July 18, 2012

Live Q&A: REF 2014 and ECRs

Welcome to this Live Q&A session on the REF 2014 and Early Career Researchers!

From 12pm we'll be joined by a panel of experts from the University of Warwick who will be answering all your questions about what the REF means for ECRs.

What do ECRs need to know about the REF and how can you best prepare? Is your research profile up to scratch? What counts as "impact"? What do part-time tutors, research assistants, or those on temporary contracts need to know? What's coming after 2014? These are among the topics we'll be addressing, and look forward to hearing what questions you'd like answered.

The panellists are:

Giles Carden (Director, Management Information and Planning)

Sam Cole (Assistant Registrar, REF & Research Planning)

Nadine Lewycky (Arts Faculty Impact Officer)

Chair: Charlotte Mathieson, Early Career Researcher Project Officer (Impact) in the Wolfson Research Exchange


The Q&A will take place in the comments thread below this blog post - to participate, leave a comment with your question below.

- 40 comments by 5 or more people

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. Charlotte Mathieson

    Welcome to the live Q&A! We’ll be starting very soon so please start leaving your questions in the comments below!

    18 Jul 2012, 11:44

  2. Charlotte Mathieson

    I’ll get us started with the first question: who is eligible for submission to the REF? The definition of ECR in the REF guidelines talk about “indepedent researchers” but what does that actually mean?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:01

  3. I’ve recently completed my PhD and I’m now looking with scared eyes towards the future. I’m teaching a module in my department next academic year with the intension of applying for funding to support a research project with my external examiner. In this gap between starting a new research project, what should my priorities be? And is there anyone at Warwick I can talk to specifically about the REF as I’m feeling a little mystified! Thanks for any suggestions!

    18 Jul 2012, 12:04

  4. Samuel Cole

    There is a definition a definition in the REF Guidance on Submissions

    “Early career researchers are defined as members of staff who meet the criteria to be selected as Category A or Category C staff on the census date, and who started their careers as independent researchers on or after 1 August 2009. For the purposes of the REF, an individual is deemed to have started their career as an independent researcher from the point at which:

    a. They held a contract of employment of 0.2 FTE or greater, which included a primary employment function of undertaking ‘research’ or ‘teaching and research’, with any HEI or other organisation, whether in the UK or overseas, and

    b. They undertook independent research, leading or acting as principal investigator or equivalent on a research grant or significant piece of research
    work. (A member of staff is not deemed to have undertaken independent research purely on the basis that they are named on one or more research outputs.)

    18 Jul 2012, 12:05

  5. Katie Wheat

    I’m a British PhD, but currently working as a postdoc in the Netherlands. I plan to return to the UK in the next couple of years. What does the REF mean for researchers working abroad?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:07

  6. Charlotte Mathieson

    In answer to Kate, the main priority really is to publish publish publish! Getting high-quality research publications is really important in building up a strong research profile which will be important whether applying for funding and jobs in the future. Remember that it takes time to get publications through to completion and the REF cut-off date is November 2013, so start sending out work asap. Also talk to colleagues in your department who have a good track record of securing research funding, who will be able to give you advice and help strengthen your application.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:09

  7. Giles Carden

    If you want to pursue a research career in the UK, to prove attractive to potential employers, the first thing you should do is develop a good portfolio of research publications, as this is essential to achieve submission to the REF. Seek advice from senior academics on what are the best journals and/or book publishers as a starting point.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:11

  8. Nicola Abram

    Hello all,

    I’m really pleased to see this discussion happening. In response to Charlotte’s question, and Samuel’s answer, can PhD researchers ever be eligible for submission as ‘independent researchers’? As well as thinking about individual research outputs, what about impact: in the event that PhD research underpins an impact case study? I understand that the PhD researcher would have to be employed on a 0.2FTE contract or above, but are there other restrictions beyond this?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:11

  9. What is the main criteria for impact on publications in REF perspective?Will there be any significant changes in REF as ongoing plan?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:11

  10. Giles Carden

    Nicola – PhD researchers would not be considered as independent researchers under the Funding Councils’ definition as they effective work on a research programme under a more senior academic colleague.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:13

  11. Nadine Lewycky

    Hi Nicola,
    In response to your question about PhD research underpinning REF impact, the short answer is that it is not eligible. Only research which has been published between 1 January 1993 and 31 December 2013 is eligible to ‘underpin’ impact. Thus, if you were to publish work from your PhD before the cut off date then it would be eligible.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:14

