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MediaLab Boot Camp Gives Grad Students Hands-On Communications Experience

November 12, 2014

Universities are full of good ideas for how to change the world. But without good communication skills, those ideas may never reach wider audiences.

Professor Peter Ubel teaching in classroom, students in the backTwenty-eight Duke graduate policy students learned what it takes to get their messages across during “MediaLab: A Research Translation Boot Camp,” a special workshop offered at the Sanford School during fall orientation week. 

The hands-on training session introduced students to a range of tools and skills to help them translate research findings into engaging forms for journalists, policymakers, and others who lack the specialized knowledge they acquire as policy students.

Developed by Alison Jones, communications director for the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, and Karen Kemp, assistant dean of the Sanford School, the program was offered for the first time this fall.  

Masters and doctoral students from the Sanford graduate programs, the Nicholas School and other programs spent two and a half days learning from faculty and professionals how to turn research into appealing graphics, how to pitch a news story, on-camera interview techniques, how to manage a social media presence and more. Presenters included:

  • Sanford Professor Bill Adair, founder of the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact, who explained the differences between “off the record” and “on background.”
  • MPP alumna Shannon Ritchie and Professor Peter Ubel (pictured)who discussed the advantages and challenges of using social media in the policy arena.
  • Marty Morris, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and visiting lecturer with Hart Leadership Program, gave tips on how to get policymakers to pay attention to your message. 

Other topics included graphics design for non-designers, effective charts and graphs, op-ed writing and press release writing. On the final day, the student teams presented work they produced based on research articles, with topics ranging from gun violence to adolescents’ cell phone use.

It was the kind of “workshop that every single public policy student who wants to make a social change should take," said Sebastian Bowen MIDP’15.