Expert trumpet-blowing

November 1, 2012

Every successful operation needs teamwork. Before surgeons operate, anaesthetists attend to the patients. Chefs cook the food and waiting staff deliver it to the tables. So why should academics write their own impact case studies for submission to the research excellence framework?

Yes, they are best placed to describe their own research, but universities nevertheless should be thinking about employing professionals to draw out the impact of the work.

I've worked with academics from all disciplines for six years. Much of my time involves interviewing them about their research, then writing features, press releases or case studies about it. I love this interview process, because in most instances a detail that they mention as an aside is the part that makes the story. This is sometimes due to modesty, but more often than not it is simply because it is difficult to look at familiar things objectively.

Many universities are offering support and training sessions galore to help with impact case studies, but with increasing demands on academics' time, something has to give. Will they be so busy writing about the impact of their research that they won't have time to research, or teach, or do the dreaded admin?

Besides the challenge of drawing out the impact of their work (and finding the time to do so), there is the issue of quality. Of course, some academics would do an outstanding job, but an equal number come to mind who give me genuine cause for concern. With the stakes being so high, universities cannot afford to get this wrong.

Rebecca Perl, Messagelab Communications

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