Published on:

13th Dec 2023

(Bonus) Embodying Impact: A Conversation with Early Career Impact Prize Winners

In our Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter?

In this really special bonus episode Ged Hall talks to Dr Vicki Jenneson and Dr Fran Pontin.  Vicki is a Research Fellow and works in the School of Food Science and Nutrition and her research interests are focused on nutrition and lifestyle analytics. Fran is a Research Data Scientist in the Consumer Data Research Centre and part-time Lecturer in the Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy in the School of Geography.

They are both members of the Consumer Research Data Centre’s (CDRC) Nutrition and Lifestyle Analytics Team that won the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize in the ‘Outstanding Impact in Business and Enterprise’ category.

Their project, ‘Enhancing retailer knowledge and building capacity using consumer data.’, is a collaboration with Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) and major retailers, including Asda and Sainsbury’s, that delivers evidence-based research about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to encouraging healthy behaviours in consumers.

Vicki and Fran are both early career researchers who started their PhDs in 2017 in the first cohort of the Data Analytics and Society Centre for Doctoral Training funded by ESRC. This episode focuses in on the development of their academic identifies and the role research impact plays in this. This can often be intimidating for researchers who are early in their research careers.

The discussion was prompted by a chapter Ged wrote with Dr Helen Morley and Dr Tony Bromley called ‘Uncertainty and Confusion: The starting point of all expertise’ (in the book Research Impact and the Early Career Researcher). The chapter explores issues such as imposter syndrome (and its three types ‘existentialists’ who seek external validation, ‘aspirants’ who are striving for an idealised academic identity and those who self-perceive themselves as intellectually inferior) and the three trajectories of developing an academic identity (intellectual, institutional and networking) that were proposed by McAlpine and others (in the book Becoming an Academic).

The main points from the discussion include:

  • The significance of collaborative work across professional and academic teams and the advantages of building networks in conducting impactful research, as noted by Vicki.
  • Both Vicki and Fran's candid admission that there's still much to learn and explore about research impact - reinforcing that it's OK to have uncertainties and questions.
  • The importance of communicating complex data science methods and results in a clear, convincing manner to non-data scientists. This is a skill that Vicki and Fran emphasize can make a significant difference in the impact of research.

But the most importantly take away is that early career researchers can and do contribute significantly to the generation of prize winning and important impact.

You can find out more about the prize, the project and CDRC via these links:

You can follow CDRC, Vicki and Fran via these social media channels:

All of our episodes can be accessed via the following playlists:

Follow us on twitter: @ResDevLeeds (new episodes are announced here), @OpenResLeeds@ResCultureLeeds 

Connect to us on LinkedIn: @ResearchUncoveredPodcast (new episodes are announced here)

Leeds Research Culture links:


Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be. You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.


Hi, this Ged Hall. And for those of you who don't know me, I'm an Academic Development Consultant at the University of Leeds.

My specialism is research impact and that has been the focus of all the episodes I have contributed to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast. You can find all of those episodes via a playlist that I've put in the show notes. Today in a very special bonus episode, I'm joined by Dr. Vicki Jenneson and Dr. Fran Pontin. Vicki is a research fellow and works in the School of Food Science and Nutrition, and her research interests are focused on nutrition and lifestyle analytics. Fran is a research data scientist in the Consumer Data Research Centre, and she's also a part time lecturer in the Centre for Spatial Analysis and Policy in the School of Geography.

I'm delighted, absolutely delighted to be talking to them today because they were part of the Consumer Research Data Centre's Nutrition and Lifestyle Analytics team that won the Economic and Social Research Council's Impact Prize. Woo. Yeah. I'm, I'm absolutely excited by this. I bet you were last week when you got the announcement and they won in the Outstanding Impact and Business Enterprise category for their project, Enhancing research, Retailer Knowledge and Building Capacity during using Consumer Data.

Now, both Vicki and Fran would fit into most people's rather elusive definitions of what we might call early career researchers. You know, we all use those, those silly terms and then some research councils say it has to be within seven years of PhD and all that sort of thing. But most, you definitely fit in most of those different definitions.

So I wanted to explore with them how academic, how impact fits into their academic identity and how they've built the networks and competencies to achieve that impact and be part of that brilliant team and what institutional support has been important to them in doing that. But before we get to that, I just wanted to say.

Well done. Congratulations. It's a fantastic, fantastic prize. How did you feel about it?


Yeah, thanks very much Ged. It's, it's Still sort of sinking in really. It's all very fresh, but yeah, great to be recognised and great to have the chance to just reflect and pause because we do, we do work at pace with industry and we're, I think we're all very keen to make as much impact as possible, move on to the next project.

