I turned professor in the fall semester of 2009. As an adjunct faculty member of The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, I taught applied public relations research on campus and online.

The students were mostly working practitioners, believing that a master’s degree in strategic public relations will lead to further advancement. Thus, I did not set out to teach them to be professional or academic researchers, but to be better practitioners.

Since this was my first time teaching the course, I gave it a few weeks and then created a learning opportunity for myself. I asked my students how to improve the course. The reaction was interesting: “We never expected it to be enjoyable.” But I think they meant that in a positive way. They were discovering that if research improves our performance and enhances our ability to influence organizational direction, that can be stimulating, rewarding – even enjoyable.

No doubt, these students entered the class reflecting attitudes toward research that senior colleagues had long radiated their way.

For one thing, they associated research largely with math and statistics. Now, I’d be the last person to say it’s okay to choose a career in public relations because you find math and science too challenging. We need stronger minds than that in our field. But you don’t have to be a statistics whiz to use research to improve how you think about your organization’s direction, the relationships and communications it needs, and how to drive and measure those.

To work well with researchers, it helps to understand their language, of course. On the flip side, if you don’t expect them to understand your organization and public relations practice as well as you do, that’s probably realistic. The serious thinking is your job. To get there, you may need to stop looking at research and measurement as a report card, something to be feared. Instead, look at it as a GPS, guiding your work and suggesting opportunities for a better route.

For class assignments, I encouraged students to choose topics relating to their jobs. A week or so later, a student might report back how an assignment played out as an actual presentation to a client. Their senior colleagues – those who radiated negativity and fear about research – had readily conceded to a younger colleague the opportunity to be the voice of research in directing public relations work.

Does it concern me that it only takes one course to become the person who carries that responsibility? Of course it does. Am I pleased that at least somebody is ready to step up to using the research GPS to guide the organization? You bet I am.

Because as a profession, we will be better for it.