On August 28, 2014, we bid farewell to some of the students who have been instrumental in helping York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit deliver expert knowledge mobilization services. We are pleased to post the reflections of our students on their time with us.
Le 28 août dernier, nous disions au revoir à quelques-uns des étudiants qui ont joué un rôle majeur dans notre équipe en nous permettant d’offrir des services de mobilisation des connaissances spécialisés. Nous publions ici quelques-unes des réflexions que leur a inspirées leur séjour parmi nous.
Name: Paula Elias
Degree: Honours B.A. in History and Race, Ethnicity and Indigeneity; a B.ED in York’s concurrent education program; and a Certificate in Anti-Racist Research and Practice under the Department of Equity Studies
Work at the KMb Unit: Almost four years as Research Translation Assistant
What’s Next: Master of Arts, Adult Education and Community Development, OISE, University of Toronto; September 2014
My name is Paula Elias, and I am a former Research Translation Assistant of York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, and an alumni of York as well. During my time at York, I completed an Honours B.A. in History and Race, Ethnicity and Indigeneity; a B.ED in York’s concurrent education program; and a Certificate in Anti-Racist Research and Practice under the Department of Equity Studies.
As a Research Translation Assistant (from October 2010 to August 2014), my role within the unit began as a writer. I took peer-reviewed journal articles – often from new or emerging research by York faculty- and drafted 2 page clear language summaries, also known as ResearchSnapshots.
My tasks went beyond pen and paper, as a second, critical part of my work involved communicating with these same York researchers in the editing and finalizing process. This was a meaningful part of my work: it engaged researchers with the unit and the principles of knowledge mobilization (and the snapshot as a tool to disseminate research). For many, they often commented that putting their work “in clear language” was a new or unfamiliar experience. In some instances, the communication was a simple follow up of edits here and there. In others, rounds of drafts were sent, as I worked with researchers over trickier language or conceptual arguments, where “simple” words couldn’t showcase the breadth of complexity.
With time, my responsibilities expanded to leading the outreach and selection for new ResearchSnapshots, dependent on our unit’s priorities. I also supported and trained new writers, as well as writing teams from the KMb Unit’s partners, or those who were seeking to model our tools.
This position allowed me to develop on many levels: academically, professional and personally. I strengthened my ability to read academic materials, identify arguments, writing structures, and evidence used in the research I encountered in my own studies. I learned how to manage communication in various forms, and was instilled with the “ideals” of knowledge mobilization- that research should be purposeful and useful, beyond the confines of a university campus. Personally, I developed confidence in my communication strengths, given the independence to write content, and curiosity to encounter research beyond the realms of my own fields.
I also found myself extremely frustrated with the process at times. This is not meant to sound like a critique or challenge to the work I did, but a reflection on how the position pushed me to be a more thoughtful person and student regarding the role of research to influence policy and community. These were not the woes of your everyday undergraduate. As a young, racialized woman who found opportunities in community to become strong, educated, and critical, I began to think beyond the Snapshot. To not only engage people with the research that attempted to address their everyday lives, but to give community decision making roles in the kind of research, the kind of results, and the kind of dissemination and uses.
We often speak about collaboration between all stakeholders in the effort to mobilize knowledge and increase impact: among researchers, community members, community organizations and policymakers. However, from my perspective, KM still largely relies on a trickle-down effect of shaping institutional practices of government or community partners. Institutional barriers are still at work: why the growing excitement over the potential of a “rising” from York region, while the Jane-Finch community remains an official, yet still invisible, obligatory partner in research. This view is largely influenced by my limited role as research translation assistant- a consideration for future undergraduate roles within research services to be exposed to the fuller extent of the work research services is doing with (not for) community.
Moving forward, I am beginning my Masters of Arts in Adult Education and Community Development at the University of Toronto’s OISE Faculty. I hope to study the impact that doing youth participatory action research can have on engaging young people with community development, and perhaps engaging schools with community. A second priority during these studies will be to consider how youth as researchers may reshape or challenge our existing understanding of KM. Specifically, with regards to who the researcher “creators” and “users” are, and the ways research findings are understood to be “useful” or have “impact”. I am thankful for the experiences and support I’ve gained through the KMb Unit, and believe the effort to instil KM with both graduate, and undergraduate students, is a valuable one. With such prioriorities, I would hope this would lead to a more thoughtful and accountable university culture and group of academics for the future.