And we don't always just stop and reflect on what we've achieved so far. So it's allowed us to do that, which is really nice.


And Fran, was it a lovely swanky event that you enjoyed?


It was a lovely event to go to and it's like Vicki said, we're often working at such pace. It's lovely to actually take that time and be able to not be in a business meeting with the people we're sort of collaborating with but actually take that time to celebrate and enjoy each other's company and sort of celebrate the wins over the past however many years it's been to get up to this point.


Yeah, because I noticed the industry partners were also with you at the event. That was, that was great, wasn't it?


Yeah, really good. And it just kind of speaks to the strength of the collaborations. I think that we do sort of see each other as like an extension of, of one team. Really. It's not about kind of take the data and then we hide away and do what we like for those is a true collaboration.

So that came across really strongly at the event as well.


Brilliant. And then before we get into, um, kind of talking about how you two have learnt how to have impact and the, you know, the, the things that have been part of your development in terms of, in terms of leading up to that success, I wonder if you could describe, um, describe for our listeners just exactly what was going on in that project and what it was all about.

So I think Fran, you were going to, you were going to do this for, for our listeners.


Perfect, thanks Ged. I'll start off with the context then dive into what we did. So, um, at the moment, only 1 percent of the UK population meets our UK dietary guidance, and that's known as the Eat Well Guide. So you've probably seen it before, it's a colourful pie chart with, it all looks like, almost like a plate, and it tells us what proportion of different food groups we should be eating.

So despite so few people meeting the guidance, we know that following the guidance has both been associated with eight years extension to life expectancy, and also significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. So there's no real reason why we shouldn't be doing it. But as a population, we're not.

And we also know that 98 percent of people do at least part of their shopping in the supermarkets. if not all their shop. So supermarkets play an important part in our food system and has a real, that kind of real potential to impact our health and our sort of impact on the planet as well. So supermarkets already do a lot to influence what we buy, so that'd be price promotions, on shelf advertising, shelf heights, colourful banners when you walk into the store.

And all these nudging techniques can also then be applied to, or the logic is, could be applied and make us shape our behaviour to be more healthy and more sustainable. And then we're getting a step closer to meeting that Eat Well guidance. So the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize was awarded in the Outstanding Business and Enterprise category for work led by Michelle Morris with supermarkets to analyse transaction data to see whether trialed interventions to encourage this healthy and sustainable behaviour worked, um, and we first wanted to see whether it worked as intended.

So we did, we see those positive shifts in behaviour and people more aligning more closely to that Eat Well Guide. We also wanted to investigate those unintended consequences. So it's brilliant. In a hypothetical example, if we managed to get more people to buy strawberries, eat more of their five a day, but not if we're actually just seeing them buying that alongside meringue and making Eton Mess.

So it is kind of the context and the wider context of the basket is also really important.


Um, so one thing that came across during the ceremony, um, from the ESRC was the acknowledgement of how difficult it can be to have impact with businesses because there can. It doesn't seem to be so much synergy when, when you're kind of comparing the social impact agenda of social sciences versus the business and corporate agenda.

Um, so. It was really nice to hear our application praised for how our collaborative approach and the results from the work have actually fed back into the businesses and have led to supermarkets making real commitments towards health in their strategies and sustainability. So, uh, kind of making commitments around where they're going to place products in their stores and the kind of price points that they can offer products at.

So yeah, really, really good to see. Those examples coming through


Brilliant, and thank you both for that. And it gives, uh, gives our listeners some, some context and kind of further context, you know, CDRC as a, as a research centre is very impact focused. I mean, that was really obvious in the successes last year in 2022, in our internal impact towards you almost, um, you almost cleaned.

Clean the slate in terms of winning everything, I think, in, uh, in those awards. And it was interesting. We've got a, you know, there's a, there's an interview with Emily Ennis, who's the impact manager from CDRC and, uh, Mark Birkin, who at the time was, was director talking about leadership, uh, within, uh, within the centre.

And it was interesting, you mentioned Michelle Leading. Now, when, when she got in touch with me and said, you've been shortlisted, and I said, Oh, that'd be great for, for a podcast. She was really insistent to kind of get out of the way and it not be about her. So, and, and, and for the two of you, uh, for the two of you to be on, on this podcast today, kind of celebrating the success.

