Happy Birthday, blog – some thoughts on research impact

One year has passed since the day I decided to share my adventures and reflections with my group, while I was on sabbatical. The blog quickly became more than a short-term communication plan with my nearest colleagues.

In the 365 days that have passed, the blog has received 6901 unique views from 70 countries. That gives me plenty more readers than I will ever have for all my scientific articles!

Impact of the research is something that is always discussed when academic promotions are judged. However, by impact, academic institutions mean the Impact factor. This factor denotes the number of citations the articles of a person have received. It says nothing about the actual impact of the work on policy or practice.

One of the roles of academic researchers in Sweden is what is called ‘the third task’. The first two tasks are research and teaching, whereas the third task involves informing and educating the public, indeed to affect policy and practice.

One might think that the third task is one of our most important ones, given that we are financed by public money. However, publishing popular science articles, lecturing to the public, or participating in public debate generates no academic points, whatsoever. In Sweden. So far.

Research Councils UK is much further ahead in defining research impact: ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy’.

They say that it is not enough just to focus on activities and outputs, such as conferences and scientific publications. You must be able to ‘provide evidence of research impact, for example, that it has been taken up and used by policy makers, and practitioners, has led to improvements in services or business’.

A colleague of mine in Sweden was not promoted to professor based on too low impact – of the traditional kind. Her articles had appeared in journals that published outside the area of cells and did not concern cancer.

It never mattered that her research had changed the practices of midwives nationwide in treating a minority population of women with far higher than average pregnancy-related complications. It never mattered that these complications had significantly decreased thanks to changes in practice propelled by her qualitative studies. I knew she had had an impact when one of the leading politicians in the country told me about my colleague’s research. But hey, her Hirsch-index was too low…

Although I have to play the game of impact factors, I have decided to allow time for pursuing the third task, irrespective of academic points gained. Continuing the blog is, but one way – hopefully to your pleasure.

But this summer I also discovered a new way to create impact, while having great fun: writing a children’s book. Sneaking in effective components from parenting- and couple interventions in the storyline is a possible pathway for impact. Measurable? Maybe.

IMG_3174

Photo: Fanni Sarkadi, Bohuslän

One of the children the book was pilot-tested on asked his mother to buy a bean-bag for a version of the timeout routine described in the book. He thought it sounded like a great idea to chill out a few minutes on a bean-bag when things get out of control. Another group of children started helping a friend who suffered from problems with impulse control by warning him for his signs of “the red rage” they had heard described in the book.

Publishing a book is of course not as easy as hitting the “publish” button here on WordPress. Thank you for reading me. Thank you for the comments, and thank you for spreading the word.

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