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  • Marleen Wierenga

Burcu Küçükkeles, Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam


“For me impact is more about a dual interaction between public and academia. I see it as a two-sided process, especially for qualitative researchers. We learn about their reality, think about it and work on it, and then give back to society in general.” Burcu Küçükkeles (Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam).


Whereas typically impact is thought of as performed by researchers studying topics related to sustainability, Burcu Küçükkeles sees having impact as something ambiguous and indirect. She lists four characteristics of impact we can have as researchers. First, it needs to be ethical and within sustainable limits. The ethical aspect of our research depends on how practitioners treat our findings. For example, if research is used for economic growth which causes more inequality, it would not be impactful research in an ethical sense as it might even cause negative impact. The second character of impact is interaction with practitioners. For qualitative researchers, the two-sided interaction is even more important as the process involves learning from the field, thinking about it, working on it, and finally giving back to the general society. Third, impact is a gradual and cumulative process which takes time. “We should let the ego go to allow the collective research to have an impact on society over time,” Burcu says. Lastly, impact requires self-awareness from the researcher.


Impact as a qualitative researcher

Qualitative researchers by definition have interactions with other communities. “As qualitative researchers, we have natural interaction with practice. At the end of the day, this is an applied discipline. Regardless of the method, we have to have interaction with the world outside academia.“


The idea for a recent publication in the Academy of Management Discoveries came from her numerous interactions with the community working to discover drugs for rare diseases. As discovering drugs for rare diseases very few people have is not always a profitable investment for pharmaceutical companies, Burcu showed that these practitioners seek cures to diseases by using a social entrepreneur style of working.


The paper was well received by the academic community, and it has received, for example, the 2021 Responsible Research in Management Award. “Business researchers are often criticized for doing abstract research, and that the real world does not work like that. We don’t claim that the real life works exactly like that, but there is a value we can add, even if it is small.”


The paper was also well-received by the drug discovery community, and has allowed opportunities for Burcu to do teaching in the medical faculty and in an MBA in healthcare program. Here, she can inspire doctors and medical professionals to practice innovation in their work. “I have seen it happen, doctors discovering a cure to a rare disease. I think inspiring our students to be more innovative is also impact, but I would not have been able to do it that convincingly if I hadn’t done research on it.”


Impact as an educator

Medical doctors can have measurable impact, counted for example by the number of lives saved. Compared to that, the impact of management scholars is indirect. Burcu elaborates, “Both in a positive and negative sense we have potential to create a lot of impact. As educators, we can have an impact at the core values level beyond providing practical tools. At our school, we put business and society at the core of our education. Someone studying in an environment where sustainability is much discussed would likely behave differently than the one educated with an aggressive, profit-making logic. And we are educating hundreds of students, so we have the potential for impact.”


Practical advice

Burcu also shares learnings from her impact work and tips on demonstrating impact work as a job-seeker.

  • Talk to practitioners regardless of the method you apply. Don’t be afraid of approaching people. This is important for any type of research, independent of the method, as talking to practitioners is a form of reality-check. You can participate in practitioner conferences as these can also be seen as field configuring events. You can also join LinkedIn groups to follow the conversation among practitioners.

  • Inspire students by putting values at the core. You can regard teaching as a channel for creating impact by focusing on the soft components and other values than profit-maximizing, and not only the theories. Impact can be much more than organizing an event on it, and it is good to be aware of it.

  • Always keep an eye on important matters. In Burcu’s words, “As the saying goes, serendipity favors a prepared mind and being opportunistic sometimes helps. If you read an interesting newspaper article related to your research interests, act on it.”

  • Listening to your intuition and your heart. Many researchers have a personal interest in the topics we study and want to learn more about and our heart and intuition create that connection. Burcu explains it as “Things we do with our heart bring us success, the audience can see and believe when we are passionate about a topic.”

  • When applying for jobs, find an institution which values impact-related work. The standards of many top universities are measured by top publications and R&R’s but some institutions also have interest in other aspects. “Making a conscious decision to keep doing impact work might mean choosing a school that might not be at the top of rankings. It is important to find the right place.”

  • Write in practitioner outlets. Burcu recommends “In academia, having something written is valued, and this makes it possible to show the work done. Hence, to make the impact work visible, it is a good idea to write for practitioner outlets such as Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, blogs with wide readership such as the blog of the World Economic Forum and the Financial Times." Burcu suggests that after organizing or attending an event, write something about it and send it to an outlet where your observations can be heard.


Are you inspired by Burcu’s story and want to share yours with the Impact Scholar Community? If you would like to be featured, write to Marleen Wierenga (marleen.wierenga@ru.nl)



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