And I think that speaks volumes for kind of what leadership means in CDRC and, and how everyone kind of, it's a really distributed leadership model. Um, and I can see you both nodding and agreeing with that, which is what really came through the, through the episode last, uh, last year. So have a listen to that, listeners, if you, if you're interested in that aspect.

earcher's career. And back in:

And it was really about trying to give some advice to people at the start of their career in terms of how to try and build impact in, you know, what, what are the challenges? What are the ways to do that? What are the different lenses to look through that that we need to develop? So, um, I just wanted to kind of come to you both, um, and get, get your two views on just how important impact is in your current research identity.

Fran, I'll come to you first.


Thanks, Ged. Well, I'd say to me, it's kind of at the core of what I do. I think that's actually why I picked an academic career path. I saw the potential to develop both those kind of problem solving skills and sort of like constant learning, but also to be able to do it on the alongside the ability to produce something that actually helps people.

Um, so when deciding to do a PhD, even it was kind of that concept of research impact, though that term would probably actually meant quite little to me at the time. Um, that sort of drove me to, um, pick my PhD project and sort of even the fact that. of doing a PhD in the first place. Um, so my PhD was also actually in collaboration with CDRC, so maybe sort of seeing some alignment of those values around impact there from the get go.

Um, and I was supervised by Michelle Morris and Nik Lomax, who's one of the CDRC co directors, alongside Graham Clarke in School of Geography. And I was looking at the utility of commercial fitness app data in capturing physical activity behaviour and barriers to people being sufficiently active. So this is a little bit of a pivot from my undergraduate degree, which is in...

food science nutrition, which is sort of nicely come back into play with the sort of aligning with the ESRC impact prize work. And I think it's like pivot, actually kind of capturing my desire to do sort of impactful research and research for the public good in the sort of CDRC tagline. And from the start, And that's also one of the reasons I then wanted to work with CDRC when I sort of got that post doctoral stage, post PhD.

Um, so, um, perhaps maybe I'm one of those lucky few that kind of started my research impact journey was actually driven by is the reason I'm in academia. Uh, so we talk, you in the book, in the chapter, you talk about that impact journey. So, um, I think that's sort of where it came in. Um, that being said, doing research that's capable of impact and achieving impact are two quite different things.

And I'm sure we'll unpick that further in our conversations.


Vicki, what about you in terms of how it fits into your identity?


Yeah, so those identities that you pull out in the chapter actually, I kind of laughed because I felt really seen when I read those. I actually identify with a couple of those. So particularly the existentialist, which I don't know if that's perhaps where Fran was coming from as well, but I, I do feel like very driven to pursue.

impact in in my work to kind of receive that validation that I'm, I'm doing something worthy and, and good. Um, and I actually think that that doing, yeah, doing that through impact external to the university actually really. Speaks to that. And I think there can be a lot of scrutiny in academia and that's it's all right that there should be because that drives quality science and robust debate.

But as an ECR, it can feel quite daunting. And I have found that by pursuing impact and kind of speaking to others outside of. Um, the academic sphere, there's a real recognition that there's so much that needs to be done with work in the food system. So let's. Let's just make a start. Let's, let's do something and not let great be the enemy of the good.

And I kind of feel the value of my work and my contribution a little bit more acutely than I do sometimes when I'm speaking only to academics because of that level of scrutiny.


Yeah. So, so talking to people outside the academy helps to take some of that pressure away. Is that, is that what I'm hearing from you, Vicki?


Yeah, I think so. And I think that that speaks to the other identity that kind of resonated with me, which was the imposter identity. And I think that's really common, especially for early career researchers. So I think. In part, for me, that's born out of the fact that I'm an interdisciplinary researcher as well.

So I'm a public health nutritionist. I'm also trained in data science and. a little bit of a geographer, and I feel less comfortable with those last two identities, so I tend not to introduce myself as those. Um, but I think where in an academic setting, I am quite careful with how I would introduce myself for, for fear that I'll be, uh, questioned about a really complex algorithm that I've never heard of if I tell everyone that I'm a data scientist.

Actually, in a In a kind of impact and, um, you know, when you're talking to, to businesses, the, the fact that I wear several hats can be really beneficial actually, because it enables me to connect people from across the organisation, um, and kind of speak multiple languages and bring people together that perhaps don't really speak to each other in an organisation very much.

So it can feel like a blessing and a curse at the same time, if that makes sense.


Absolutely. You know, that takes me right back. Um, I mean, after PhD, I worked for 10 years in industry and then came back into academia. Uh, and on my first day, uh, we were in a, uh, you know, range of meetings. It was just before Christmas.

So it was, it felt like we were just wandering around campus, going to different Christmas parties in, uh, in different departments and, uh, and different schools, uh, which, which actually is what we were doing. Um, And one of the bizarrest questions I've ever been asked was, what are you? And I was like, I was a bit shocked at that, at that point.

