Like 'research impact,' 'research communication' and 'knowledge exchange' can be nebulous concepts. However, as a PhD candidate whose focus is on policy-relevant analysis, I think they are crucial. My working minimum definition is that, in order for my studies to be communicated effectively, to contribute meaningfully to knowledge, and to have any hope of achieving impact, they must easily be accessible to people outside of academia. Without this basic condition being fulfilled, the possibility of influencing anything beyond my own career is limited.
I believe that if my work is publicly funded it should be publicly available. It shouldn't be hidden away behind paywalls and obscure language: it should be in the open, so that it can be read and debated, acted upon or disputed. To this end, I have taken two initial steps.
Firstly, I now publish a version of each of my studies as a working paper. Working papers are available on my institution's website, and are entirely open access. They explain the detail of my research, and are preceded by a short, non-technical summary, designed to be accessible to the general public and to policymakers.
As a former government social researcher, I'm very aware that difficulties with access and time constraints mean that evidence published only in academic journals risks going entirely unconsidered and underutilised. I've been happy to receive emails commenting on my working papers from practitioners and parents, as well as from other researchers and from civil servants - indicating that open, user-friendly publication does go some way towards communicating beyond academia.
Secondly, I've conveyed my research through the media. This was a new and nerve-racking process for me, and I've benefited greatly from the advice and guidance of my supervisors and of communications professionals in my department and the wider Institute of Education (IoE)
I’ve learned a massive amount about media engagement from these individuals, whose press release resulted in one of my studies being reported by several national papers and radio stations, and in my being interviewed on Radio Five Live.
This coverage snowballed into discussion on social media. I was delighted that parents on Mumsnet and other web forums were debating the implications of my study, and very pleased to hear that it was being discussed internally at the Department for Education.
I’ve realised through these experiences and experiments that promoting research through the media and providing accessible versions of my papers can go some way towards realising knowledge exchange. So what next?
I'm currently setting up and populating a website (www.tammycampbell.co.uk), where I’ll present readable synopses of my work to a general audience, and I’ve finally embraced Twitter. While working on these channels, I'll continue investigating and exploring the best ways to contribute to the knowledge pool and to public debate - in order to make sure that my research is accessible, utilised, and effectively communicated.
Tammy's working papers
- Selected at seven: The relationship between teachers' judgments and assessments of pupils, and pupils' stream placements (PDF, 1.1Mb) IoE working paper
- Stereotyped at seven? Biases in teacher judgements of pupils' ability and attainment (PDF, 1.7Mb) IoE working paper
- In-school ability grouping and the month of birth effect: preliminary evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (PDF, 605 Kb) IoE working paper
Media coverage of Tammy's work
- Summer-born hit by school streaming - BBC News website
- Summer-born children suffer educational inequality, study finds - The Guardian website
- Summer-born pupils 'being stuck in lowest ability sets' - The Telegraph website
- Summer babies do less well academically in part due to streaming - Mumsnet website