Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Impact

Impact is a word that gets thrown around a lot in academia: How much impact will your research paper have? How much impact will your teaching have on your students? 

When I think about the word "impact" I view it in much broader terms.When I thought about what I wanted to do when I finished my doctorate I knew that I wanted to contribute to a greater impact beyond my research. Hence, if I wanted to positively impact the landscape of Higher Education, I needed to be at the heart of the decision-making. So, I chose to enter a graduate scheme for professional services in HE. 

Now, I am a medievalist. I knew the limitations of the impact that my research would have. Often the humanities are derided as useless in terms of future and gainful employment (not true), and is seen as inferior in importance to researchers in science and medicine. As a medievalist, I am never going to cure cancer. No one in the humanities would equate their research with that of medical research. By that I mean the two cannot be equated in terms of the scale of the positive impact that a discovery of medical cure or treatment would have in comparison with the discovery of a new medieval manuscript, for example. (However, they can be equated in terms of effort put into respective science/humanities doctorates even if they method of researching and working are different). 

Now, before anyone gets huffy and thinks that I am being disparaging about the humanities, trust me I'm not! The humanities are the backbone of our understanding of our culture and history, and without the continued resourcing of the humanities the world will become a bleaker and poorer place.

The point is about impact. Professional services within Higher Education offers a route towards impacting real change (albeit slow change - universities are notoriously snail-paced with change which is both a blessing and a curse). For example, I visited a medical library where the library staff could be asked to assist on a literature search for an operation about to happen, having a direct impact on the success of that surgery. Staff who work in Research Services help to write and support bids for grants for innovative and life-changind projects. If you work in Alumni Relations, your philanthropic work can lead to the development of new scholarships for future students. If you work in Widening Participation and Outreach, you are actively engaged with disadvantaged students and having a positive impact on the choices those students will make for their futures.

You get the point.

As a medievalist, I could never hope to have that sort of impact. My focus would be on publications and teaching.

So, when academics complain about professional services, I get annoyed. No system is perfect, but often those in professional services may well be impacting the future of Higher Education more than the narrowly focused academic career. 

I get annoyed when people assume that someone is a failure because they have a PhD yet work in "Admin". The assumption being that they are somehow a failed academic.

Nonsense. That thinking does a disservice to those who chose the route for whatever reason and they should not be judged. For all anyone knows, that decision could be about wanting to make a bigger difference than is possible as an academic, which can only be a good thing.

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