People in this Country have had enough of Experts

Written by Dr Amy Birch, Research Staff Development Consultant 

Whatever you think of this quote, it’s undeniable that public scorn of ‘facts’ has had a major influence in policy and voting over the last few years. And yet, more academics are engaging with policymakers and MPs than ever before. We’re part of the initial discussion but never make it to the final argument and decision-making process. This, in part, has to do with the significant differences in communication in the academic field and political sphere – often we perceive that ‘selling something’ is a way of lying or manipulating facts whereas policy-makers are frustrated by academics relying on facts and data rather than giving their opinion. But persuasive arguments and good oratory need to appeal to both our rational and emotional side.

Learning how to debate can teach you skills that you may not be able to learn anywhere else – not just how to construct an argument, but how to think on your feet (and change your argument on the hoof), respect your audience, gauge emotion, and how to be persuasive and amiable (but not patronising). It will improve your public speaking skills and your ability to answer questions under pressure – something all academics have experience of! Not only that, but it encourages you to see the both sides of each argument as you can often be debating for a position that you personally oppose.

In the Research Staff Event on 5th September, you will get a unique opportunity to learn and practise your debating skills on a topic that can have a valid and significant impact on your life at King’s. We have chosen the topic ‘This house believes that King’s listens to its research staff’ to give you the opportunity to voice a reasoned argument about what you believe King’s are doing well to support research staff and also present arguments about what King’s can do to improve their support of research staff. This will be a debate amongst your peers – but we encourage you to use this opportunity to be open about your experiences and give constructive, reasoned opinions about what we can do better. Over the last year, the Centre for Research Staff Development have worked hard to support you with your professional development at King’s – by taking part in this debate you can let us know how we’re doing and what more we can do.

Participating in this debate will help you see the power of using rational, reasoned arguments and compelling evidence. It can instil a sense of poise and confidence and learn the skills of researching, organising, and presenting information in a compelling fashion. It will help you develop effective speech composition and delivery, and is an excellent skill to gain as a future leader.

For more information, please check out our Research Staff Event website and register to take part!

What to Expect at the Research Staff Event 2017

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer

Getting your voice heard and understood is a fundamental part of life for most of us. As a research staff member, it couldn’t be more essential as your ideas, views, and the research you are undertaking will not only leave an imprint on King’s, but also on communities and societies across the UK and beyond. The Centre for Research Staff Development is delighted to welcome you to the Research Staff Event 2017, an event dedicated to inspire you to express your views and expertise creatively and effectively in a broad range of contexts.

What can you expect at the Event?

  • Keynote talks on various topics including historical contributions that researchers at King’s have made to society and how their voices were successfully and less successfully heard and how experts and universities are responding to the current post-truth climate in which individuals and groups that are most effective at misleading are often the ones to come out triumphant.
  • Workshops that will encourage you to consider different areas that you can apply your voice in, including ensuring that research staff are represented in communications across King’s, public engagement, consultancies and entrepreneurship, building your academic profile, and debates.
  • Workshops that will help you grasp novel skills to express your views and knowledge in a variety of ways, including using social media, writing for non-expert audiences, film, public speaking, and creative channels, such as competitions, fairs, festivals and busking.
  • At the core of the event will be a debate on the motion: This House Believes that King’s Listens to its Research Staff.  One team will debate for the motion, while another team will debate against it. If you don’t sign up to participate in the debate, you will still have the opportunity to view the debate as a member of the audience and ask the debating teams questions.
  • Working with colleagues from across disciplines to test your newfound communication skills gained in workshops to create an entry for the Event competition and enter the running for the competition prizes.

Why should you attend the Event?

  • It will offer you novel perspectives on areas you can promote your voice in using tools and communication streams you might not have considered before.
  • It will allow you to learn ways to amplify the collective voice of you and your colleagues as King’s research staff community.
  • It will hone your existing skills and allow you to gain new transferable, communication skills that you’ll be able to apply to whatever career path you pursue.
  • You will have the opportunity to build your network by meeting colleagues from different disciplines and engaging with professional services staff from various departments at King’s to find out how they can support you.
  • To break up your day-to-day routine and have fun! With the chance to mingle with new friends and potential future collaborators over lunch, participate in (or observe) an exciting debate, and challenge your skills in the competition, this event will offer something of value for everyone, no matter what your strengths or interests may be.

Learn more about the event and register here. The deadline to register is 10am on 23rd August. Workshops will be filled on a first come, first serve basis so you are encouraged to register early to get a place in your choice of workshops.

In case you need additional incentive to attend, here are some highlights from last year’s event to give you a taste of the enjoyable and stimulating day that we have lined up for you.

Impact and REF

Written by Dr Ben Nichols, Research Policy and Governance Administrator, Research Policy and Operations

I’m sure that anyone working in research has heard their colleagues complain about the Research Excellence Framework (or REF). And if you’ve been reading this blog you’ll have seen a number of references to it. The REF is the most recent incarnation of the periodic assessment of research quality in UK universities that has happened every 6 or 7 years since 1986. The results of this assessment translate directly into how much money institutions get from the Government, so universities put a lot of effort into making good quality submissions. But many have criticised the exercise for introducing unnecessary competition, for its administrative burden, and for creating undue pressure on researchers.

