With the growing marketisation of academia, the concept of ‘value added’ is now becoming synonymous with academic research. In other words, what is the wider value to society of your research? While the publication of an academic book or journal article was considered sufficient for academic success in the past, the growing number of metrics imposed by the growing bureaucracy within academia insists that your research now has a broader impact and appeal. For some disciplines, this can be more challenging than others. This article will look at some of the options that are available for academics when looking to make their research more sustainable and visible.
Focus or link with contemporary issues
Achieving this in some disciplines would be easier than others. Some of the hot topics in contemporary discourse is the focus on issues concerning social sustainability. These include aspects such as democracy, human rights, and working environment. For example, in political science, research is often based on contemporary events to inform us of the current challenges we are facing and offering solutions on how they could be addressed. This may be more challenging for disciplines that examine what has happened in the past, such as humanities subjects like history. However, for these scholars, if they can make a connection between how the events of the past have informed the juncture we are at today, then this can make research relevant to today’s society, and be used as a way for ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. In scientific fields such as medicine, the relevance of contemporary research is largely self-evident, particularly if findings help to solve previous mysteries in the universe or medical problems that have previously been incurable.
Concept of raised awareness and the need for further research
This is often linked to the ‘so what?’ comment that regularly appears from reviewers of book manuscripts and journal articles. Here, the major point is that your research needs to be about something that is worthy of further investigation because of its real or potential implications to the wider world. In other words, what is the point of examining this in detail? What can it tell us that we don’t already know? Furthermore, a single book or article will not be able to address the topic sufficiently, and thus your research should not only contribute to the existing literature, but also provide a foundation for further debate. The issues you are examining may not have received much attention in the past, but of the wider implications of your work, particularly its value to wider society can be justified, then this is a major step to ensure it will be sustainable for future enquiry.
Being creative with dissemination methods
In the digital age, there are a variety of ways in which our research can be disseminated. Social media is an obvious example. Through the use of the dominant social networking sites, your research can be made accessible to millions of users in a matter of seconds. This is particularly relevant if you are working on projects that require you to publish your work under the open access rules. Furthermore, by using social media, you can reach a range of people who may not otherwise be familiar with your research or your subject area. When considering this, it may be appropriate to contemplate ways in which your research can be written in an accessible style so that it is understandable for non-specialists. Aside from the dominant social networking sites, there is also a range of smaller blogs or academic networks that could be used as a platform for raising awareness about your research. Indeed, the sustainability of your research, and that of all who research in your field is largely dependent on how visible you are, not only in the academic community, but in the wider digital environment.
So, what does this mean for my research?
In many ways, owing to the fact that universities are now working in a neo-liberal environment, the emphasis on the relevance of your research to wider society is now receiving more attention. In many ways, universities are now looking at ways in which your work can raise awareness within society of the work that the university is producing, and also explore ways by which this can create revenue for your department through obtaining research grants. These are extremely competitive and difficult to get. While this does not mean that those who do not use methods to increase the visibility and promote the relevance of their research to wider society will be unsuccessful, it is likely, owing to the market-driven economy of universities that this would be likely to pose problems later should these individuals apply for promotion. Thus, the goal of increasing your visibility and championing the relevance and sustainability of your research to wider society could be an essential element to your future success. Good luck!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SearchHigher or Warwick Employment Group.