Impact, gender and the REF

A few months ago, I started a side project doing a bit of work on the REF Impact Case Studies database. Impact Case Studies were introduced for the first time in the 2014 REF. One of the things which I have been thinking about as a result of this is a question of whether there are any gender differences in submissions of impact case studies compared to submission of academic publications in the REF.

My thinking on this was prompted by some of the sessions I went to at last years’ Association of Internet Researchers, and whether (as is seen in other contexts, e.g. Pruchniewska & Duffy) use of social media (which is often linked to gaining academic ‘impact’) is perceived to be ‘female’ work.

But, before starting to explore gender differences in the Impact Case Studies, there’s a bigger question of gender differences in REF submissions overall, as a baseline for comparison. This information can be found in a 2015 report by HEFCE into “the impact of disability, age, sex, ethnicity, nationality and early career researcher status on the selection of staff for inclusion in the REF 2014”. Although I had found it because I was looking for figures by gender for the REF submissions overall (which comprised 16,660 female academics, and 35,525 male academics), it also contains some fascinating statistics about the rate of inclusion in the REF – i.e. out of the total number of eligible staff, how many were actually selected to be included in REF submissions.While around two thirds of eligible male staff were included, only around half of eligible female staff were. This chart begs for some further research and understanding:

But how do the REF Impact Case Studies compare to the REF overall? Note that the Case Studies include both individual academics and projects or teams, so not all of the submissions could be categorised by gender. As a quick and admittedly imperfect way of assessing this, I ran searches for the phrases “her research” and “his research”:

The ratio of female to male academics is fairly consistent across both the case studies and REF in general. Social media was part of my thinking when I started this; how often are the most highly mentioned social media platforms found along with the phrases “her research” or “his research”?

Again, the differences between each gender aren’t dramatic, but may be indicative of different ways in which social media is used for impact. For example, in the other work which I’ve been doing, YouTube is often cited as a way of broadcasting other traditional media (e.g. TV programmes, invited lectures) to a greater extent than being academic-led, community-focused initiatives. There are also some disciplinary differences which may be playing a role. More to follow on that in a future post!


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