I was like, Uh, are they, are they asking about my religious beliefs or they, uh, you know, what, what are they, what are they getting at? Uh, so, so I actually asked, I was a bit confused and essentially what it boiled down to was what was your first degree in? And it was like, well, chemistry, but I haven't done chemistry since, um, and it.

It was kind of like a weird, um, labeling, um, a weird identity labeling. So I can understand you kind of feeling a bit more reticent about claiming a different identity when you're talking, you know, to an academic audience compared to talking to a business audience. So that's, that's really interesting. I definitely felt exactly the same thing, um, that.

People took you, almost took you at face value in a business environment rather than, rather than what, what label do you come with anyway? So next, next kind of question. I thought we'd, I thought we'd move on. So, yeah, the chapter we, we, you know, not, not. None of it was new empirical work that we'd done. We were building on the empirical work of others, including McAlpine et al.

And they'd suggested that there were kind of three trajectories that academic identity is kind of built on. And those were intellectual. I guess that's not surprising. Um. And, uh, uh, institutional, is the institution got the right culture, framework, resources to, to enable that intellectual growth and, and networks, you know, that, so none of those were particularly surprising.

So I wanted to kind of ask in terms of on the intellectual strands, you know, the, the chapter talks about growing the competencies, uh, around, uh, around impact. So, um, Vicki, I'll come to you first and kind of go, were there any, any particular skills in relation to Impact that were more or more challenging or less challenging for you to, for you to develop, um, to, to kind of properly engage with those businesses?


I think the thing that is the key for me is the communication skills and presentation skills. Um, and it's something I've consciously worked very hard at. I remember. The first presentation I gave during my undergraduate degree, I completely froze, forgot what I was speaking about and felt like I was going to pass out because I was just so under pressure.

And I think after that point, I was like, yeah, I really need to work at this. Um, so I've, I've had presentation training and, um, worked quite hard to try and recognise. The message that I'm trying to get across, um, when you, when you're speaking to businesses, especially you, you don't always get a lot of time and you've got to communicate a message often with complicated data scientist data science methods to non data scientists.

Um, and you've got to be quite succinct and bring everyone along on the journey in a way that's. Transparent and doesn't feel like smoke and mirrors and also get across the so what for the business. Why would they even want to be involved with this? So it sort of felt fairly cyclical in that engaging with impact has enabled me to realise.

what those so what's are so that I can communicate them better and then communicating them well enables you to realise the impact. So it's, it feeds in to one another and something that I'm constantly working at and trying to refine.


I'm glad you mentioned that kind of cyclical nature because I, you know, I often say to people in impact training events that just go and talk to stakeholders and just keep iterating around, you know, that that's where you will find what is the thing that you have in common that you, you want to work on together and, and that, you know, that's what Really enables co production and things like that.

It's hearing those voices and just being open to them. So Fran, I'll come to you. What, what things did you, um, did you need to develop to kind of, um, engage with, with impact in, in your.


It's almost like me and Vicki are on the same journey. I would say exactly the same thing. Communication has been such a key part of that.

And I sort of want to pick up on a point Vicki made, actually the last question around sort of interdisciplinary. And I think that's where a lot of it comes out as well. So I think Vicki and I have both been described as unicorns. The fact that we both have some data, that kind of data science skill set and some sort of nutrition and policy background and knowledge.

And I think that puts us in a really fortunate position to actually be used to Switching and developing our communication skills and using that lexicon as Vicki said, when we're working with business almost switching how we talk, what we talk about what level we talk at really quickly and succinctly.

And that's again part of that cyclical sort of development. I guess piece of advice I'd give somebody who wanted to sort of develop those skills was asked to be invited to long term meetings with whatever stakeholder group you want to be involved with. I remember when we first started our meetings with the retailers, I would often, there was a thousand different abbreviations, um, references to people.

I had no idea who they were, but often you just need to actually sit there and sort of absorb it, a bit like a sponge, and then you can start to become more actively involved, but also often turning up and sort of being willing to absorb that information is really useful. And I think I've also developed those communication skills sitting in LIDA.

So Leeds Institute for Data Analytics with physically a very cross discipline space. So you actually learn from other researchers, we often talk about data science methods, but for completely different end use cases. So you start to kind of continually develop those ways of talking, ways of communicating cross discipline that make them make it a lot easier.

And I also really struggled with that as well and the confidence to kind of get up and speak or have a conversation when you don't know what direction it's going to go in. And so I sort of really struggled with that when I sort of was finishing my PhD towards the end and kind of starting to get into this I found that teaching really helped me actually.

