Friday, October 16, 2009


REF, the son-of-RAE, requires us to consider what 'impact' our research work has on the world in general. Now, this is a tricky thing to work out for those of us who don't make things, cure things, or similar. But help is at hand with a handy on-line questionnaire we have been invited to fill in. The hope is that we can in this way contribute to the question how 'impact' is supposed to be assessed in our case. The opening questions are all pretty straightforward, but then come Q10 and 11:
10. Has your research informed subsequent research in your area?

11. If yes, how has your research informed subsequent research? Select all that apply

Created interest in a new or previously unexplored aspect of your subject area
Revived interest in an area of research that had been dormant
Maintained existing approaches within your area
Contributed to a change in approach within your area
Informed supervision of research students
Generated invitation(s) to present your work at academic lectures, conferences and/or seminars
Other, please specify

How do I answer those? I have reasonable evidence that some people have read some of things I have published. (Well, some people have reviewed some of it; other people have put references to some of it in footnotes, though both groups might not have read any of it, I suppose.) Is that enough to answer Yes to Q.10? I am not sure. 'Informed' sounds slippery enough that I can interpret the condition sufficiently weakly that I have to say Yes. (Compare the football referee's worry about whether an attacking off-side player is 'interfering with play'... If he isn't then what is he doing on the pitch?)

And how do I approach Q.11? Some of it I can answer easily. (I have been invited to conferences; I'm not entirely sure why but it's a reasonable bet that my research played some part in it.) But is it up to me to say that something I did has revived interest in an area of research? How could I tell? How much interest do I need to create? There are other slippery words here too: as well as 'informed', 'contributed to' is nicely under-determined.

I think we are trying to big-up (is that hyphenated?) ourselves so I feel I should tick as many boxes as I can. But I am far from confident that I am telling the truth.

Later Qs wonder about the impact of my research on policy-making, schools, and the like. I can answer these more confidently...

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