There’s little doubt that research impact can be interpreted in a number of ways.
But after hearing from eminent researchers and experts at the first ever Wiley Impact Forum in Korea, one thing became clear: research impact is the effect you make on the society and community around you. And, it takes courage and innovative thinking to address complex scientific and social issues.
Addressing the big problem
“If you are not satisfied with doing routine things, you need to identify a big problem to address and leave your mark by effectively opening a new area in research”, Sir Fraser Stoddart, 2016 Nobel laureate in chemistry told us.
He went on to advise researchers to “Draw up a list of twenty issues that you can solve and number them starting from one. Begin the list with the biggest and hardest problem and tell yourself that that’s the one you are going to tackle”.
Sir Fraser stressed that while the easy road may be to follow in the footsteps of predecessors, researchers should set the bar higher and try to uncover the answers to the “big problem”. At the same time, he cautions that finding a solution is a high-risk journey and advised researchers to do some routine work in the background to ensure there’s a backup plan.
Patience is a virtue
While searching for the big problem to solve, early career researchers also have to face the challenge of getting their first grants. “Almost 90% of grant applications are being rejected globally”, Iain Craig, Director of Market and Publishing Analysis at Wiley, shared.
The “quick-results” attitude stemming from the culture in education taught us to demand instant gratification, Prof. Cafer T. Yavuz at KAIST explained. “We’ve been told to study for exams – we took them and received immediate returns. We’ve always gotten results immediately, but research doesn’t work that way.”
Most research funds are granted to projects that yield immediate results and that further fuels impatience in young researchers. To break free from this culture, we need the government’s permanent support in fundamental and ground-breaking research, rather than short-term and popular projects, Prof. Yavuz urged. This approach will go to change the course of humanity.
“On the Usefulness of Useless Knowledge“ - Helmut Schwartz
“Government and institutions must also be prepared to support people who may not necessarily bring them something that’s very useful right away”, Prof. Soyoung Kim of KAIST expanded on the quotation above by Helmut Schwartz, shared by Sir Fraser at the forum.
Funders often look at the “useful” aspects of research and neglect the fact that many of these projects came out of “useless knowledge”. Prof. Kim added that the recent rise in short-term based research funding may impede researchers. The timing of discovery is unknown and researchers need support for the long term.
Changing the culture of rating research by numbers
“There is no shortcut to judging the quality of research other than truly judging the quality of it”, Dr. Andrew Moore, Editor-in-Chief at Wiley expressed. Governments and institutions can better support researchers by improving the way they rate and rank them based on outputs.
Rather than using numerical metrics as shortcuts to judge the quality of research outputs, funders can substantially contribute to change in the culture of research metrics and make them more qualitative than quantitative.
Learning from horses, elephants, and honey bees
Sir Fraser ended his keynote speech at the Impact Forum by reminding us that the path to success can be very long and difficult and offered advice on channelling the qualities of three species in order to succeed:
Have the hide of an elephant – If you are going to be creative and do new things, you will need the hide of an elephant to be able to take the huge amount of criticisms coming at you.
Have the work ethic of a honey bee – Once you’ve discovered something, drive home your advantage with the work ethic a honey bee.
What does research impact mean to you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.