a system for promoting faculty research.

As someone who worked with researchers for several decades in the United States before coming to Moldova two years ago to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was humbled by the immense challenges academics face here. The ones I met are working on renewable energy options, decision-making models, biomedical systems and more, but they are essentially on their own in sharing their work with their fellow Moldovans, much less the outside world. 

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By contrast, the news office I led previously at Duke University (above) now has three research communicators as well as videographers, photographers, social media experts and others available to assist with stories. Additional research communicators focus on medicine, engineering, environment and other topics at Duke’s various schools. The same is true at other top U.S. research universities, as well as at other campuses, national labs, corporations and others involved in research. The National Association of Science Writers has nearly 2,000 members, with active regional groups, and there are U.S. groups for professional communicators in medicine, health care, environment, education and other fields.

Here in Moldova, there’s close to nothing.

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The main reason, of course, is money, or rather the lack of it. Prior to the workshop, I reached out to Florentin Paladi, a physicist and impressive guy (in the blue shirt in the photo above) who oversees research at the university and, earlier in his career, spent time at the University of Michigan and institutions in London, Italy and Japan. He described a budget so tight that most professors earn less than a U.S. teenager working at McDonald’s, with no resources left for news offices and other functions we take for granted back home.

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That’s why I encouraged the professors to use social media, since they can do it themselves for free. I showed them how researchers do this in the West, drawing on some excellent slides shared by my former Duke colleague, Karl Bates. I also showed a few budding social media examples from this part of the world, a few of which I’ve included here. I needed to move quickly, though, since I had to leave time for everyone to practice explaining their work simply to each other and, later, to the group. Just like back home, this led to laughter and applause as these highly trained experts struggled to speak without jargon, whether in Romanian or English. (The workshop was supposed to be in English but I ended up teaching much of it in Romanian.)

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A few weeks earlier, at the invitation of Vladimir Snurenco, I taught workshops at the American Language Center (above), on news writing and opinion writing. The students at these sessions were not academics but I encountered similar cultural differences. For instance, many media outlets here are controlled by oligarchs or foreign governments and even routine local news stories may be colored with political commentary. “Pay to play” is common. There are few op-ed pages.

I’ll be returning home in a few weeks and am already bracing myself for the first time I hear someone complain we don’t do enough in the United States and other developed countries to highlight research, which is often supported with public funds and is essential to our collective health, security and prosperity. I agree with them but, even so, I now know some experts who could give them a second opinion.

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Super Moldovans

 

Has someone ever inspired you? Inspirational people exist not only in America but here in Moldova, too. A few weeks ago, Peace Corps launched a social media campaign on Facebook to honor some of them as Super Moldovans.

Celia Joyce, a Peace Corps volunteer from Ohio, selected Ruslan Bistrița, a science teacher from her school with whom she’s posing in the top-left photo. Celia said all of the students and teachers “admire his dedication, kindness and willingness to help. I feel the same way and am lucky to work with him.”

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-8-52-03-amIn the middle photo on top is Donna Barnes, formerly a professor at Howard University, who called her school director, Eudochia Babalici, a Super Moldovan for working “so long, with so little. She is a true inspiration to me.”

Champa is posing with our host family grandmother, or “bunica.” She wrote: “Nadejda Ciornea is my ‘Super Moldovan.’ She inspires me with her hard work and cheerful spirit. She is 86 years old and travels on public transportation every day to Chișinău, where she sells goods in the outdoor market, even during the winter. It is amazing how much energy she has. ‘Bunica’ is a caring person who makes me feel like a member of her own family. I am so lucky to know her.”

As you can see in the example from Haley Bader, volunteers are posting these salutes in both Romanian and English, with Peace Corps staff providing some translation help. Then the volunteers share the posts within their communities. Facebook is popular in Moldova, so local people see the nice things being said about their neighbors.

 

The response has been gratifying. Donna wrote: “When I showed the Super Moldovan page to my director with a picture of the two of us, her face lit up as though I had given her a pot of gold. I swear I made her day. She began sharing it with friends and family. She recently lost her husband and this is the first time in weeks I have seen her grin from ear to ear.”

Chris Flowers, in the maroon shirt above, got a similar reaction from his Super Moldovan, Ana Mirza, one of the leaders of Diamond Challenge in Moldova. Chris said Ana’s “face absolutely lit up. We often tell each other how much we appreciate the work we both do on the project but this gesture seemed very important to her and I’m very happy to have acknowledged her publicly.”

In the middle photo above is Peace Corps volunteer Alex Bostian, with his host mom, Valentina Efticov. On the right is Katrina Broughman with Nadejda Stoica, an English teacher and community leader.screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-4-47-00-pm

One of the first posters was Michelle McNeary from California. She’s honoring Rodica Novak, in the striped shirt, a senior in her high school whose “enthusiasm never ceases to amaze me.”

The Super Moldovans project began after our Peace Corps country director, Tracey Hébert-Seck, challenged Liuba Chitaev and me to think of a way to attract moreimg_2593 attention not only for volunteers but also for the great work being done by some of our Moldovan partners. Liuba manages communications for Peace Corps Moldova and, at Tracey’s request, I recently began working with her and others on communications projects, drawing on my own background in the field.

That’s Liuba at her desk in the photo. She helped to initiate the Super Moldovans campaign and has been doing a great job of managing it. She’s also planning some other new ways for Peace Corps Moldova to reach out to  various audiences.

It’s been a lot of fun to work with Liuba, who is full of energy and good ideas. She’s Moldovan, of course. Come to think of it, she’s pretty super, too.