UCLA faculty can showcase their research and connect it to current events on a new online forum that aims to spread awareness about social science research.
Darnell Hunt, a sociology and African American studies professor and dean of social sciences, said he started the LA Social Science e-Forum to make social science research more accessible to the public. The forum had its soft launch May 3 and will be more heavily promoted early fall quarter.
“The e-forum is about translation – taking research that could be abstract and inaccessible to the public and making it accessible,” Hunt said. “We’re trying to identify, isolate and promote what’s relevant.”
Hunt said the forum is geared toward faculty, students, alumni and community partners and aims to generate a dialogue between faculty and readers.
Ana-Christina Ramón, director of research and civic engagement at the UCLA division of social sciences and the managing editor of the forum, said her job is to keep track of research going on in the division and encourage faculty to write posts relevant to current events.
“A lot of times, people don’t understand what’s going on in public universities because they think of them as an ivory tower,” Ramón said. “We want to show that the work being done in our division is very relevant to them and can make people’s lives better.”
The e-forum is currently accepting opinion pieces, research summaries, announcements about books and other news in short posts of 500 words or less. The forum categorizes submissions into three divisions – challenges, knowledge and solutions.
Hunt said the forum aims to make social science research appear more relevant to Los Angeles.
“We see LA as a portal to the rest of the world,” Hunt said. “It doesn’t matter where your research is, it has parallels in LA.”
Ramón said Hunt wanted to renew the division of social sciences’ commitment to civic and social engagement since he was appointed as the dean of social sciences in July.
“(Hunt) had a vision to elevate the division of social sciences in a way that we connected with the Los Angeles community a lot more than we had in the past,” Ramón said.
Ellen Pearlstein, a professor of information studies, recently wrote a post on the basket conservation class she taught. The class was in collaboration with the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs, California, for the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials. The program is a partnership between UCLA and the Getty Conservation Institute.
Pearlstein said she thinks the forum allows the public to preview faculty’s new research and helps put their work out in the world more quickly than an academic journal. However, she added she thinks the conciseness of the posts can also be detrimental because it is hard to condense extensive research into such few words.
Margaret Peters, an assistant professor of political science, wrote her post on President Donald Trump’s trade and immigration policies and how it is difficult to restrict both trade and immigration because of how they are connected. She added she has previously shared her research on blogs like the Monkey Cage at The Washington Post, Duck of Minerva, Lawfare and The New Republic.
Peters added she thinks the forum can help call attention to social science research in the context of global issues and support collaboration between faculty members for research.
“In the social sciences you never know what will become a hot topic or what someone will find to be useful,” Peters said.
Hunt said he thinks faculty can make academic research more accessible to the public by maintaining a regular relationship with media, which the forum aims to do. He added he thinks minimizing technical jargon and focusing on big-picture questions can help make research more digestible.
“We want to be more visible in the Los Angeles community,” Ramón said. “But this is a two-way street – we have to interact with the public and find out what they want to know.”