The importance of impact in research

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Research impact is essential to what we do here at the University of Bath. So much so that it is explicitly stated in our University strategy:

To drive excellence in education and high-impact research, foster an outstanding and inclusive community, and enhance our strategic partnerships.

But what is high impact research?

We see high impact research as work that is helping to change the world for the better. And here at the University of Bath, we recognise that in order to contribute to these changes we need to work in partnership with all sectors of society to help create a healthier, more sustainable and connected future for us all.

With an increasing expectation for impact delivery plans within funding applications, and a predicted increased emphasis on impact in the next REF, academics are more and more being expected to consider impact as an intrinsic part of their research.

As well as being important for society, securing funding, and the REF, demonstrating impact from your research can also be important for your academic career.

I recently spoke to two colleagues from the Faculty of Engineering & Design who’s internationally recognised research impact contributed to their promotions from Readers to Professors. I asked them about their work, their thoughts on impact, and their advice for other academics.

Kind regards,



Prof Antony Darby: Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering

What is your research area, and how have you developed impact from it?

I am a structural engineer in the broadest terms. My work looks at the assessment of the capacity of structures and if a structure isn’t strong enough, what we can do about it.

From this there are two main avenues that I have developed impact from my research.

The first is around the assessment of existing structures, such as road and railway bridges. National Highways is currently undertaking a large-scale assessment programme looking at the bridges in the UK. The disruption and costs caused by knocking down bridges and re-building them is enormous, therefore it is important to find better ways of assessing their capacity, and understanding what can be done to strengthen them. I have a long-standing relationship with National Highways and therefore have been developing analysis models to feed into their assessment documents, which are then used by all engineers when assessing bridges.

The second key area that I can demonstrate real world impact from is through my work on retrofitting and strengthening existing concrete structures using materials such as carbon fibre reinforced polymers.

There are a series of guidance documents that are used across the UK for undertaking the strengthening of structures. I identified that these would be important routes to ensure my research was taken up, so I volunteered to write two editions of these UK documents. When writing the most recent edition I ensured that I linked the UK guidance to the European standards for designing structures (Eurocodes), therefore extending the reach of my research outside just the UK.

Writing these documents ensured my research was reaching the right people, and it directly led to my research being picked up by a large international carbon fibre supplier, who used it to develop an open access software for consumers to use in conjunction with their products. As a result of all of this, I became a UK representative on the development of the new Eurocodes, which are used as the industry standard across Europe and beyond.

Do you have any advice to others who are starting out on their own impact journey?

Impact doesn’t just happen on its own, and work published in academic journals will often not be read by the people who need it. It is not necessarily up to us as academics to cause the impact, however it is for us to enable the impact, and to make it easy for the right people to access the research.

My advice is to make sure you are involved in the things that are going to generate the impact. For me that was spending time volunteering to write the guidance documents and developing trusted relationships with the key industries and people.

Sometimes it is difficult to know where things will go, but you have to start somewhere, and volunteering to do something like writing guidance documents, may lead to a whole range of impacts down the line.

How can research impact help further your career as an academic?

Developing impact in my research has been a key part of my academic career journey. It has enhanced my reputation nationally and internationally, has led to funding opportunities and high-quality publications and has led to me being invited to sit on panels, committees and to give presentations around the world. I believe that having a strong international reputation was also a key part of my case for promotion, so the benefits to my career have been many.

What are your plans for further developing research impact in the future?

Alongside my continued work on structural assessment and strengthening, I am starting some new work looking at how sway and vibrations in tall buildings impact on the comfort, wellbeing, health and work performance of the people living and working in them. I’m excited about taking a more human centred approach and working with physiologists and psychologists on this interesting challenge.



Prof Paul Shepherd: Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering

What is your research area, and how have you developed impact from it?

I work in computational design, so using computers to simulate buildings to make them better. I look at both pre-existing buildings but also the design of new buildings.

I worked in industry for 8 years before joining the University, therefore I had first-hand experience of understanding the end user, and how things work in practice in industry. I feel it is important that the work I do doesn’t just sit on the shelf, therefore I don’t see impact as a separate strand of work, I see it as integral to my research.

Working in an area such as construction also provides a great incentive to want to undertake research with impact. The construction industry is responsible for nearly half of carbon emissions globally, therefore ensuring the work we do is taken up and used in the real world is essential for combatting this.

Do you have any advice to others who are starting out on their own impact journey?

Having industry involved in projects has been incredibly helpful to me. They provide a different set of eyes and ask questions that the academics may not have thought to ask. Even if projects don’t lead to impact, having industry input provides constructive challenge which often increases the quality and potential reach of the research.

My advice would be to build a close group of industry collaborators and to foster the relationships. To do this it is important to consider things from their side and to not just treat them like an academic collaborator. You need to understand their drivers and pressures in order to foster a productive and trusted relationship. This can take time and effort, however once developed you can create a set of repeat customers and collaborators that you can work with for much of your career. Laying the groundwork is key in these relationships.

How can research impact help further your career as an academic?

The career of an academic is often judged on metrics such as securing funding and publishing papers and so focussing time on developing industrial partnerships and external relationships may feel to some like it is not directly contributing to career progression, however I do not think this is the case at all.

Fostering these partnerships can provide critical friends, letters of support, access to facilities, new opportunities and increased national/international reputation, all of which can lead to higher quality research publications and higher success in funding applications.

In addition to ‘traditional’ measures of academic success, I believe that these relationships also provide key communication and language skills, and can often lead to compelling case studies, which are greatly valued by institutions, publications and the media.

What are your plans for further developing research impact in the future?

In the Faculty of Engineering & Design we have recently developed a new Faculty Research Centres structure and I am a Deputy Director of one. So, I am particularly excited to play a part in building a culture around impact, supporting colleagues in the development of their research impact and boosting the impact of the Research Centre. I will also continue to develop impact as an intrinsic part of my own research.

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