“The impact generation activities I do are not expensive and we’ve been doing these activities since well before the term ‘impact’ came to the fore.” - Professor Julian Dow, University of Glasgow
Professor Dow thought he knew what “impact” meant, but then he had the opportunity to judge the BBSRC’s Excellence with Impact competition and he realised that impact can mean different things to different people.
“Some university departments believe impact generation is mainly about outreach and engagement activities,” says Professor Dow, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Glasgow. “While others think it is more about knowledge transfer and commercialisation. The truth is that there are many different ways of generating impact and what is right for one project may not be right for another.”
He warns against researchers promising to do everything in their Pathways to Impact and not managing to deliver. He also believes that the Pathways to Impact should be written by the person doing the research and not by external consultants or advisors. “Not every impact generation activity is appropriate for every project,” he says. “You know what is relevant to your work. If going into schools is not relevant, then don’t do it. Play to your strengths.”
Professor Dow’s research is in functional genomics, particularly using fruit flies (Drosophila) as a model both for other insects, and for humans. He recognises that members of the general public are perhaps not the immediate users of his research, but nevertheless feels it is important to let them know about the kind of research that is being done with their money. Some of Professor Dow’s work is particularly photogenic so he and his colleagues entered some photographs into a competition organised by the Glasgow Science Centre. This resulted in the images being used on posters along the river Clyde. “Each poster has a couple of sentences about our work and also a QR code which passers-by can scan with their mobile phones and link to a podcast explaining the research,” says Professor Dow.
But reaching the general public is not Professor Dow’s only priority. His research users are other scientists across a broad range of discipline, as well as the agrochemical and biomedical sectors. To reach other scientists, Professor Dow uses the usual pathways to impact such as journal papers and conferences, but has also made some large datasets available online in a format that is useful for the general scientist, rather than just for specialist bioinformaticians.
To reach the agrochemical industry Professor Dow plans to expand on his group’s long history of contract research by setting up a contract research organisation to carry out more of this lucrative work. “And for the biomedical sector, we have developed a model for calcium oxalate kidney stones (the most common kind) in Drosophila,” says Professor Dow. “We are presently trying to set up a screen to look for compounds that reduce the ability of new stones to form.”
Professor Dow uses a range of different impact generation activities to get his message across to a variety of audiences. In order to carry out these impact generation activities, Professor Dow did not apply for any extra funding as part of the two £500k grants that he currently holds. “The impact generation activities I do are not expensive and we’ve been doing these activities since well before the term ‘impact’ came to the fore,” says Professor Dow. “Even relatively small projects can produce impact without the need for a big budget or a huge investment in time.”
Institution:University of Glasgow