Ahead of the REF that took place in 2014, HEFCE (the body responsible for formulating and running the REF) introduced an aspect of the exercise for assessing the “impact” of research. Whereas previous exercises had assessed research outputs (mostly publications) and research environment (the infrastructure and culture that supports research), they wanted a system for assessing how research makes things happen outside academia. The guidance published by HEFCE ahead of the last REF defined “impact” in brief as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia.” Universities were invited to submit case studies in largely narrative form that described how excellent research that they had demonstrably contributed to had generated this kind of impact. These case studies were then awarded scores on the basis of their “reach and significance” by panels of subject experts and the scores, in turn, made up 20% of a unit’s, and therefore an institution’s, overall “quality profile.”

This focus on research impact introduced by REF 2014 has of course generated differing opinions. Some have welcomed it, arguing that researchers are funded by public money and should therefore show how their work directly benefits the public who pay for them. But as with other aspects of REF, “impact” has come under fire. Some argue that it encourages applied over theoretical research, disadvantages those in precarious positions (such as contract research staff or ECRs), and creates cults of personality around certain impactful academic “stars.” Moreover, some have asked why researchers have been asked to demonstrate their impact when the same burden is not always placed on other activities also funded by public money. At the same time, there is often a recognition that the assessment of impact in REF 2014 has generated a large database of impact case studies (6,975 in fact), useful for demonstrating the tangible benefits of university research to those who might not necessarily be convinced of its intrinsic value.

Whatever is the case, it looks like the assessment of impact is here to stay. HEFCE recently held a consultation on the criteria for the next REF, scheduled to take place in 2021. Proposals for the assessment of impact in the future include: creating a unified definition with the UK Research Councils, introducing institutional- as well as unit-level impact case studies, and widening and deepening the sense of what research impact is. The preliminary results of this consultation are due any day now and we’ll know more once they’ve been announced. One thing we know for sure, though, is that the formal assessment of research impact is unlikely to go anywhere soon.

Top Tips to Impact the World Around You

Written by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer 

Further to 67.5% of you expressing an interest in undertaking impact training in the Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS), The Centre for Research Staff Development (CRSD) was delighted to run a workshop on impact on 3rd July. The workshop was a great success and featured sessions delivered by various experts on impact, including Dr Kathy Barrett, University Lead for Research Staff Development, CRSD, Dr Richard Matthewman, Faculty of Natural and Mathematical Sciences Research Manager, Stephen Roberts, Research Engagement Manager, Engagement Services, and Dr Jenni Chambers, Head of Public Engagement with Research, Research Councils UK (RCUK). Participants also had the opportunity to engage with staff from the Science Gallery, Policy Institute, Cultural Institute and Entrepreneurship Institute to find out how these departments could support their impact plans and create and receive feedback on Pathways to Impact Statement templates from staff from the Research Development & Pre-Award Team.

In case you missed the workshop, here are some key points that were raised by speakers:

Why do impact?

How can you have impact and when should you do it?

  • Start thinking about and embedding impact into your research practices early, instead of waiting until you have to apply for funding.
  • The PESTLE analysis and Logic Model are useful tools that can help you consider how your research can have impact.
  • RCUK define impact in 2 ways: Academic Impact and Economic & Social impact
  • Academic impact –explores how your research has impacted your field. Ways to have academic impact include publishing papers, presenting at conferences, running workshops, and being invited to deliver talks.
  • Economic impact – Activities that can lead to economic impact include networking activities, such as knowledge transfer networks, IP and patents, and placements. Exchanging people and knowledge is one of the most powerful ways to have impact, e.g. if you spend a few days working in the environment of the end user.
  • Social Impact – can be generated by having an influence on health (e.g. working with healthcare professionals), policy (e.g. getting involved with professional bodies) cultural sectors (e.g. holding exhibitions), within local communities or raising public awareness and understanding (e.g. public engagement and outreach in schools, museums, etc).
  • Consider the timeline of your impact in terms of the Preparation stage, the Project activities stage, and the Continue stage, which may involve further funding and exploring the contacts you’ve made.

What stakeholders should you engage?

  • Consider the level of interest that different stakeholders will have in your research and the influence they will have in supporting your impact activities.
  • Assess whether your research will have a positive or negative impact.
  • Groups of stakeholders you might want to consider engaging could include patients and healthcare professionals, service providers, funding agencies, NGOs and charities, government and policymakers, environmental practitioners, education practitioners and students.
  • Think about how you prioritise stakeholders with limited time and resources.
  • Ways to engage stakeholders could include face-to-face meetings, through visual materials, or exhibitions.