So moving away from the research side of academia into teaching, but you're then prepared to go up in front of a class, you're answering questions, you're speaking to different levels, understanding, gauging knowledge, and that those skills are really transferable across. So that kind of with my other tips of early career researchers to develop those skills, if you don't necessarily have those opportunities to kind of go and be a sponge, go and apply those skills in different setting and transfer them as you develop.


Yeah, I'm really glad you picked out that can kind of. understanding the contextual information around, uh, around the partners that you're hoping to work with, because, you know, that, that, in essence, is how you show respect to them in, in terms of that you're, you're, you're understanding where they are, rather than them having to understand where you come from.

Um, yeah, so, so thanks for pointing that out. The, the next, uh, kind of lens for that academic. trajectory development that, uh, the McAlpine, uh, and colleagues pointed out was, was institutional. And that was kind of around about the, you know, the right resources. So I guess, I guess here we're probably talking, you know, Fran, you mentioned LIDA and CDRC being great places to do that.

So. Um, thinking about both the, the institute and the centre, but also the two schools that you are, that you are both based in as well, is there, is there anything about those that are really contributing to, uh, to the way you, you are growing in, in understanding how to have impact? Fran, I'll come, I'll come to you first as you, you've, uh, kind of moved in that direction with the last question.


Brilliant. Yeah, so I've already kind of touched upon how CDRC sort of tagline is for public good. So naturally, then a lot of our research or sort of our aims are moving towards that goal of public good, which. by nature sort of generates, or hopefully generates, that's the aim, positive impact. Um, so, um, and that can sort of change from sector to sector.

So sort of zooming out a bit from our sort of ESRC impact prize, which is very not, I wouldn't say imminent impact, because there's been so much trust building and things we've touched upon already to get to that stage. But we're sort of seeing Retailers are able to respond relatively quickly and sort of implement changes.

So one of our trials looked at the placement of plant based products alongside meat products in the supermarket aisle to try and get people to swap to the plant based option and actually had the unintended consequence of shifting people away from the plant based options because it wasn't where it normally was in the supermarket.

So the regular consumers couldn't find it and actually when it was on the shelf we're seeing that real price difference. So unintended consequence. there, but the retailer response was able to fairly rapidly expand, commit to expanding the range of vegetarian and vegan products and also look at reducing that price point, um, much quicker than the, um, potentially more, uh, traditional routes to impact.

to really impact the lives in:

Hopefully we'll be using this data, 2040 even, to have, um, impact. So it's sort of like working at those different scales, I think is really interesting and sort of learning from different use cases and scenarios across the team. And I think it really comes down to that CDRC team, it wouldn't be possible without all of them.

So I think I did a quick head count, I reckon, at least 25, Yeah. individual people are directly involved with our partnerships in both the retailer side and the sort of Leeds University side of, um, making this research happen to even then be able to achieve the impact. Um, so on the CDRC side, we have, you've already spoken to our amazing impact managers.

manager, Emily, and she talked very much about the structures in the CDRC that enable that partnership and operations manager, sort of enable that trust building, maintain those relationships to Emily, sort of make sure we have impact sort of embedded from the start. And Robyn at the end, he's kind of shouts about it and lets us sort of spread the word as it was.

So I think all those structures are really important. And I know everyone's fortunate to work in a place that has. That core of a team around it, but across university there, I mean, research impacts where you are Ged, and there are those resources and you can seek them out and people are really willing to amplify what you're doing and help and support you.

It's just often the case of asking, working out where that resource and impact is.


Vicki, I'll come to you. Is there anything you wanted to add to that and anything that might be specifically happening in your, in the School of Food and Nutrition?


I suppose just, just to start with CDRC and echo what Fran said around the, the team structure.

And I think it feels like a new, a quite a unique place to me in that the Professional Services staff is so closely Um, intertwined with the academic staff, and there's just so much opportunity to collaborate with them and go along the whole journey of research, um, together. So, Emily, for me, has been really helpful in identifying examples of impact that I think we can get quite, um, quite bogged down in, you know, all the change that we want to see happen in the food system.

And ultimately, we want people to eat better. become healthier and that saves the NHS loads of money. But that's quite a big goal to achieve. So Emily's been able to kind of keep me grounded and say, yeah, but there's a real attitudinal shift that's, that's been going on within the retailers as well. or you've helped to feed into the internal policy of that organisation.

