learning from the scholar
Learning from the scholar like teacher. Retro editorial illustration style.

Proteomics is one of the pivotal next-generation biotechnologies in the current ‘‘postgenomics’’ era. Little is known about the ways in which innovative proteomics science is navigating the complex socio-political space between laboratory and society. It cannot be assumed that the trajectory between proteomics laboratory and society is linear and unidirectional. Concerned about public accountability and hopes for knowledge-based innovations, funding agencies and citizens increasingly expect that emerging science and technologies, such as proteomics, are effectively translated and disseminated as innovation in society. Here, we describe translation strategies promoted in the knowledge translation (KT) and science communication literatures and examine the use of these strategies within the field of proteomics.

Drawing on data generated from qualitative interviews with proteomics scientists and ethnographic observation of international proteomics conferences over a 5-year period, we found that proteomics science incorporates a variety of KT strategies to reach knowledge users outside the field. To attain the full benefit of KT, however, proteomics scientists must challenge their own normative assumptions and approaches to innovation dissemination—beyond the current paradigm relying primarily on publication for one’s scientific peers within one’s field—and embrace the value of broader (interdisciplinary) KT strategies in promoting the uptake of their research. Notably, the Human Proteome Organization (HUPO) is paying increasing attention to a broader range of KT strategies, including targeted dissemination, integrated KT, and public outreach. We suggest that increasing the variety of KT strategies employed by proteomics scientists is timely and would serve well the omics system sciences community.

Overcoming KT Hurdles

In the current research environment, there is an increasing recognition by funders and by scientists of the need for enhanced KT and dissemination of research outcomes beyond the traditional forms (Estabrooks et al., 2008; Tetroe et al., 2008). Yet, key barriers to academics engaging more effectively and broadly in KT include: the effort it takes to sustain collaborative relationships; the products of less traditional forms of KT are not always highly valued for funding, hiring, tenure, and promotion; and scientists lack the communication skills to present their findings in clear, accessible language (Dobbins et al., 2007; Estabrooks et al., 2008).

These are serious barriers that can be overcome with a clear KT goal and knowledge user input. Graham et al. (2006) suggest that knowledge producers increase the use of their research by highlighting: what should be disseminated, to whom, by whom, how, and with what effect? Active engagement with these kinds of questions will increase the engagement of others with proteomics and make it easier for researchers to more clearly articulate their place in broader public debates about the public value of science, in which issues of public engagement are crucial (Stilgoe et al., 2014).

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