Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Impact: a Scientist Speaks

A great blog entry from Athene Donald, Professor of Physics at Cambridge. She's currently Chair of Committee C of the BBSRC, so has seen a few Pathways to Impact statements in her time. She knows how vague and aspirational most of them are. 'Whatever it is they are going to do,' she says, 'it will solve all the ills of mankind, revolutionise the production of something or other and allow us to fly to the moon. This is not really helpful.'

Instead, applicants should focus on the quantifiable. 'Surprisingly often a committee member will want to know about the economics,' says Donald. What is thi size of the problem? How many people suffer from the disease you will cure? What is the potential size of the market? Do some background research, and give some figures. Similarly, for outreach work, be explicit about exactly how many schools you hope to visit, how many public lectures you hope to give, how many articles you will write for the general public.
Finally, don't make the mistake of resting on your laurels and talking about how many patents you've secured in the past. Look to the future and explain what you're going to do, and how past experience might facilitate it.

She finishes by asking you to take pity on weary panellists.

'You should consider that I and my colleagues will have read dozens of these statements over a rather short period of time in the run-up to the committee meeting, so have some thought that just maybe my eyes glaze over when faced with yet another page of statements along the lines of:

This proposal aims to develop new functionalities of [insert generic technology here] to support the next generation [insert protocol here] which will transform the production of [insert your favourite molecule here]. We will concentrate, just as we always have, on writing lots of peer-reviewed papers and travelling the world to exotic places to talk to our friends at high level conferences.

Do please take a few minutes and read her blog entry in full. It could make or break your Research Council application.

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