And those types of impact I probably wouldn't have seen if I hadn't have had somebody like Emily to work closely with. And then that helps my, my case for winning more funding and that kind of thing. So it really helps to drive the academic agenda as well. And I, I also wanted to shout out Robyn. I know Fran's already done so but from the communications side of things and being able to speak to Robyn at every stage of the project and not just at the end when we've got something that we want to share but actually to think about a communication strategy and who do we want to speak to what do we want to target directly to them and what's the best way to do it is it a targeted email do we invite them to an event or are they on a mailing list and they Receive like a generic circular.

So it's, it's that kind of thing that, um, I think because we're thinking about things up front, it just makes it an easier journey, I think, for impact. Um, but with the School of Food Science and Nutrition, I'm. relatively newer to that school. But I think the experience that I've had with CDRC means that I'm now not afraid to ask for those pieces of support when I need them, and to, yeah, to really seek them out and know that they are there, because sometimes if, if you're not aware, They're not going to come and knock on your door, you have to, you have to find them.

So yeah, having the confidence to, to just ask for help or ask for contact or that kind of thing. Um, just, yeah, really helpful.


It's lovely to hear you both, um, really quite, uh, uh, quite eloquently describe how research always happens by teams, doesn't it? It's rarely in any discipline reliant on just one person.

So it's fantastic to hear that and fantastic to hear them, you know, people, you know, I remember Emily having her first job as an impact person and her coming along to some sessions that I did, uh, I did back in the day. So it's lovely to see her growth. Uh, uh. Over that time and then helping you with your growth.

Um, so yeah, I feel like a bit of a granddad though, saying that. Um, so the, the final, um, uh, element of, of the, of the, of the lenses that McAlpine talked about was, um, was networking. So again, you probably said a little bit about that in terms of, um, In terms of, you know, Robyn, helping in terms of the comms and marketing campaign.

But, uh, yeah. So, so Fran, anything you wanted to say about how you built those, those networks that are, that are important in impact beyond, beyond the university.


Well, we want to credit Michelle for building a lot of those early, um, very early relationships with the retailers, without which we would, by no means be anywhere near what we are today.

Um, and I'm going to reuse that phrase of building trust. I think Michelle enabled us to build trust and also by partnering with the CDRC allowed sort of trust from other domains to sort of be used to help build that relationship. So having that kind of got trusted data environment, for example, in LIDA.

So knowing that their data is held securely, um, we've been internally, uh, we've been audited by the retailers to kind of check that the data is held securely. So having that sort of those baselines of trust. in building those networks is really important but initially came down to those initial conversations, relationships Michelle built and then we've managed to build out that network through that trust.

Um, so I think also bringing on board the Institute for Grocery Distribution, was that? Three years ago now, it feels like, not feels like, been longer in a, in a, uh, negative way, but it feels like we've been working with them forever. But I guess it's still a relatively new relationship and they've been brilliant amplifying what we do and building those networks and also plugging into existing networks, not trying to create a whole new network, a whole new working group actually plugging into existing structures that exists within the, um.

where you want to sort of get that build that network. So we work with their Nutrition Strategy Group, for example, who meet at least annually, if not more often, sort of identify key challenges in the retail nutrition space. So a lot, most of the major retailers and not manufacturers have their lead nutritionist is a member of that group.

So it's a real sort of cross. Discipline cross sector, um, view of what's going on in the food system and what needs to be changed. So being able to plug into those networks and actually grow through, sort of, organic means and existing networks, rather than, I think it's academics who are often tempted to set up a working group, invite sort of disparate, um, people from different sectors, which can work really well, but sometimes means that actually no one has time.

We've got a thousand Zoom Teams meetings these days. Actually existing, plugging into existing structures is really valuable.


Yeah, it's lovely to hear that. Um, so you're getting kind of demand side requests for research as well as the, you know, you being the supply side pushing answers, uh, from, from questions you've been curious about.


Yes, definitely. I think we've reached that, um, strange, not strange, but maybe, um, unusual thing if we're having to turn people down for research they want to do with us, which is a real privilege position to be in. And sort of be quite, had to be quite picky about what we choose and commit to with our time work.


Yeah. So Vicki, what did you want to add to that in terms of networks? You know, anything that you'd, you'd say in terms of that's been helpful in building them?


Yeah, and I think at the risk of turning this into making colleagues cringe kind of session. I also wanted to give credit to Michelle Morris, and as a champion really, and I think when you're early in your career and you're trying to.

Get into those networks, you need somebody who's gonna be a champion for you. And actually, Michelle's been so generous with her contacts and she will let people in and share them and, um, this, this sort of space for everyone to be involved. Um, and yeah, it open without opening those doors, it can be quite hard to find a way into those networks.

