I was recently asked to consider the question “What will be the impact of your research in 2025?” As a second year PhD student, the focus of my research is very much on the present (How are my interviews going? Am I finding answers to the question I’m investigating? How am I going to write it all up?). Being asked to take a step back and think about the ‘impact’ of my research ten years down the line was quite a daunting proposal.
Indeed, there are jokes in PhD-land that only a very small number of people will ever read your final dissertation – your supervisors, your examiners, and maybe a very generous family member who is willing to read a bit further than the acknowledgements page.
Posed with this question of impact, I reflected on how I might define PhD research that has ‘impact’: are there people out there whose PhDs will lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions in sectors such as food or transport? Will one of my colleagues take renewable energy technologies a significant step further? What about my research, a study about the motivations for, and practices of, community-based action on climate change in Scotland? If research impact is about making a ‘demonstrable contribution to society’, what will be the contribution of my research?
In a research impact masterclass with Sir John Beddington, chair of the Global Academies at the University of Edinburgh and who previously held the position of Chief Science Adviser to the UK Government, I was struck by the diversity of PhD topics in the room, and the possibilities for impact in so many ways. As colleagues, we discussed issues such as the demand for low-carbon food products in Scotland, mental health in female prisoners in Latin America and the safe disposal of plastic and electronic waste from solar products in Kenya. We considered how impact can include consumer-level behaviour change in order to reduce carbon emissions or input and change to local or national policies. I reflected on how my research about people’s motivations for community-level action on climate change could have impact in terms of how we influence and motivate a greater number of people, communities and companies to take action on climate change and how values drive climate action.
So, what do you think? How might your research have impact in 2025? Whether at Masters or PhD level, in what ways are you developing and carrying out your research so that the results will have an impact on society?
For more information about how the ESRC defines impact, see http://www.esrc.ac.uk/funding-and-guidance/impact-toolkit/what-how-and-why/what-is-research-impact.aspx
The overall aim of my research is to investigate the ways in which communities are involved with the issue of climate change at a local and national level in Scotland; to discover the underlying reasons and motivations for their engagement; and to investigate whether issues of temporality can play an important role in motivating action. Temporality is of particular interest because of the dominance of short-termism in western society in particular (economic quarters, financial years, 5 year election cycles) set against the long-term challenges of climate change (mitigation targets ‘by 2050’ and climate change impacts ‘in the latter half of the century’, for example). The working title of my PhD is “Faithful Advocates: What are the motivations, values and practices of faith-based climate activists, with particular regard to temporality?”
Alice has a background in science communication and previously worked as a diplomat for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As Head of Science and Innovation for the Nordic region, she was also responsible for climate change, environment and energy policy issues at the British Embassy in Stockholm from 2003-2008. She was seconded to the Climate Change Unit at the Swedish Ministry for the Environment in 2008-2009 (operating fully in Swedish) and was a delegate to the UNFCCC climate change meetings during this period.
Alice holds a BSc (Hons) in Environmental Biology from the University of York, an MSc in Science Communication from the University of Glamorgan, and completed an MDiv (theology/divinity) at North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, prior to starting her PhD in September 2013. Given this somewhat interdisciplinary background, she is delighted to be doing an interdisciplinary PhD (politics/divinity).