The past five years have seen a sea change in the academic research community, with funders increasingly demanding explicit evidence of research ‘impact’, in addition to conventional measures such as previous publications of research. ‘a researcher, the success of the funding and the quality of the journals they have published in. The motivation behind this change is the need to keep in mind the end use of our research, whether it is improving human health, changing policy, creating economic or social benefits, or providing education and building capacity – that is, developing the potential in people and organizations to respond effectively to the needs of a community.
But compiling evidence of impact can be difficult. In my own area of malaria drug discovery, there is great potential to translate findings into health benefits for the more than 200 million people who suffer from malaria each year. However, as anyone working in this field knows, discovery and development times are long, and most potential drugs will fail long before human clinical trials, making “impact” difficult to document. For researchers in other fields, providing evidence of research impacts could be even more complicated.
In the absence of any existing framework to document such evidence, I decided to face the problem head-on: I created an Impact CV.
My Impact CV is separate from my standard CV. The latter focuses on my career in Australia and Germany and covers funding, publications and teaching and mentoring roles. My impact CV, on the other hand, is where I gather evidence that I can use to create impact stories for different audiences, including funders, promotion and awards committees, donors and community members. This approach has been beneficial, helping me, among other things, to win several leadership awards. I update my Impact CV several times a year, often in conjunction with my annual university professional development review.
Document the impact
Drawing on the application requirements of competitive grant programs and data from the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes, my CV Impact has seven main sections, each divided into several parts. Here I focus on three key elements.
The most relevant section for my research concerns the impacts of knowledge acquisition. In addition to familiar metrics such as manuscript citations, guest lectures, and awards, this section documents ways in which I have reached outside my own area of research to demonstrate cross-disciplinary or downstream use of the knowledge I generated. In practical terms, this means taking the time to consider who is citing my work and why, and how others have subsequently used these researchers’ findings to enable further outcomes. For example, the discoveries that my colleagues and I have made about the activity of certain HIV drugs against malaria parasites have contributed to the knowledge base that has led others to initiate clinical trials to study the effects of these drugs on humans. The final conclusion was that certain malaria and HIV drug combinations should be avoided – important knowledge that can inform clinical treatment strategies.
A second section of my CV Impact documents research capacity building. Beyond conventional indicators such as mentorship and training of research staff and students, this section includes details of the visits I have organized to promote knowledge exchange between international researchers, as well as how which I build and lead collaborative networks. Another important example is contributions to research infrastructure and capacity that enable research results. For example, I have included contributions to our national Compounds Australia facility at Griffith University in Brisbane, which houses over one million chemical compounds that can be tested by researchers around the world. Other examples include contributions to biobanks or open access databases, as well as participation in industry or government infrastructure building initiatives.
To help demonstrate social impacts, my impact CV details community engagement activities, including the number of people these activities impacted. For example, I founded a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) engagement project called That’s RAD! Science. Through this initiative, I work with other professionals in these fields to promote diversity and careers in STEM to young children through engaging picture books; so far these have explored parasitology, nanotechnology, forensics and structural biology. I collect evidence such as the number of books donated, presentations to school children, and hands-on science activities. This evidence indicates that it is RAD! The science reached over 20,000 people. Funders and review boards respond well to this type of data because it shows the magnitude of these impacts and their potential to have downstream effects, such as informing children’s career choices. Some of my colleagues demonstrate social impacts in other ways, such as using creative social media posts and blogs.
Other sections of my Impact CV provide space to document involvement with government, industry, or community groups; engagement with consumers and those who stand to benefit from research results; and health and economic effects. For many of these items, I don’t have evidence of impact yet, and it’s tempting to delete these sections. But I choose to leave them in place to remind myself that research can produce many benefits and to challenge me to think about how I can better measure the positive impacts of my research and engagement. For example, in 2020, I stepped out of my comfort zone to quantify the impact of That’s RAD! Science by asking adults about their perceptions of books – including how women are portrayed in them as role models – and STEM engagement. Among other things, we found that 49 out of 51 survey respondents agreed that “featuring identifiable women in STEM careers helps drive home the idea that STEM careers can be fun, exciting and achievable.” “.
By using my Impact CV to document how my research affects others, both directly and indirectly, I can better express the passion I have for my research and my community involvement is making a difference in people’s lives.
This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place where Nature readers can share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged.