What is your lecturer doing this summer? Sharks and surfers research

Communications specialist Peter Simmons and Digital and Social Media Lecturer, Michael Mehmet

To the surprise of many, CSU academics don’t just live to plan lessons and plotting ways to wake you up at unheard of hours in the morning (like 9am) to attend class. Communications specialist, Associate Professor Peter Simmons and lecturer in social media and marketing, DR Michael Mehmet, prove this theory right as they put their heads together recently to design the shark sentiment analysis.

Designed to teach us about human perception of sharks and the management systems used to help humans and sharks to co-exist, the project can be divided into two parts:

Sentiment analysis

Here they will use social media to collect people’s attitudes. They’ll then analyse the data to determine how people think and feel about sharks and find out how they feel about the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Shark Management Strategy.

These guys are just trying to figure out what courses of action people approve of. They want to find out if you’re a fan of nets, or if you prefer something more advanced like using drones for surveillance.

The practical

This part involves going out and actually talking to people. The academics will take a road trip from the far South Coast of NSW up to the North Coast of NSW, stopping at a few selected places. It’s not your typical road trip, as they’ll be conducting focus group sessions and interviews. They will however get the chance to ride some waves so they can chat to surfers first-hand. They want to understand how these people feel about sharks and shark management, and what they’d like to see happen.

After collecting the data, they’ll move onto analysing and reporting so it can be sent to the Department of Primary Industries. The NSW government hopes to use the report to develop or reshape policies and communication strategies in this area.

Michael and Peter are both very interested to see how people justify their opinions. If they’re pro-shark, they want to know why. If they’re pro-cull, they want to know why.

As he grew up surfing, Michael spent a lot of time in the water. He has also spent a lot of time conducting qualitative research such as interviews and focus groups but is most excited about exploring different ways to connect with people and conduct the research.

Michael told us, “I’m looking forward to actually paddling out in the water and having a chat to the people who are affected the most. The people in the ‘strike zone’ are who we are most interested in. These people are the visitors, swimmers, surfers, stand up paddle boarders and divers.”

The project has begun and will finish in November 2017. So, what’s your opinion on sharks?