Um, but I think. Networking in general has been quite uncomfortable for me. I'm, I'm getting better at it, but it is, it is something I'm, I need to work at. Um, I actually find it easier. To network when I am at an event as a speaker, because then I know that people will probably come and talk to me and that I don't have to be the one to make the first move.

So it helps. I think if I can put myself forward as a speaker, I'm willing to go there and contribute something. And I know that that's an opportunity to speak to people in the less formal settings of the event as well. Um, but I've also found that, you know, with with online. meetings, getting, um, into a network.

Just the opportunity to ask a question typed, not having to sit in a massive auditorium and be the one with a, you know, with the roaming mic and you've got to put your hand up and ask in front of everyone. If you can just type your question, then all of a sudden people know your name because they've seen you asking, hopefully, quite a sensible question.

And that just then connects you to people automatically and gives you an opportunity to follow up afterwards as well, if you want to expand on their answer, for example. And so, yeah, that would be a tip that I would share.


Brilliant. Brilliant. So, the final question, um, you know, I've kept you, you long enough already.

The final question focuses on the chapter's title that, uh, that I, um, Helen and Tony put together. And that was, uh, Uncertainty and confusion, the starting point of all expertise. So I'm going to ask you kind of a challenging question. Is there anything that you're still uncertain or confused about in terms of how to have impact, what it is, how to do it, who with?

Is there anything you'd like to kind of open up to and it be almost like that counselling service? So Vicky, I'll come to you first.


No, yeah, when I was thinking about this question, the thing that That came to mind is how you almost like set the, the boundary or the remit around the impact that you're trying to achieve.

Um, because I think recently I fall into a bit of a trap of. beating myself up for not having solved the entire food systems problems yet. I've been working really hard, so why don't I have all the answers to everything? And actually, if I could perhaps do a better job at recognising the, the boundaries of the impact that's really achievable with the work that I'm doing, I can then feel a bit more validated that I've done everything in my power to, to work on the things that I can control and there's.

Lots of things that aren't in my control that I can, uh, leave to other people.


Yeah. I think that's the first thing I, you know, whenever I'm reading any grant application or talking to anybody, you know, just informally about what their impact is or could be, you know, the [00:39:00] potential. they nearly always come with, you know, probably way too ambitious, you know, just for, you know, maybe one person undertaking one, you know, maybe first grant project, you know, maybe a hundred thousand with their first award from a particular, uh, particular research council or funder.

So I think, I think that's not unusual. And also. It happens much, much later on in careers as well. So I get, I get the, the fantastic job of talking to both people at early stage and people at late stage careers. And, and, and they're both, they're all usually too ambitious and, and kind of don't think about, you know, maybe get a bit carried away.

Um, yeah,


I'm sure we'll chat about this many more times to come, Ged.


Yeah. So, so you're not alone in that. Absolutely. So Fran, I'll come to you. Anything, anything that you're still grappling with?


I think I continue grappling with that sort of balance of the research impact versus the other. pressures of an academic career.

And I think institutions are definitely moving in the right direction. And we're seeing, I mean, REF and things like that mean researching back should be embedded within research. But I think often within sort of, uh, the sort of opinions of people, it's always seen as a nice to have or an additional extra and sort of balancing those sort of competing, almost competing sort of.

uses of your time sometimes can be quite difficult as you want to be doing research impact sort of you're generating impacts but then sometimes actually that's at the um, sort of means that the papers may be coming about a little bit later actually or we're often seeing research sort of moving past and even before the paper which is great to see but actually Those are still things you need for an academic career, so I think having that, trying to balance that and sort of, I'm hoping as an institution and as a sort of university, as academia as a whole, we're moving in that direction where they're becoming more aligned, but balancing that and the time is quite difficult at the moment.

I think more hours in the day would be useful, but.


Yeah, yeah. I absolutely agree with you. I mean, our current Research and Innovation Strategy does have, um, does have the goal for all elements of an academic activity for everything from outputs through to impact to be equally valued and recognised. But, you know, I think.

I think that's a systemic issue that we actually need to deal with because, you know, if you want to move outside of Leeds and the place where you're hoping to move to has a different kind of, you know, cultural relationship with impact and output, then, you know, are they... Equally valuing them is, uh, you know, you can't, you can't, I mean, in some senses that equal valuing means you have to kind of almost on a CV have equal amounts of, um, you know, that, that can lead to it.

