Professors, Lecturers and PhD Students are often asked to prove that our research is having an impact. It’s an almost universal question during job interviews and is a common element of departmental research audits.
In my time lecturing in the UK it was a huge part of our department’s push in the lead up to the UK-wide ‘Research Excellence Framework’ assessment.
It’s hard to prove impact – especially in the humanities and social sciences.
Traditionally research was ‘blue skies’ and done for the sake of furthering knowledge. With the creep of neoliberal ideologies into higher education, the academic independence of our research is increasingly less and less respected.
How can we show our research is being circulated?
The problem is we don’t really have many guidelines around how to prove how our research is having an impact – and worse yet, most of us are flailing around unsure of how to go about doing it.
The reality is that you’re going to need to self-promote. Get your research out there!
So, here are 5 unique ways to prove your research impact.
How to Show Research Impact
1. Use HARO
Quick Overview: HARO is an email list where journalists put out calls for quotes from experts.
HARO stands for “Help a Reporter Out”.
This is an email list where reporters put out calls for ‘experts’ to share quotes on topics they are writing about.
You can sign-up for free at the HARO website. You’ll get 3x emails a day on all weekdays. A quick scroll through this list can often yield good results. If you think you can help a reporter with a query, drop them an email with a one paragraph quote.
Consider asking them to link back to a research paper, your profile page on your university website, your personal website, or even your LinkedIn profile.
This method generates me around 3 quotes per month on high-quality publications like Readers Digest and Rasmussen.
Here is a quote I got from The Week. In this quote, I’m presenting myself as an expert on ‘children’s screen time’:
Here is another quote I manged to get in The Economist magazine:
This quote positions me as an expert on standardized testing.
It is also a quote I can present when assessors ask me whether my scholarly activities are actually gathering any traction.
Further, I can present this quote in interviews for future positions!
2. Disseminate Executive Summaries of your Research on Practitioner Email Lists
Quick Overview: Join your industry’s email lists and share actionable executive summaries. Then, ask for feedback.
I am on many UK-based email lists for members of my research and practice communities. The UK has a great mailing list resource called Jiscmail. On Jiscmail you’ll find a database of email lists for all sorts of different communities.
Join the lists relevant to you and share your research.
It’s often best to share an actionable resource rather than a journal article.
For example, share an executive summary from your research with practitioners.
At the end of the email, ask for feedback. Specifically ask:
- “…Please do let me know if you intend to or are currently using this data in your practice…”
- “…I’d love to hear from anyone who has implemented this resource in your workplace…” or
- “…Let me know your thoughts!…”
Save all email responses – especially those that say things like this one:
I would have loved to have attended that session if John’s school was nearby so I could gather more data on how my research was received. But this alone was enough to show that practitioners were using my data and considering how it impacts their practice.
3. Guest Blog – Then Save all Responses
Quick Overview: Blog regularly then collect mentions on blog comments and Twitter to show your work is being discussed online.
Regular guest blogging will build momentum. Over the span of 12 – 18 months you’ll have a huge collage of comments showing that your research is being disseminated. Save all mentions and shares of your blog posts.
I make an effort to guest blog 10 times a year. Guest blogging is a great way to present my research findings in an accessible way to practitioners.
I like to find opportunities to guest blog on websites that I know are widely read by actual practitioners (in my case, elementary school teachers).
The huge advantage of this approach is that you’re leveraging the enormous readerships and email lists of practitioner magazines.
After your blog goes live, save all blog comments.
You not only get to share your research – you also get to see people’s responses.
You’re guaranteed to gather at least a few blog comments for every guest blog you wrote. For example, I got this comment below a guest blog I did for Faculty Focus magazine:
One or two blog comments aren’t going to be overwhelmingly impressive. But over time you’ll be able to collect a collage of hundreds of blog comments.
Every few weeks, check your Twitter Mentions
Next, check Twitter. Over time I’ve developed a very long list of Twitter notifications showing people sharing, disseminating, and commenting on my research:
As with blog comments, one or two mentions is mute. But when you walk into a research review with 150 comments, shares, likes and emails about your research it adds up to show you’re an active and impactful expert voice within your community of practice.
4. Go on Podcasts – Then Collect the Data
Quick Overview: Podcast hosts are always looking for people to interview. Once you’ve gone on the podcast, collect data the week after it’s published proving practitioners are listening to and incorporating your work into their practice.
Podcasts are increasingly popular sources for disseminating research.
Look around for podcasts in your area of research and simply drop the podcast hosts an email:
I’ve been on several podcasts recently, such as Phil Weaver’s Learning Success Podcast:
Once your podcast is published, you’ll likely get a spike in new Linkedin contacts and emails. Hang on to all of this data and present it to your review board.
For example, from the above podcast, I received:
- 29 new LinkedIn connections in 24 hours
- 8 emails about my research, including one from a school principal noting he disseminated it on his weekly email list to staff.
I use that data to show how I’m disseminating my research and getting positive reactions from the community.
5. Gather your Google Scholar Data
Another source that will show your cumulative impact over time is Google Scholar. If you haven’t got a google scholar profile yet, you need to get one – right away.
This strategy is quick and simple. Allow Google Scholar to accumulate your citations over time. Make sure you include your citation index in your research impact report.
Clearly, my citation index is tiny compared to many, but it still shows that I’m publishing regularly and being cited by other scholars on a regular basis, e.g I’m averaging about 40 citations per year from other scholars.
Even if you’ve completed your research and it doesn’t appear to be having an impact, you’ve still got time to turn that around. Any type of research can have an impact – cultural, economic, or professional.
The important thing when thinking about how to show research impact is to just put your research out there. You can’t just publish it in a journal and forget about it. Go out there and disseminate it in blogs, provide quotes for journalists, and monitor your mentions around the web.
If you’ve got other actionable tips, I’d love to hear you share them below!
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]