Jean-Baptiste Masson and Lee Pretlove share their perspectives on the WRoCAH-funded ‘Fast Track Impact’ training course, which took place earlier this year. Run by Professor Mark Reed, author of The Research Impact Handbook, the course aimed to show students how best to generate real-world impacts from their PhD research.
Department of History
University of York
As I was attending the PhD spotlight competition, which my WRoCAH fellow Anna Détári won, I wondered about what could have been my contribution. What do I have to communicate about my research? What could I bring to society beyond additional knowledge? How can I give back and make my research profitable for people outside of academia? The Fast Track Impact training day under the guidance of Mark Reed helped me begin to answer all of the above questions and more.
I found it useful that, when discussing impact, Mark directly put the human factor at the centre: impact is not compulsory, which means that we have to know why we want to have impact. We should be aware of our motivations and embrace them. Those are simple words, but they often tend to be overlooked. To have impact is to get and to give benefits: but what kind and for whom? Mark Reed emphasized that this should be done through an empathic approach: to have impact on someone, we need to be able to understand their needs and to adapt to them in order to give strength to our message. Thus, the need to create human connections. For me this was an important point to elucidate, as I’m part of a cultural organisation in France (Collège Contemporain) and a composer, struggling with what is the right amount of time that I should give to each activity. One of the objectives of the day was to understand and accept that I can have impact without spending my life on my PhD. To have a methodology for impact gives me back time.
Another important consideration was how to initiate the subtle move from observation to action, from personal research to public impact. Regarding this, the talk about becoming an influential communicator was inspiring. The first seven seconds that you spend in front of your audience are the most important. In these seconds you have to make clear that you are the right person – through your posture, your grounding, your expression and your first words (meaning that rehearsing your talks is very important). The session on digital identity was equally interesting, providing the helpful view that an online presence is something which deserves to be curated. Social media should be used for a focused reason and can be a strong tool with a rational and strategical use (this session persuaded me to reopen my Twitter account!). Turning thought to action also takes you through an analysis of your own skills and helps to establish impact targets.
To sum up, the day was very enlightening and answered a set of important and pressing questions about the place of the researcher today. To have impact is to take a social and political role; to think about the necessary action of the researcher in society. Now, I hope to bring knowledge, inspiration and poetry to the public.
Jean-Baptiste’s research considers the conditions of the establishment of electronic music after the Second World War. The main thread is the history of music technology: the defence-civilian technological nexus at the end of the war, how musical thought has been influenced by the electronic soundscapes of the 20th century, and what was the influence of the institutional framework within which it developed.
University of Sheffield
Several days after the Fast Track Impact day event, my partner asked if I could stop talking about Professor Mark Reed’s masterclass. His course succeeded in holding my attention all day. It was crammed full of really, really, useful stuff. It was delivered in a clear, relatable way. Most importantly, it was ‘impactful’. So much so it seems to have filed itself into a part of my brain labelled ‘useful information – keep’.
As a WRoCAH newbie, I thought that this course would be more appropriate for those who had concrete research findings. How wrong I was: it had appeal for everybody.
After introductions, Mark listened, gauged the room’s experience and needs, and tailored the day’s programme for us, dispensing with the planned programme. His key message was that research delivery should be empathic and he really was very skillful at delivering messages and ideas which stick in the mind. All of us received a copy of The Research Impact Handbook and it was used as an integral part of the day. It meant that I didn’t have to make too many notes so I could engage. That is not to say that the book is not useful on its own (it’s great, get hold of a copy!), but having the benefit of the author explain its key ideas enhances the book’s effectiveness.
I learned that when we think of impact, we should be thinking about our intrinsic motivation for why we do research, rather than have that motivation for research given to us by someone else. Knowing our motivation will drive our research effort, and give our projects focus. We also need to ask who is benefitting from the research. It is another way of thinking about the idea of ‘impact’. Mark provided a granular typology of impact and benefits to help frame thinking about the impact that our research will make. Similarly, be empathic. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand your work and then prioritise what you need to do to help them and make a difference.
This course reinvigorated my project by questioning my motivations. If it brings me no intrinsic motivation, then perhaps I should lose that particular direction. I am interested in observing interventions in people’s digital habits, so that they can help themselves preserve their collections for future generations to use and remember. Tools and techniques are already out there but I’m interested in how much people are aware that they can make a digital equivalent of a treasured shoebox of memories of information, photographs and keepsakes. Digital archiving is something that many archivists are experts in and so my main ‘stakeholders’ will be both the public and archive professionals. Now I have been equipped with the tools to identify my stakeholders and their preferred methods of contact and communication, I can a start making plans to raise targeted awareness of my research. If you can, do try to attend this course. Otherwise, you can visit www.fasttrackimpact.com.
Lee’s research considers the vast amount of self-tracking data produced via wearable devices such as ‘Fitbits’ and considers the future use of this data. Through analysing responses to questionnaires and interviews, his research aims to address how runners, device manufacturers and archivists consider self-tracking activity data in terms of its value and their thoughts about its future. Through self-tracking data, Lee’s research intends to understand the relationship between its creators, enablers and cultural heritage experts.