So, yeah, I absolutely understand that, that challenge. Thank you so much for the chat today, and, um, and I'm so glad, um, the, the, the euphoria from last week is still lasting, if I can, if I can try and, uh, make it last a bit longer by giving you another yay! Yeah? And it's lovely to see the smiles on your faces with that.

So, so, so make sure, make sure you, um, you know, on your narrative CV, okay? That you've got that written in bold at the moment and, um, uh, you know, and maybe print it out and put little gold stars around it, you know, that kind of thing, you know, whatever, whatever makes you feel really proud about it, you should do.

Um, so congratulations to that. Um, so thanks a lot for listening listeners and I'll leave it to, um, I'll leave it to Vicki and, and, and Fran to say goodbye to you all. Vicki, do you want to say bye to the listeners?


Yeah, thanks for listening and thanks for having us Ged. Bye everyone.


No problem. And Fram, would you like to say something?


Yeah, thank you for listening and thanks for the um, therapy session Ged. It's been really appreciated to have a platform to talk about all this research impact in a really constructive and... friendly way.


After recording the interview with Vicky and Fran, I was approached by Professor Nick Plant, our Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, who asked if he could add his thanks.

I obviously said no problem. And as the team don't know about this, I hope it is a nice surprise for them when they listen to this. So here's Nick.

Professor Nick Plant DVC R&I:

As Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, I wanted to add my warmest congratulations to the team for this award. The University is rightly proud to be home to the ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre.

And this award is another example of the excellent, impactful research that comes from the CDRC. Congratulations to all of the team for leading a project that helps food retailers introduce changes. and encourage people to make healthier and more sustainable shopping choices.


Thanks for listening to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast.

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About the Podcast

Research Culture Uncovered
Changing Research Culture through conversations
At the University of Leeds, we believe that all members of our research community play a crucial role in developing and promoting a positive and inclusive research culture. Across the globe, the urgent need for a better Research Culture in Higher Education is widely accepted – but how do you make it happen? This weekly podcast focuses on our ideas, approaches and learning as we contribute to the University's attempt to create a Research Culture in which everyone can thrive. Whether you undertake, lead, fund or benefit from research - these are the conversations to listen to if you want to explore what a positive Research Culture is and why it matters.

Unless specified in the episode shownotes, Research Culture Uncovered © 2023 by Research Culturosity, University of Leeds is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. This license requires that reusers give credit to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms. Some episodes may be licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0, please check before use.

About your hosts

Emma Spary

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I moved into development after several years as an independent researcher and now lead the team providing professional and career development for all researchers and those supporting research. I am passionate about research culture and supporting people. I lead our Concordat implementation work and was part of the national Concordat writing group. I represent Leeds as a member of Researchers14, the N8PDRA group and UKRI’s Alternative Uses Group.

Taryn Bell

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I work as a Researcher Development Adviser at the University of Leeds. My focus is on career development, with a particular focus on supporting funding and fellowships. I previously worked at the University of York as their Fellowship Coordinator, developing and growing the University's community of early career fellows. Get in touch if you'd like to learn more (!

Katie Jones

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I am a Researcher Development and Culture Project Officer at the University of Leeds, where I lead projects within the Researcher Development and Culture Team. My role involves managing projects that enhance the development of researchers and foster a positive research culture across the University and the higher education sector.

Tony Bromley

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I've worked in the area of the development of researchers for 20 years, including at the national and international level. I was lead author of the UK sector researcher development impact framework charged with evaluating the over £20M per year investment of UK research councils in researcher development. I have convened the international Researcher Education and Development Scholarship (REDS) conference for a number of years and have published on researcher development evaluation and pedagogy. All the details are on !! Also why not take a look at

Ged Hall

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I've worked for almost 20 years in researcher development, careers guidance and academic skills development. For the last decade I've focused on the area of research impact. This has included organisational development projects and professional development for individual researchers and groups. I co-authored the Engaged for Impact Strategy and am heavily involved in its implementation, across the University of Leeds, to build a healthy impact culture. For 10 years after my PhD, I was a consultant in the utility sector, which included being broker between academia and my clients.

Ruth Winden

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After many years running my own careers consultancy business I made the transition to researcher development leading our careers provision. My background is in career coaching, facilitation and group-based coaching, and I have a special interest in cohort-based coaching programmes which help researchers manage their careers proactively and transition into any sector and role of their choice.

Nick Sheppard

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I have worked in scholarly communications for over 15 years, currently as Open Research Advisor at the University of Leeds. I am interested in effective dissemination of research through sustainable models of open access, including underlying data, and potential synergies with open education and Open Educational Resources (OER), particularly underlying technology, software and interoperability of systems.