Accepted paper:

Impacted or impactful? The research impact agenda as a challenge to academic identities


Justyna Bandola-Gill (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

The so-called research impact agenda has brought about a variety of cultural and institutional changes to the UK academic life. This paper will explore how the increasing focus on the relevance of research has impacted on academic identities and understandings of what constitutes 'academic' work.

Paper long abstract:

The recent decades brought about a series of changes to the ways in which academic research is being funded and evaluated in the UK. One such change is a so-called impact agenda and - more broadly - a move towards incentivising engagement between academic and non-academic audiences. These changes have posed a significant challenge to traditional academic values, such as autonomy, impartiality or objectivity, as the academics are increasingly expected to get directly involved in political processes. This paper is based on the insights from a PhD project exploring knowledge exchange between academics and policymakers in genomics and public health. In this paper, I will discuss the ways in which the expectation to achieve 'research impact' has shaped academics' perceptions of what constitutes and legitimises academic practices. Furthermore, I will discuss how the perception of changing boundaries between science and policy/politics has posed a significant challenge to academic identities. I will argue that in order to adapt to this changing environment, academics employed a variety of mediating strategies, aimed at easing the challenge posed to their identities, including: othering, joining up and non-conforming. These strategies were shaped by multiple factors, such as the perception of the science-policy boundary, the perceived roles of science in policymaking and the view on the disciplinary 'duties' of academics.

panel F03
Scientists - agents under construction