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Impact in the time of Coronavirus

Queen Mary's Research Impact Team reflects on working in impact during the coronavirus pandemic

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Queen Mary’s Research Impact Team is here to support the creation, curation and celebration of impact at Queen Mary University of London. We also administer impact funding

The coronavirus lockdown has led to a new ‘normal’ way of working and living for all of us. Natalie Wall, Research Impact Manager, writes, “It’s strange what a pandemic can do to cultural norms. I used to open emails with 'Dear so-and-so…' where I now open with 'I hope that you are well and staying healthy' and, possibly, an anecdote about the horrors of home-schooling so other parents don’t feel so alone.

I used to think about working from home as a chance to tackle big projects really efficiently. Now, between virtual meetings, the barrage of emails/messages/texts, home-schooling and children popping up to say 'What’s your favourite Pokemon?' (The answer is always Jigglypuff) in meetings with senior management, home has become a different space, indeed.”

Queen Mary’s Research Impact Team’s primary focus in the last year or so has been the university’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission. We ramped up our efforts at the beginning of 2020 in preparation for the initial deadline in November and are awaiting confirmation on a revised REF timetable, due at the end of May, after funding bodies put the REF on hold in March 2020. While REF 2021 delays are of ongoing concern, there have, equally, been opportunities in this new reality. As some staff members at Queen Mary cannot work from home, we have begun drafting a small army of impact ‘helpers’ from across our labs and the Library, who have been invaluable in supporting us to push our impact case studies to completion.

However, working in research impact at a university is not only about the REF submission and we, in Queen Mary’s Research Impact Team, are trying to strike a balance between being supportive of key partners and pressures on the institution such as the REF.

In our School of Medicine and Dentistry, we have seen academics move to frontline COVID-19 support. For some, this has been an interesting experience and a chance to learn some new skills. For academics not working on COVID-19, the pandemic has been an opportunity to take a step back from their work and reflect on how it affects the people and patients they set out to reach.

In our Faculty of Science and Engineering, we have been working with businesses, policy makers and charities to understand how the crisis is affecting them. In some cases, our interactions have resulted in useful conversations about new research and how it can feed into their processes or feedback about how products, developed based on Queen Mary’s research, are performing and can be improved.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UKRI’s EPSRC and STFC research councils have allowed the use of available Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) funds to support projects that could address the COVID-19 outbreak. Queen Mary’s IAA team has created a responsive internal funding programme to support Queen Mary researchers to explore new avenues through which Queen Mary’s research strengths can be used to offer a rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis and enable impact on a national and global scale. So far two projects have been awarded: 

Among those not involved in COVID-19, there has been an amazing willingness to participate in discussions on impact. The Research Impact Team has run two well attended impact training sessions in the last month and was pleasantly surprised at how excited our researchers are to talk about impact in these uncertain times.

Overall, it’s been a realisation to us how much people enjoy being useful. Natalie writes,

I am amazed at what happens to impact when you remove the ‘agenda’ bit of the impact agenda.

We all want to see research used to good effect. We all want to be useful.

Email the Research Impact team or IAA team with questions about your research impact or visit our webpages.

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