Science in Society

Focus on the researcher: Conveying the So what? and writing a short biography

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Why am I doing this work?

  • Part of the mandate of the HSRC is to conduct research that informs or evaluates policy; stimulate debate through research dissemination; and build capacity and collaboration. The main (final) impact is to improve the lives of South Africans by reducing poverty and inequality. Each researcher needs to be able  – in a paragraph or two – to explain in layman’s terms which SA challenge(s) their work speaks to.
  • For example: If the HSRC is evaluating a housing project in Cape Town, such a description could refer to the high cost of housing and how living far from economic hubs makes it difficult for people to access employment, education and services. The description often includes latest statistics or news events that emphasise the seriousness of the challenge.
  • Being able to describe the SA challenge(s) that an HSRC project is addressing is an important starting point for people to understand why they should engage with a researcher in the first place. It often forms part of the introduction of articles, presentations, videos and other communications products and the researcher should be able to speak on it clearly at the drop of a hat.
  • Practise conceptualising and communicating the ultimate purpose of your work by talking to your mentors, getting good sources of statistics that speak to SA challenges, engaging with the public and asking communications practitioners to help with words and phrases.

Who am I?

  • Every researcher needs to have an updated biography that speaks to the work they do at the HSRC and, if necessary, even a few custom-edited biographies for specific events and[AO1]  engagements. Bombarding conference organisers with five-page CVs may lead to the bio being edited down in such a way that it is no longer an accurate summary of your most relevant skills or recent work. Seasoned researchers may need support with selecting the essential, and young interns with communicating their appreciation of SA challenges and research interests convincingly.

Example of a short biography

  • Word count (200 to 400 words)
  • Introduction:
  • Only use professional and academic titles: Prof, Dr, Adv
  • Use the name known by your professional peers: Johan Smith (rather than “Johannes Arnoldus Hermanus”). In some parts of the world, the order of first names and surnames is switched. For consistency and clarity, the HSRC uses first name followed by the surname.
  • Mention your current position using lowercase in this format: Dr John Smith is a senior researcher in the HSRC’s Impact Centre.

Example: Dr Zanele Biyela is a research specialist in the HSRC’s Inclusive Economic Development division.

  • Qualifications:
  • Mention the highest or most relevant only. For example, if you have a PhD and an MA in the same field, only mention the PhD, with the year and the name of the institution.
  • You may use abbreviations such as BA, MA, BSc and PhD etc. but avoid abbreviations if your qualification is not that common. Another option is to write it out in lowercase: She holds a master’s degree in international studies from the University of South Carolina.
  • Write subjects such as sociology, psychology and engineering in lower case, unless it is written in brackets as part of the exact qualification name, e.g. BA (Sociology) or a Doctor of Science, but she has a doctoral degree in sociology.
  • A doctoral degree is the same as a doctorate, but not all doctoral degrees are PhDs. The person may have a Doctor of Literature or a Doctor of Science.
  • Note the apostrophe:

She has a master’s degree in science or a Master of Science

She has a bachelor’s degree in science or a Bachelor of Science

But … an honours degree (without the apostrophe)

Example: She holds a doctorate in higher education from Stellenbosch University (1998) and an MBA from Boston University in the USA (1999).

  • Specialities, expertise or research interests (20-80 words): This information is important for collaboration and to entice more people to attend your presentation and if you are a young researcher or an intern not yet able to claim much expertise. Mention your interests and why they are important, for example: Since the start of his HSRC internship in 2018, Smith has worked on several projects focusing on the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents in South Africa, including the impact of gender-based violence in schools. He has a particular interest in the role of fathers/schools/sport …

Example: Biyela has vast experience in the field of curriculum development for technical and vocational education and training. She has a particular interest in the role of …

Work experience and current projects (50-150 words)

  • What have you worked on before? Where you have worked, but avoid a long list of minor less relevant positions/institutions.
  • Also mention what you are working on currently.​​​​​​​

Example: In 2009, Biyela led a Lesotho study on skills training in the agricultural sector, a project that focused on helping rural farmers to diversify their crop …

She has also led a curriculum-development project for skills development for the Eastern Cape’s automotive industry, which helped Volkswagen train …

Currently, Biyela is leading the HSRC’s work on the Labour Market Intelligence Project. This work is in collaboration with the government and seeks to develop a list of skills in supply and demand to prioritise training investment. This project aims to …

  • Achievements, roles and awards and publications: (10 – 60 words)
  • Only major and relevant awards, prominent roles or achievements. Avoid long lists of board positions, publications or internal awards. No bullet points.

Example: Biyela is a member of the government’s expert panel on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where she gives input on new training avenues in increasingly digitised industries. She is the author of over 150 academic publications, journal articles, book chapters and books covering various aspects of skills development, higher education and training, labour markets and workplace transformation.

  • Contact number and email (for correspondence only):
  • This will not be printed. The HSRC or conference organisers need it to contact researchers about bio queries.
  • Number: mobile number  
  • Email:  
  • Contact details (to be displayed in programme/on website)​​​​​​​
  • This is not obligatory, but it is good to include your email address below your bio or abstract in conference programmes or on the HSRC website for delegates, the media and others who would want to make contact with you.

How to communicate science targeting a broader audience?​​​​​​​

  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. What do I want to share?
  3. What should my word count be?
  4. How do I structure an article?
  5. How can I use stories in my communication?
  6. I need help with language and style
  7. What about footnotes/bibliographies/references?
  8. Tick box
  9. Talking about the HSRC: Are we diluting our brand?
  10. Focus on the researcher: Conveying the So What? and writing a short biography
  11. How do I structure a PowerPoint presentation?
  12. How do I take a useful photograph?
  13. How do I plan the structure of a short video?
  14. Useful links on science communication
  15. I am no digital native and need help with these: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​creating hyperlinks, tracking edits in Word, making edits in Pdf, sending large documents and folders via WeTransfer
  16. Visualise your communication for impact
  17. HSRC events: Requirements for drafting and sending invitations