The Conversation gives faculty another way to share expertise

Iowa State faculty have another option for sharing knowledge that extends past the classroom.

Seven months ago, Iowa State became a member of The Conversation US. The website, which has sites for several other countries, strives to provide insight on a range of topics written by academics.

"We can share the expertise and research findings of our faculty members and researchers in a way that makes sense to the average reader," said executive director of university relations John McCarroll. "These are not scholarly journal articles; these are essays."


Since 2009, Iowa State has been a member of Futurity, a website that showcases research news in science, health, culture and the environment. Content is produced by university news staff, not academic faculty.

The Conversation

Iowa State articles published by The Conversation

Faculty from several departments have published on the platform in the past six months, some before the university was an official member. Topics include political science, engineering, economics, sociology and interior design.

The Conversation, which began in 2014, provides analytics to the author and Iowa State for each article posted on the site. It shows how many people read the essay, where it was republished and comments made across social media.

"The Conversation provides visibility for them as researchers, and it certainly provides visibility for Iowa State," said vice president for research Sarah Nusser. "It increases the public awareness of why research of any kind is important. It is really about making sure that the work we do at Iowa State gets a light shined on it."

How it works

All articles come from authors affiliated with an academic institution who have expertise on the subject. Most articles come from faculty pitches or by Iowa State News Service facilitating the initial connection. The Conversation also solicits authors through expert requests on given topics. The Conversation editors' criteria are:

  • Is it of interest to a general audience?
  • Is it timely?
  • Is the academic an expert?
  • Can the topic be covered in 1,000 words or fewer?

If the pitch is accepted, the author works with a Conversation editor -- an experienced journalist -- who will edit and offer suggestions. The writing and editing process may be on a tight timeline because much of the website's content deals with current events, but the author has final approval before the article is published.

"I have written an article for The Conversation, and they are very helpful," Nusser said. "They take your raw material and help edit it toward something that an educated high schooler could read. It is extremely beneficial."

Articles are free to read and republish, with few restrictions. The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek have republished The Conversation articles.

Getting results

Through January, Iowa State has had 17 published articles. The current contract is for one year with a decision on extension coming likely this summer.

"The feedback we have gotten from faculty members who have written for The Conversation has all been positive, and some has been extraordinarily positive," McCarroll said. "We have to look for these different ways to get the word out about Iowa State University, to share our research and knowledge, to share our achievements."

Expanding reach

Iowa State joined 56 college and university members of The Conversation. The annual fee is covered by the president’s office, the vice president for research's office, university relations and all seven colleges.

Before ISU committed, university representatives talked with peers at three larger member universities -- Michigan State, Texas A&M and Penn State.

"All three of them said it was beneficial," McCarroll said. "It doesn’t replace what your news service staff does every day, which is generate solid stories -- many about research -- but it is a good supplement to that. Because of the reach of The Conversation, it does expand beyond our normal coverage."

Nusser said The Conversation is one of several efforts Iowa State has committed to in recent years to make the public aware of scholarship and research at the university.

"Our training program has included events about communicating research to the public for several years," she said. "This is a really nice way, through a written venue, that enables researchers to provide articles that get spread out into the national and international press."