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The inaugural Professor Sir Paul Curran award for excellence in academic communication goes to …

The Conversation Editor in the UK, Stephen Khan, with Dr Ian Whittaker and Professor Sir Paul Curran (left to right).

I am often asked what I feel the best article is that we have published on The Conversation. And there is no answer to that question. Every day tens of articles representing the strength and diversity of academia go live. They are so different, and all take specialist knowledge to a broad, non-academic readership.

For some time though, we have been keen to formally mark the contribution our wonderful expert authors make and to highlight work that consistently showcases the new form of journalism The Conversation has forged.

Thanks to our Patron, Professor Sir Paul Curran, President of City, University of London, this is now possible. A prize in his name for excellence in academic communication through The Conversation has been won by Ian Whittaker of Nottingham Trent University and Gareth Dorrian of the University of Birmingham.

Sir Paul presented the award to Whittaker – who picked it up on behalf of both authors – at a reception at City, University of London on Friday May 17. Judging was carried out my me, in conjunction with other members of the editorial team, and The Conversation’s Editorial Board. As Editor of the UK edition, I am fortunate enough to read many articles on the site that illuminate, explain and entertain. Choosing a winner for the prize was far from easy.

But Whittaker and Dorrian displayed consistency, submitting a number of high-level contributions, combined with post-publication engagement that made their efforts truly exceptional. Their work has covered topics such as space travel, the climate on planets, and even conspiracy theories. They also contributed to our Curious Kids strand, where academics answer questions submitted by children.

Twin-handled silver cup

Speaking about the award, Sir Paul said: “These authors have woven compelling narratives grounded in their areas of research. They have been read 1.5m times and republished around the world, illustrating the power and value of The Conversation.

"The award for academic communication is the first of many awards that I hope we can establish to celebrate the achievements of our authors. It comprises a twin-handled silver cup, manufactured around a hundred years ago and now engraved with the name of both The Conversation and the title of the award. This beautiful trophy will be held (and hopefully polished) by the recipients until next year’s ceremony.”

Sir Paul was also the founding Chair of The Conversation’s governing Board of Trustees in the UK, where it is a registered charity.

Professor Sir Paul Curran speaking at the presentation of the award. Mark Rigby/City, University of London

For us as editors, the event was a great opportunity to meet a number of our valued contributors, including Whittaker. He said: “I was honoured to be the first recipient of this trophy as communicating is one of the key skills of an academic. The Conversation is an excellent way of getting the knowledge that we pick up and use on a daily basis and make it accessible to a much wider audience. This method of communication is especially beneficial in a time when journalism and experts in general are less trusted by the public.”

He also praised the contribution of Miriam Frankel, The Conversation Science Editor he had worked closely with.

Dorrian added: “It was quite a surprise to win this award but I am very grateful to have been joint winner along with my colleague. Communicating science is something of a passion of mine, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to really do it until I was introduced to The Conversation. It has proven quite a gateway to me and, I’m sure, many other authors as well who would not otherwise have had the chance to explain their interests to the public. Long may it continue!”

So many of our authors find their work reaches far and wide thanks to our global network of republishers. Whittaker and Dorian’s articles led to multiple media appearances and translations into Spanish, French and Bahasa Indonesian.

I’m thrilled that we have been able to mark the contribution of these two authors. But I feel the establishment of the Professor Sir Paul Curran award is a nod to the strength of the entire body of academic contributors who work with The Conversation. And as Sir Paul says, hopefully more awards can be established to recognise specific achievements in the years to come.

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