Impact Program

The Tilburg University Impact Program brings together researchers and stakeholders in complex societal issues in order to advance society with the help of knowledge and innovation.

'An academic career with a social impact'

Stefan de Jong, post-doc researcher at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research

Stefan de Jong

“I’m an indirect do-gooder: I want to help others make the world a better place. The Impact Conference is important. In the academic world, it’s primarily publishing that determines your status. So, working on having a social impact might not be so good for your image if it eats into the time you could spend on publishing. That’s what academics are afraid of. This means we have to talk about how we value researchers because creating an impact shouldn’t compromise a career.”

Determining an impact strategy

Stefan de Jong has an NWO Rubicon grant to conduct his postdoctoral research at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research. His project involves how universities are helping academics conduct research that will have a social impact. What is their impact strategy? Tilburg University is one of the four subjects in his study. Why is this research so important to him? “It all started during my degree program in biology. I was learning a lot but kept wondering what I was going to do with it. I couldn’t figure it out. So, I enrolled in a Master’s degree program in innovation sciences and graduated with a thesis on the social relevance of biology. That got me started on being a researcher into social impact.” During the Impact Conference, he talked about how researchers and social partners could develop a common impact strategy.

Having an impact demands both time and skills

“It’s not always easy for academics to conduct research that will generate an impact,” he continues. “In the academic world, you have to publish enough to get ahead. You could spend your week, for example, on writing your paper or, alternatively, on establishing contacts so that your research generates an impact. Generating an impact takes time. It also demands extra skills from researchers. You have to be able to network and sell your ideas - things not every researcher can do. I want to help by showing academics how they can integrate impact into their research without having to spend that much time on it. I’d like to see every doctoral candidate being offered the opportunity to learn this.”

Sharing research

Does research have to have an impact? “It’s not a requirement, but I think when you’re engaged in a socially relevant research study that you shouldn’t keep that knowledge to yourself. You could promote it yourself or have a colleague do it. This is a difficult step for many academics to take. Because they’re so engrossed in the subject matter themselves, they no longer see how innovative it is and think nobody would be interested in it.”

For De Jong, the Impact Conference was a day well spent. He also attended a number of sessions on the “Enhancing Health and Wellbeing” theme. “I thought Jantine Schuit’s story about why interventions aimed at healthcare issues work or not was especially interesting. But the ethics surrounding personalized medicine was really fascinating too.”