The Big Picture – Why be a researcher?

Researchers can gauge career success by considering measures like job satisfaction, salary, h- factor, awards, projects, tenure, and responsibilities. These tangible observable measures are the day-to-day incentives that inform many researchers’ work choices. But tangible measures and the motivations for why we became researchers don’t always align.

Were these the only reasons you decided to become a researcher or did you want to make a difference?

In addition to the prestige and status of becoming a professor and the intrinsic value of knowledge and research, for many, improving the world through our work also contributed to our personal motivations and narratives for why we become researchers. Generally, our research’s tangible impact on the world is discernible intermittently and may materialise several years after the work is done and may not be discernible at all.
Despite our scientific approaches in our research, we often don’t apply the same rigour to concretely prove how our work delivers value. This is largely because tangible value is much harder to quantify than the easier to observe measures such as our citations or patents. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, is a well-known adage.

Conversely, what happens to things that can’t be easily measured?

Usually this means they tend to be neglected or only have lip service paid to it. Increasingly though – funders are becoming less tolerant of this neglect.
Representing society, funders rightly ask if it is getting the best value from its investment of finite resources into research. They are challenging us as researchers to provide clearer proof of the value we deliver. Independent of the incentives of funders, we, as researchers, should also be doing more to make sure our research is having the impact we think/hope it is.

So, how can we quantify and maximise the positive contribution of our research?

Measuring the value that our research delivers can seem ephemeral and abstract. You might for example be able to speculate that your research may in the future contribute economically to some industry but be unable to provide a quantification of the scale or likelihood that will even happen. However, speculation is insufficient.

With theory, structure and tools, researchers can begin to make the currently intangible more tangible. For example, a relatively new term of ‘valorisation’ has been put forward to encapsulate both commercial and non-commercial benefits to society from research, including the less tangible ones. Useful tools to assess the valorisation potential of research include cost benefit analysis, expected value and causal chain diagrams can help examine how a proposed piece of research is likely to deliver value. For ongoing or completed work, case studies and utilitarian inspired tools like quality-adjusted life years (QUALYs) can estimate the value delivered in addition to traditional measures of citations, awards and intellectual property created.

Where can researchers learn about these approaches?

Until recently, there was no focused training course available to help researchers measure and maximise the value of their research based on the valorisation concept with much of the prior work focusing on the commercialisation component of valorisation. The STEM_Valorise project has addressed this and will pilot a course in Autumn 2022 to help STEM researchers clarify the value (valorisation potential) of their research to society and provide support, in the form of useful tools and structures to maximise research valorisation. As part of the STEM Valorise programme, participants will develop insights and apply structure to their thinking about how to maximise the impact of their STEM research both for their own career and for society. As research encourages specialisation and focus – the big picture may often fail to get due consideration. A key outcomes of course participation will be a fuller understanding of how one’s research provides value to society. To support this, several transversal skills for valorisation such as communication, stakeholder engagement and negotiation skills will be included to support researchers in their STEM valorisation.

We are confident that by using the tools taught in this new course, researchers will gain greater clarity on the impact of their work for society and in addition it will help them to have a more rewarding and successful career. Finally, the course will help participants to identify and gain greater meaning from their work.

We will be holding a STEM Valorise information session on September 12th where you can learn about our work and the upcoming course for STEM researchers, which will run from October through to December.

This is the first of a series of blogs, where we will discuss each course session and how it can help STEM researchers maximise their career’s contribution to the world. We hope to develop this series of blogs into an academic article – therefore, we warmly welcome any comments or suggestions in relation to STEM Valorisation and the upcoming course to