When Sharon Parmet first saw the job posting for a knowledge translation specialist with The Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, she was intrigued, but didn’t immediately apply. “I’d never heard of knowledge translation before,” she said. After doing a little research, Parmet realized that she would be a great fit for the job. “I’d actually been doing knowledge translation for the last 20 years in one capacity or another.”
Parmet applied for the job and joined the CROR team as a healthcare communications associate in January.
Parmet has been writing about scientific discoveries, clinical services and patient and student stories as part of communication teams, mostly at institutions of higher education, hospitals and non-profits. She has worked in media relations and communications at the University of Chicago, Illinois Tech, the American Medical Association and the University of Illinois at Chicago where she was director of health sciences and research communications. She’s interviewed hundreds of scientists over the course of her career, which began after she earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.
After earning her degree, Parmet went to work as an intern at Popular Science magazine, commuting from her home on Long Island to New York City. “It was great. They sent me to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to interview some researchers who developed advanced materials that could block aerosolized bioagents. The article I wrote wound up on the cover of the magazine and helped me land a job at the University of Chicago,” explained Parmet. At U of C and other organizations throughout her career, Parmet focused on translating scientific discoveries into news releases and media pitches with the goal of getting reporters to cover the research. “In media relations you have your subject matter, which you need to be somewhat comfortable with, and you also need to be familiar with the media; who they are, what they cover and how to contact them. It’s kind of like two jobs mashed into one.”
At CROR, Parmet works on several knowledge translation, or KT projects. These efforts aim to help disseminate the findings of the research team to people who would most benefit. She will manage the center’s social media presence, and manage its three newsletters – CROR Outcomes, MRSCICS Matters, and HCBS Quality Matters. These newsletters inform readers about CROR research into employment, home and community based services for people with disabilities, and research into outcomes for people with spinal cord injuries. The newsletters also help promote CROR’s Rehabilitation Measures Database. The database, which lives on the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s homepage, contains more than 500 rehabilitation measurement tools used to help evaluate and track progress of rehabilitation patients. “My work with the database is perhaps the best example of a KT project,” explains Parmet, who will work with team members to create patient-friendly infographics based on the measurement tools.
Rehabilitation patients want more information about how and why they are being evaluated and what they can expect. CROR received a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to create infographics that describe the tools in clear language. Therapists can print these out and give them to their patients or their caregivers.
Parmet finds her new role refreshing. “At previous jobs, I would talk to a scientist for an hour or so about their research, go back to my office and write up a news release or blog post and that would be it. I never got to see the actual science taking place. As part of the CROR team, I have a front-row seat.”
Parmet joins CROR from Urban Autism Solutions, a small not-for-profit serving young adults with autism and related challenges where she served as director of communications. She managed the organization’s social media accounts, newsletters and website. She also worked with the media to help raise awareness of UAS programs, including an employment program and their 1.2-acre urban farm, Growing Solutions Farm where students develop transferrable job skills. In addition to her communications work, Parmet also helped design and care for the farm’s sensory garden.
On weekends in spring and summer, Parmet can be found in her backyard garden, birding around Chicago and visiting gardens. This May, she is looking forward to a guided tour of some of England’s most iconic gardens, including the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Sissinghurst, Great Dixter and Chartwell House, home of Sir Winston Churchill for more than 40 years. “Chartwell might not be the most dazzling of the gardens I’ll see, but as a budding Churchillian, I’m most excited to see Chartwell.”