Tips to write a strong RCUK Pathways to Impact Statement

  • If you plan to apply for RCUK funding in the future, you will have to complete a 2-page template for a Pathways to Impact Statement outlining how your research will have impact.
  • RCUK’s main consideration for Pathways to Impact Statements is that your research should have a significant impact on economy and society.
  • Different funding calls have different requirements for Pathways to Impact Statements and there are council specific guides on how to do this.
  • Pathways to Impact Statements are assessed under peer review.
  • Keep Statements simple but thorough and be project specific rather than generalised.
  • Indicate the audiences and sectors you will be engaging and how you will engage them.
  • Consider how your impact will be evaluated.
  • Don’t hesitate to request money or staff time.
  • Include costs related to proposed impact activities.
  • Choose impact activities that are two-way and that will engage stakeholders.

This workshop is also being developed into an e-learning module which will be available internally on KEATS in the next academic year. Keep an eye out for details of when the module will become available in the Research Staff News newsletter.

Impact: A Short Introduction

Written by Nadia Xarcha, Research Information Coordinator, Faculty of Arts & Humanities

Yes, you’ve heard about it! Your PI or line manager has mentioned it at some point and your research colleagues talk about it during their coffee break. Questions like – who came up with impact in the first place? Why do I have to think about it? Why can’t I just concentrate on my research? – have definitely crossed your mind a few times.  I know, it might be overwhelming but I have news for you: You’re already delivering impact!

What is it exactly and when was it introduced?

‘Impact’ was introduced a few years ago for the purposes of the REF[1] and there are several definitions but impact, in simple words, is the benefit of research to society. What has changed (behaviour, practice, etc.) as a result of your research? Examples of impact might be the alteration of public policy, the introduction of a new school curriculum, the improvement of patients’ health and many, many others that cannot be demonstrated in a short post. Just browse through the old impact case studies and you will rediscover the beauty of conducting research.

And why does it matter so much?

In REF terms, impact was developed in order to showcase the reach and significance of research and to allow external audits of how public money is spent. But impact is not and should not be just about the REF. It is the link that makes researchers’ work known to people from outside research who otherwise might not have been engaged, even though it might deeply affect them. It helps researchers reflect on their research questions and outcomes and conduct better research in the long term. It motivates them to communicate their research in simple words to a wider audience.

Should an early career researcher engage with impact?

It’s a personal decision but I would encourage you to do so as it is helpful for the development of your research career. As an early career researcher, you definitely have a lot in mind and impact might seem to be the cherry on the cake, but I think this is not the way to see it! Impact can actually be satisfying. What I would suggest is that you focus on doing exceptional research and enjoy that journey. The ‘impact element’ of your research will then emerge naturally. And we have plenty of resources (people, training, seed funds, etc.) here at King’s to support you with it at every stage of your research (the earlier the better). Just talk to us. Remember, you’re not alone in this

[1] REF: Research Excellence Framework is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Public Engagement – But Why?

Written by Dr Nigel Eady 

“So what is it you actually do?” It’s a question that many researchers get asked by friends and family, at parties, over a meal, or almost anywhere. How do you respond? Which version do you give them – the big picture, sounds interesting but is far from the day to day reality, or the fine detail, might send them to sleep version? Is this public engagement? Well, it certainly could be, but most people would define public engagement much more broadly.

I would describe it as ‘any process through which people interact with research’. Personally, I think, the more interesting types of public engagement involve as much ‘listening’ by researchers as they do ‘telling’. Giving people information is important, but having a dialogue, a two-way conversation, can be even more useful, for both parties. You might even think of engagement as being a broad spectrum of approaches.

In recent years, public engagement has moved from being under the radar, to being required explicitly by funders, see the 2010 Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research and RCUK webpages. Whilst some would definitely debate whether it is really a part of normal research practice, it is only going to become more important. The requirement for impact case studies as part of the Research Excellence Framework is another important factor.

One important reason to do public engagement is that much research is conducted with public money, and people therefore have a right to understand how that money is being spent and what it’s achieving. But if that’s not sufficient for you to consider engaging people, here are my 5 top reasons for engaging publics.

1. Enhance your communication skills

For five years I ran various projects to help researchers engage people. It showed me, time and again, that the discipline of having to explain your research to someone else is invaluable for teaching you to communicate more clearly, simply and engagingly.

2. Ask better research questions

As well as communicating better, it’s remarkable the number of times that the questions people ask about your research lead to fresh insights, even new avenues of research.

3. Attract funding

There are many small funding schemes for public engagement. In fact we have one ourselves! By successfully winning funding for activities, not only will you learn how to write a persuasive funding bid, you will also demonstrate to potential, future funders your commitment to your research.

4. Increase your enjoyment

Any form of engagement can be a welcome relief from the rigours of defending your research to your peers! It can also be a helpful reminder as to why you do what you do.

5 .Strengthen democracy

Engaging people with research has a key role to play in opening up decision-making. You can involve people who feel disconnected from society and build trust in public institutions. It’s also an easy way for universities to respond to social need, in particular, at the local level.

Don’t just take my word for it! There are many more reasons to do public engagement. Who knows, you might just feel a little bit more comfortable when you’re asked, “So what is it you do?”