  12. What is the panel’s sense of the shape of future iterations of the REF? Given fee increases, the emphasis on student satisfaction and impact, will our traditionally published research count as significantly next time round? Or should we be focusing on work that reaches wider audiences, engages with industry etc?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:14

  13. Nadine Lewycky

    Hi Ceren,

    Impact for REF 2014 is basically the ability to demonstrate that your research has made a difference to a non-academic audience between 1 January 2008 and 31 July 2013. This means that your research needs to have an ‘impact’ outside the university, such as on culture, society, or the economy.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:17

  14. Nicola Abram

    Giles and Nadine, thanks for this clarification. Can you please help me understand the census dates a little better? Could impact activity happening in 2013 (during the REF2014 census period) be submitted in REF2018?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:18

  15. Giles Carden

    Peter – there are two potential developments:

    1. The current weighting of research impact of 20% in submissions is likely to increase in the next assessment exercise. I would encourage researchers to think about strategies to enable their research to achieve impact.
    2. The Funding Councils are pushing open access publishing – but how this will turn out remains to be seen.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:19

  16. Yvonne Reddick

    I’m planning to co-edit a volume of essays for Palgrave, in collaboration with a more senior colleague of mine. I’m especially keen to get a monograph contract as well, as soon as I’ve submitted my thesis, which will be in October.
    Am I wasting my time if I go ahead with the editing work? It’s a very exciting prospect for me, but it wouldn’t be as well-regarded in a REF assessment as the monograph.

    Thanks for the very helpful advice on this site – it’s been really informative!

    18 Jul 2012, 12:19

  17. Nadine Lewycky

    Hi Nicola,

    We don’t know for certain what the next ‘REF’ will look like or when it will even happen. Because the current impact assessment period is between 1 January 2008-31 July 2013 I would expect that these dates will not be included in the next REF. So the next REF will probably include impacts which happen after 2013

    18 Jul 2012, 12:22

  18. Charlotte Mathieson

    How important is the REF in university hiring practices at the moment? Would an ECR going to interview be expected to know about the REF requirements and how their research will contribute?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:24

  19. Samuel Cole

    Hi Yvonne,

    A good monograph will serve you well in a REF context. That is not to say that co-editing a volume of essays is not a valuable activity and a researcher has to continually weigh up his or her priorities. Researchers do not simply exist to serve REF of course but it is a key consideration in prioritising work.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:25

  20. Charlotte Mathieson

    Yvonne – I’m in a similar position with co-editing a collection but also wanting to prioritise monograph and other REF-able publications. I’m aware that co-editing is not in itself useful for the context of the REF as this won’t count as a research output. However, the co-editing has other benefits in terms of raising your profile, broadening your skills, and showing that you’re engaged with the research community. It’s certainly not a waste of time, but I would be prioritising the monograph etc if you’re pushed for time. But in an ideal world we could do everything!

    18 Jul 2012, 12:28

  21. Sarah York

    In terms of publications, do co-authored articles/chapters count for REF? Also, as an ECR 2.5years post-PhD what will be the required number of publications?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:29

  22. Giles Carden

    Charlotte – if a university is hiring to a substantive academic post then the candidates will be required to have good publications to submit to the REF. There are special dispensation arrangements for early career researchers as defined by the REF (i.e. individuals that became independent researchers on or after 1 August 2009 onwards) and they can submit less than the normal requirement of 4 publications. For more details see the Guidance on Submissions at: www.ref.ac.uk.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:30

  23. Giles Carden

    Sarah – in answer to your first question, yes a co-authored paper can be submitted but it is important to demonstrate the individual’s contribution within the submission. Publications can be listed against 2 submitted staff but only exceptionally based on significant contribution. Sam is going to answer your other question.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:34

  24. Samuel Cole

    Hi Sarah, if you have your own personal fellowship then you are likely to be considered an independent researcher from the point at which that fellowship began. Assuming this was 2.5 years ago (i.e. you began in January 2010 as an ‘independent researcher’) then you would be permitted to drop one publication, therefore, you would need to submit three.

    Usually, post-docs (working other people’s research projects) are not eligible.

    Paragraph 72 at the following link should help.


