REF Recovery Strategies

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If you’ve been told that you won’t be entered in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise, don’t despair—but don’t be complacent. What can you do to make the best of a bad situation, and how can you refocus on readiness for the next REF? 

Check the process.

First, make sure that your work has been properly considered. Occasionally REF committees have not considered all of your research outputs due to administrative or tracking errors. If you think a paper or book has been overlooked, or unfairly assessed, talk to the head of your internal REF working group. You may not be able to see assessor’s comments on your work (university policies differ on this matter) but you can check that everything was seen, and you should be able to view the assessment criteria themselves.

Academics working in cross-disciplinary areas may find that their work is not submittable in the REF unit of assessment others in their department are entered under. Sometimes REF committees will help you submit to a different unit, even if it means your work will buttress the reputation and ranking of another university department.

Make a plan.

Don't wait to be called in for a talk, be proactive and schedule a meeting with your team’s research lead. They’ll probably already know more than you do about why you weren’t entered. Ask for concrete suggestions on how to be ready for next time.

Don’t expect this to be a one-way discussion where you’ll be directed on what you should do, however. Take a long, hard look at what you’ve accomplished over the past few years, and consider what might have been done better or more often. Bring some ideas to this meeting: topics that really fire your interest, information about funding availability, ideas about how to write up work you’ve already done and get it published.

Partner up.

Academics with the greatest number of articles on their CV tend to be those who don't try to go it alone. That can mean working with postgraduate students, who need your expertise and profile to get their research published. Sometimes your contribution through supervision isn't acknowledged by a co-author credit when in fact it should be. Partnership (not exploitation) can benefit both parties.

Also think about about colleagues you would like to work with, internally or externally. Hitching yourself to a research star can take you to greater heights, and help you get involved in future projects that need your skills and expertise. It can’t hurt to ask.

Access research-promoting resources.

Your university may offer training sessions on statistics, research methods, making successful research bids, managing research projects, writing up results, or improving your academic English. Taking part in research-oriented training is a tangible way of showing department heads and line managers that you are addressing “the REFability problem.”

Applying for research fellowships or research leave is another. All too often it’s lack of time to focus on research, or writing up research results, that leaves academics short of publications with the requisite number of stars at REF time.

Finally, acquaint yourself with citation and journal impact indices, and use these to guide future submissions. There’s no point in putting massive effort into a paper if it ends up in a journal your committee sees as low-quality. You may want to do two different versions of the same paper: one aimed at the highest-profile, best-respected journal in your field, another aimed at the one practitioners actually read, or at a professional rather than academic journal.

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