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  • Katrin Heucher

Corinna Frey-Heger, Rotterdam School of Management, Assistant Professor


Impact as a Process

“We need to stop ourselves from thinking about impact as the direct and measurable outcome and instead see it as a process throughout a project, a career, or even a lifetime.”

Corinna Frey-Heger is an Assistant Professor in the Business-Society Management department at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. Corinna sees different kinds of impact which have different time horizons. Academics can have an impact by shifting academic discussions towards important social issues and by changing policy and practice. Each of these will have a different time horizon.


Different Ways of Giving Back

During her ethnographic fieldwork in refugee camps in Rwanda and Lebanon, Corinna knew that she wanted to contribute to the solution. She saw sharing her research insights as one way to do so. However, the organization she was conducting her research with was fast-paced with high turnover. When she returned to share her findings, the people she originally worked with were not there anymore. Corinna found another way: “I gave back to the organization in small ways, such as helping them out in a project unrelated to my research”, she says. Then she used her research insights to give back to the wider community and wrote blog posts and published pieces in The Conversation.


Sharing and Creating New Insights

For Corinna, writing blog posts and pieces for The Conversation were ways to both share as well as create new insights: “whenever you enter a debate with someone who is not within your academic circle or even within your kind of theoretical field, you are quite quickly triggered to consider things of your story in a different light. And I had those discussions with our communications team.” Corinna emphasized the value of building relationships with your university’s communications team. While she, like many ethnographers, wanted to put all her insights into a paper, in conversations with the communications team, Corinna realized that certain insights are more relevant to academia and others to practice. In a similar manner, she says, this helps her in coping with the long length of the academic publication process. Insights that are timely and relevant for practice can be shared through different outlets, while the longer-term academic insights are and should undergo a thorough review process.


Advice for Early Career Scholars

Corinna’s offered several takeaways for Ph.D. students and junior scholars:


Reflect early on what research impact means to you and bring your voice into the debate.“We are beyond ‘you can think about impact after tenure’”, Corinna says. Start thinking about your research impact early and keep in mind that the impact does not have to be immediate. There are different ways of having an impact. Think about what impact means to you, and do not be afraid to try different things in different phases of the research project. The more we expand how we think about impact, the more meaningful and diverse impact there will be in the long-term.


Connect with existing communities in and beyond your institution and/or create your own! When Corinna felt she needed to discuss research impact more, she started an impact forum at her university. You can do the same locally or virtually. Contemplate what you think is needed: feedback on research proposals? A stronger platform for an impact debate at your school? Or is it something else? Find people in your school, your Ph.D. cohort, or elsewhere and get started. The impact scholar community is a great way to get and stay involved.


Don’t underestimate the impact of teaching. Corinna teaches courses on “Grand Challenges and innovative forms of organizing” and “Sustainability Grand Challenges” and is thrilled to see that while some of her colleagues used to have to push for such courses to be established, they are now in high demand. Teaching the next generation of business leaders is an important aspect of creating a lasting impact.


Consider the timelines of publications and what should be shared with which community (and get advice from the communications team at your institute). Academic publications take time, and not every insight you develop will fit into academic outlets. That’s another reason why, in addition to academic outlets, consider “semi-scientific publications” such as blog posts or specific media outlets. And don’t be afraid to consult your institution. Corinna’s experience shows how helpful it can be to get in touch with the university’s communications team.


Inspired by Corinna's impact story, we encourage you to share your story and connect with us by sending an email to Katrin (katrinsh@umich.edu).

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