Getting your work in the media - what's it like? (Angela Russell)

Photo by annie pm on Unsplash

If you’ve ever wondered how researchers write opinion pieces, or where you can get your research published to reach a wider audience, this post from PhD Candidate Ange Russell - about her experience of writing on (and being interviewed about) kangaroo poo 
- is a great read. You can also sign up for our RED workshops on Writing Opinion Pieces during the next Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo).


I wanted to give you a brief insight into my experience of getting an article about my research published, with the hope that it might demystify the process and encourage you to consider doing something similar.

My research is on marsupial gut microbiomes, which means part of my work involves collecting poop. The idea to write about this for a broader audience all started with my confirmation of candidature, when the Chair said he thought my thesis introduction would make a good opinion piece. Not knowing what an opinion piece was, I turned to the RED Program website and saw there was an upcoming session on writing opinion pieces. Perfect!

Meagan Tyler and Dan Walder took the workshop and talked us through the basics of writing for non-academic audiences and they mentioned The Conversation, a news website focused on publishing the work of academics and researchers. I hadn’t heard of it before but hung around after the session for a chat and Dan thought the poop-collecting angle (I sometimes think of it as a Poo-h-D) might work for an interesting pitch.

I had already written a short blog for the website of a grant provider and received very positive feedback from them. On the other hand, my supervisor had been initially horrified, as it was mainly about poop, and the volunteers who collected and posted it to me. That piece had been suitable for the purpose it was written, but not exactly cutting-edge science or a topic with especially wide appeal. So, I didn’t necessarily think I had a publishable story.

In a way, it was useful that I knew little about The Conversation itself, as I might otherwise have found the whole thing more intimidating. I’d also been encouraged by some to wait until after my PhD was completed before pitching an opinion piece about my research. But I took it as a challenge and headed straight for The Conversation website and the pitches page, which was quite off-putting in saying they get so many submissions they can only publish a few. The world of opinion pieces can be quite brutal and competitive.

But ten minutes was all it took to write a short synopsis of my poop article and I chalked it up as an educational experience for when I really had something to say. It was a good practice run. The next day, I received an email from the deputy editor saying they thought my pitch was “an interesting and refreshing take on scientific research” and how soon could I submit a first draft? As I had already written the article, I sent it off within half an hour, having tidied and expanded it a little. Again, they came back to me within 24 hours, loved the draft, said they would give it some light editing, and asked me to provide photos to accompany the article. They sent me the edited copy for my approval and suggested a publishing date between Christmas and New Year, as they felt it would make excellent holiday reading.

A relative was the first to congratulate me after reading my article in The Guardian and it was then I learned that other news sites can pick up stories from The Conversation and repost them under Creative Commons licensing. It has also appeared over at Australian Geographic. Since it was published in December, my little article about kangaroo poo has been read by more than 30,000 people, I’ve done three radio interviews (not my forte!) about my work, and been contacted by two other researchers wanting to meet up and discuss some collaboration.

So, if you’re thinking about writing an opinion piece, go for it, I say. It may open new doors, help your research, and looks good on a CV. Imagine how many conferences you would need to attend to get 30,000 people to hear about your research! It doesn't matter if it's words of encouragement or discouragement that spur you into action. Someone may be looking for a story right now about your niche subject to share with the world.


After careers in small animal and wildlife veterinary nursing and with the Queensland and Metropolitan Ambulance Service, Angela Russell commenced study in Biological Science at La Trobe University in 2011. She graduated in 2015 and was accepted into the Honours programme where she completed a thesis into road-kill patterns of marsupials, achieving first-class results. 

Angela had a break from studying for several years before returning to La Trobe as a graduate researcher.

The focus of Angela's research is the structure of the marsupial microbiome, and how rearing and release rates of orphaned marsupials can be improved by supporting the development of microbiome structure and supplementing it when necessary.