    18 Jul 2012, 12:36

  25. Charlotte Mathieson

    Stephen Soanes asked:

    I have two questions re the REF:
    (1) What weight is given to public engagement activities within the REF, relative to more traditional publications? (e.gs, websites, art installations etc…)
    (2) I personally find the REF demoralising, in much the same way no doubt that many school teachers cite over-regulation as an inhibitor on genuine innovation in secondary education. What safeguards have been built in to ensure this REF will achieve a genuine qualitiative depth of analysis and avoid bureaucratic ‘game playing’ that does little more than keep the statisticians happy, whilst draining the life and joy out of academic research?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:38

  26. How will journal impact factors, rankings or lists be used to inform the assessment of research outputs?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:39

  27. Nicola Abram

    Do the panel have any sense of how REF will shape hiring practices? Eg if ECRs aren’t in a post by the end of October 2013 census date, will the next reshuffle be for the next REF?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:41

  28. Giles Carden

    Ceren – JIFs will not be used in the assessment. For some disciplines (certain sciences and Economics and Econometrics) journal citation counts benchmarked to world standards will be used by panels to help inform the peer review process. I should note, the citations database coverage is rather poor for the arts, humanities and most social science disciplines and so is not useful to assess the reach of articles.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:43

  29. Nadine Lewycky

    Hi Stephen,

    In answer to your first question, there is a distinction to be made between public engagement and impact. Impact is about demonstrating that your research has made a difference on a non-academic audience; whereas public engagement describes a two-way exchange of knowledge, skills, ideas etc between academics and non-academics. Public engagement can be used to achieve impact but conversely public engagement may not be linked with research and not lead to impact.

    Its also worth noting that impact for REF and impact for funding applications are different. Impact for REF must have occurred between 1 Jan 2008-31 July 2013 whereas pathways to impact on grant applications should demonstrate the potential for achieving impact. Public engagement will be more prominent in the latter case.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:44

  30. Charlotte Mathieson

    Stephen, in response to your second question I sympathise with what you say about the REF being demoralising and I think it’s particularly tough for post-PhDs who are entering the job market at the moment and becoming disillusioned about the state of HE. This also goes back to Peter Kirwan’s earlier comment about the balance of expectations around teaching, impact and research – it feels as though academics are being pulled in every and all directions and expected to increase publications, develop impact, and teach to a higher standard with the new fees coming in. Whilst this can be demoralising, I think with it’s important to keep the wider perspective and realise that not everything is about the REF. REF-panic will subsume in time, and developing impact activities and teaching can be a good way of keeping some of the joy in academic life.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:45

  31. Thank you Charlotte,Nadine,Samuel&Giles for providing us very useful information…

    18 Jul 2012, 12:49

  32. Charlotte Mathieson

    A closing question: what’s after the REF? When will the next assessment round take place?

    18 Jul 2012, 12:50

  33. Samuel Cole

    Hi Nicola,

    Obviously, there is a bit of a ‘transfer market’ and recruitment tends to peak just before the submission date. In terms of hiring in the future, universities will be looking for researchers that have a strong portfolio of outputs (publications) and a strategy for enabling impact in the future.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:51

  34. Another, more prosaic, recruitment-based question:

    As many departments have already compiled their REF submission frameworks, can we assume that this REF will necessarily be upmost in employers’ minds in the coming year? Isn’t it possible that new ECR appointments, coming in after the department has done most of the legwork for REF, won’t be submitted anyway (depending on the department’s individual policy, of course)? In which case, it would be the promise of future publications and a more holistic approach to the CV that will be important for applicants.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:53

  35. Giles Carden

    Charlotte – we don’t know the precise date of the next assessment exercise, but we can expect, based on past history, that it will be in about 6 years’ time.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:54

  36. Charlotte Mathieson

    I think as a closing thought, ECRs not currently in a position need to think long-term beyond the REF, and not see this as a scrabble for jobs pre-2013-14. Getting a good research profile and impact programme will set you up well for the future, and for those not yet in positions by now it’s probably more important to be thinking ahead to the next cycle, as well as all the other factors around your research.

    18 Jul 2012, 12:58

  37. Charlotte Mathieson

    That brings us to the end of the Q&A – thanks to everyone who asked a question, and a big thank you to our panellists for their responses. The post will remain open for comment so feel free to keep commenting and discussing these themes.

    18 Jul 2012, 13:02

  38. Nicola Abram

    Thanks, everyone, this has been really helpful.

    18 Jul 2012, 13:03

  39. Charlotte Mathieson

    Thanks Nicola!

    And one more thing: you can check out our Researcher Guides on the REf and ECRs: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/researchexchange/topics/gd0164/

    the REF and Impact: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/researchexchange/topics/gd0163/

    and REF publication measures: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/researchexchange/topics/gd0002/

    18 Jul 2012, 13:25

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