Impact and Early Career Researchers

Impact is a key word in academia at the moment, but what does it mean and how can early career researchers get involved in Impact activities? In this short guide to impact for ECRs Charlotte Mathieson explains all.


What is Impact?
“Impact” refers to the impact of research beyond academia. Research Councils UK (RCUK) describes impact as ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. Impact embraces all the extremely diverse ways in which research-related knowledge and skills benefit individual, organisations and nations.”

Most importantly, impact:

  • involves engagement with non-academic audiences
  • results in change in the way audiences think or behave

This can include fostering economic performance, increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy, or enhancing the quality of life, health or creative output. There are lots of different “pathways to impact

Impact is not:

  • The dissemination of research solely within academia
  • Dissemination of research results without engaging research users
  • Public Engagement activities that are not underpinned by excellent research

Why is Impact important for Early Career Researchers (ECRs)?
Impact is particularly important in the current academic climate as it is part of the assessment process for the REF 2014. Impact only forms 20% of the 2014 assessment but it is expected to increase in subsequent years. If you are applying for academic jobs then employers will be looking for researchers who can potentially offer a strong REF contribution, and who are generally aware of the increasing importance of impact in academia.

Having Impact Activities on your CV will demonstrate that you:

  • have an understanding of key issues in Higher Education
  • are committed to professional development
  • can think beyond the academic world

There are also key ways in which Impact can benefit you as a researcher:

  • provides you with new perspectives on work
  • enhances new skills, particularly communication skills
  • can give you the opportunity to gain early feedback
  • ensures that your research is meaningful
  • increases opportunities for networking
  • may bring about new opportunities or directions

Examples of Impact Activities
Impact can take many different forms – some examples include:

  • Working with charities, corporations and businesses, government or policy makers;
  • Teaching beyond academia e.g. schools or community groups;
  • Media engagement such as radio or television interviews and programmes, magazine or newspaper articles, or online articles or blogs;
  • Engaging with leisure and cultural activities e.g. literary societies, public lectures, museum exhibitions

Examples of successful Warwick impact activities in the Arts and Humanities can be found here.

How to get Impact Opportunities
For many ECRs and PhDs the prospect of setting up a big impact project can be daunting. The key is to start small: there are many easily accessible (and free) ways to engage non-academic audiences with your research. A blog or podcast project is a great first step to getting your research “out there” and will give you experience in communicating with different audiences.

  • Warwick blogs is an easy-to-use resource for setting up your own blog
  • Thinking Aloud provides researchers with the opportunity to podcast their research

Engaging with contemporary news and events that relate to your research is also a good way to get involved: news stories, celebrations or anniversaries of cultural figures or events can all provide you with opportunities to write about your research from a different angle, or might be a chance for you to talk to the media.

There are different forums around the University to help you get your research to a wider audience in this way:

  • The Knowledge Centre runs features on excellent research in an online magazine format aimed at an audience beyond Warwick
  • The Press Office provide media training and can advise on getting your research into the media

Beyond the University
Potential groups you could collaborate with include:

  • Artistic production companies
  • Museums and galleries
  • Schools
  • Think tanks
  • Third Sector

A list of potential collaborators is provided here.

Setting up your own project
If you have an idea for setting up an Impact project, The Arts Faculty Impact pages give excellent advice on how to organise an Impact project.

If you are applying for RCUK funding you will need to address Impact as part of your application: advice for Arts and Humanities researchers can be found here.


Image by White House Photographic Office (WHPO) – Fitz-Patrick, Wikicommons

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