LoLo PhD Student Rami El Geneidy (Loughborough University) has been interested in outreach and making a wider impact with his research and has managed to get into a programme called RISE, run by EPSRC, meant for researchers interested in engaging with the public, policy-makers and other decision-makers.
Rami’s a piece about his experiences with RISE.
RISE – a route to impact for early career researchers
There are many opportunities for early-stage researchers to influence decision-makers within policy-making and industry. Providing key stakeholders with robust, accessible and well-prepared research helps them to make better decisions, thereby accelerating the development of society. In the beginning of December, as a PhD student in the LoLo CDT, I embarked on the RISE (Recognising Inspirational Scientists and Engineers) programme run by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and want to share the insights I have gained so far.
Decision-making is typically surprisingly hectic in business and policy-making. For this reason, a researcher should stay informed and be prepared. A great place to start getting information on policy-making is to subscribe to the mailing lists of Government and Parliament. For example, POST (Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/bicameral/post/) provides possibilities for make contributions to parliamentary publications and offers fellowships. Parliamentary Select Committees are constantly asking for evidence to inquiries on societal matters to which researchers can contribute (https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/inquiries-a-z/current-open-calls-for-evidence/).
The keys to making an impact for early career researchers are: prepare for ad hoc opportunities, have a clear message and communicate it properly. Since response-time windows can be relatively short, researchers should have their key messages ready at hand. The messages should be understandable and tangible to normal people. I have found this challenging with research related to infrastructure. For most people infrastructure and functions like roads, energy and buildings are quite “invisible”, located somewhere in the back-end of society. To this end I have found concrete examples useful when demonstrating the importance of my research. My research, for example, focuses on making buildings more flexible consumers of energy with new control strategies for heating and air-conditioning systems. In this context I typically say that renewable energy is needed but when it is not available heating can be used temporarily to balance supply short-falls, since even if heating is turned off it takes a while before a home cools down.
An important thing to understand is that most people with power, i.e. politicians, journalists and business managers, do not read academic publications. They simply do not have the time for it nor access to them. Thus, channels other than academic journals are required to accelerate impact. Academic writing conventions sets scenes with introductions and lengthy narratives including thorough descriptions of methodologies and results before the outcomes. For busy decision-makers this format does not work. Key messages should be conveyed right at the start and elaborated further by using examples to give the reader a clear idea of why it deserves their attention.
Thanks to the training I have started this process at the very beginning of my PhD studies to actively get me my research exposed. I believe the increased scrutiny of my research by the public and decision-makers will make it more robust. Who knows, I could even find new angles or problems my research can help to solve. I encourage everyone to grasp the opportunities at hand and getting the important research we do out into the open.
[Rami El Geneidy, LoLo PhD Student]