International media profile for post-doctoral researcher
“You do have to make an effort to let people know that you are available and prepared to take part in media opportunities.” - Dr John Elliott, University of Oxford
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” says Dr John Elliott, modestly, of his international media profile. Dr Elliott is a post-doctoral research associate at the Centre for Observing and Modelling Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET+) Research Group at the University of Oxford who has developed a reputation in the media as a scientific ‘expert’ on earthquakes just three years after gaining his PhD.
Dr Elliott’s research focuses on the forensic study of earthquakes, creating maps of the Earth’s surface using radar satellite and seismic data to show which parts of a fault rupture in a quake and which do not. He processes the data and produces the modelling as part of the research team in the Department of Earth Sciences.
To say that his media opportunity was just luck is only half-true. Dr Elliott had recently taken the media training offered free to NERC-funded researchers. As a result, he had put himself on Oxford University’s list of specialists prepared to contribute comments and interviews to the media.
“You do have to make an effort to let people know that you are available and are prepared to take part in media opportunities. The training really helped but it was still nerve-racking the first time I did a real broadcast interview. After about six though I was well versed in simple analogies to explain how the earthquake happened.” says Dr Elliott. His first foray into the media followed the Haiti earthquake in 2010. He has since been asked to comment on the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand and the Tohoku earthquake in Japan in 2011.
Dr Elliott describes the users of his research as NGOs who deal with the humanitarian cost of earthquakes and emergency services and planning agencies in Governments particularly in countries with less developed earthquake monitoring facilities such as Turkey, China, and Iran. However, as he points out the beneficiaries of his research are much greater and represent tens of millions of people in the world living on or near fault lines. His research has the potential to save many lives so he believes that it is important to find routes for communication beyond journal articles. Dr Elliott says that his media activity has opened up opportunities for wider groups to find out about the research in Oxford. He has given talks to Oxfam and also to development studies students on a Masters course.
He admits that despite the benefits of being a media commentator, he totally underestimated how demanding producing material for the media and doing interviews would be. “Journalists work on very different timescales to researchers. You have to be prepared to give a very rapid response without saying anything alarming or factually incorrect. To prepare well for an interview you have to stop doing your research work for at least a few hours to give yourself a good grounding in the particular earthquake and current situation. Often one interview will lead to another, but it is usually over a relatively short period of time so though it is disruptive, you do cope,” he comments.
Institution:University of Oxford