11-19 Expand your impact

[Image above] Credit: opensource.com, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

What does “impact” mean in the context of scientific research?

Is it citations? Is it downloads? Is it simply the act of being published?

In the broadest possible sense, research has impact when it can bring about changes to behaviors, ideally for the benefit of society. Research can negatively impact society, but let’s focus on the positive.

Does getting citations impact society? Yes and no.

Having research citations means your work impacted other scientists. They found your work and recognize it as being worthy of consideration. Either they build upon it, or they may refute it. Nonetheless, your research impacted other scientists.

What can you do to maximize your scientific impact? First and foremost, your research and publications must be both high quality and interesting. Your science or engineering must be sound. Your analysis must clearly show the validation of your hypotheses in the context of other work in your field. The more you can provide insights into the key underpinnings, the more your colleagues will respect (and cite) the work.

Second, and nearly as important, other scientists need to be made aware of your work. According to data from Clarivate, the number of papers used to evaluate the impact factor for the Materials Science, Ceramics category will double between 2010 and 2020, assuming the linear growth trend continues. You must find a way to stand out above the crowd and be found by those who need to find you.

Data source: Clarivate Journal Citation Reports. Graph created by ACerS.

There are many ways to inform others of your publications. The easiest method is to post links to your articles everywhere: blogs, e-mails, personal websites, social websites—you name it. Please note that with sites such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu, you should only post links to your article and not the PDF. The exception is if your article is published as gold open access with creative commons (CC) licensing. With gold open access, you are free to share your article anywhere and everywhere as you retain copyright.

If your article is published in a traditional subscription journal, there are still many ways of getting your article to your colleagues while respecting the publisher’s copyright. Wiley, ACerS’ publishing partner, offers “Article share” and “Content share” options that allow access to people who do not have ACerS membership or institutional subscriptions. You can read more about tools for promoting your articles at wileyauthors.com/maximize and you can download a cool infographic here.

Now, what about the impact on the broader society? Is it enough to do good science and generate lots of citations? Again, the answer is yes and no.

Good science is a prerequisite to broader impact. But good science is not enough. Society must understand the science, value the science, and compare the value of behavior changes shaped by the science against other factors, such as the economy.

A recent blog post in The Scholarly Kitchen explains this dynamic and calls for better communication, which “is needed to break down the barriers between researchers and the wider world to which they contribute so much.”

Credit: ACerS

Whew. These are some big issues and big challenges. Unfortunately, while careers increasingly depend upon communicating societal impact, scientists rarely get training on how to address it.

To that end, the ACerS journals group will be conducting workshops for exploring impact at upcoming meetings, including EMA and ICACC. You can sign up to attend a workshop here.