The ABC of building connections, confidence and reach to make impact

Dr Liz Allen in studio
27 May 2020

Dr Liz Allen reflects on the ABC TOP 5 – ABC Media Residency Program.

I don’t tend to win stuff. I wouldn’t call myself exceptional; in fact, I’m pretty ordinary. When I found out about the ABC Top 5 residency program I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be in it to win it, as they say. I wanted to be part of something that could help me better understand the world of media to strengthen the effectiveness of my work. The added benefit of the world of media to better understanding demography was very attractive. I thought the skills learned as part of the program could set me apart, help me stand out a little. And, gosh, did I have a story to tell the world (well, Australia, but you have to aim big).

I reckon my discipline of demography is like a secret language of awesomeness that allows the asking and answering of profound questions about ourselves as people. Given the opportunity, I enjoy trying to convince others (maybe convert is a better word) of the importance and power of demography and thinking demographically. The ABC Top 5 residency program enabled me to learn the skills necessary to go some way to make demography a household name (yep, aiming big again).

Applying for the program was an empowering process for me. I’ve been an advocate of media diversity for some time: people need to see themselves reflected for true engagement. What better way for greater media diversity than offering yourself up as tribute? Offer myself up I did. To my great surprise (and joy) I was among the inaugural humanities and social sciences Top 5 group in 2018. During the two-week residency I worked with some outstanding ABC people and other top-5ers, and developed lasting connections and networks.

ABC entrance

As part of the residency I developed a range of media, and through the process increased my confidence to develop communications to reach wider audiences and make greater impact. I developed a segment on the Life Matters radio program, under the wing of a Radio National producer - everything from background research, shaping interview questions, to arranging talent to appear on the program. A story I had yearned to tell the world was told in a phenomenal way, drawing on the voices of those with lived experience. I even got to tell my own story of overcoming disadvantage.

The most important part, for me, was learning how to present content which is engaging and impactful. I learned how to properly (and most effectively) package messages and their delivery so that my work is understood beyond the world of academia. Learning to create on-camera content helped me better frame and deliver key messages - skills I am constantly drawing on.

An unexpected, but nonetheless incredible, thing happened while I was in residency with the ABC. A book publisher happened to be listening to an interview I did on morning radio. Long story short, this chance engagement via the airwaves led to me being granted the opportunity to write a book. Writing a book is something I never dreamed possible, especially between my teaching commitments and the fine balance of caring for my kids. I’m proud to say I did write a book…it got published…and apparently some people like it. I’m still reeling.

If you’re thinking about applying to the ABC Top 5 residency program…Do. It.

If you’re passionate about your research and want to share your enthusiasm and knowledge for what you do with the world, then the ABC Top 5 residency program is for you. There are too few opportunities for academics to extend themselves outside the narrow confines of the academy, and the ABC Top 5 is designed to do exactly that: help you spread the word about whatever it is you do with far greater reach than anything you’ll ever dream to do in years of conferences, publications and commentary. Expect to experience new things, learn how to communicate your work to audiences beyond academia, and reignite enthusiasm for your work.

Entries close 1 June 2020.

The 2020 Top 5 Program is a partnership of the ANU and the ABC, with science communication expertise from the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS)


Dr Liz Allen is a demographer and social researcher, teaching research methods and researching population dynamics at the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods. She was named in the inaugural ABC Top 5 Humanities and Social Sciences academics in Australia 2018. Her book on Australia's demography, The Future of Us, is out now.