OPINION19 April 2024

Impact magazine editor’s leader: Point of difference

Opinion UK

In her editorial for the April 2024 issue of Impact, Katie McQuater reflects on the research sector’s curiosity and critical thinking, and muses on the similarities between magazines and insights. 


I was recently reminded of the importance of thinking differently. This year’s MRS annual conference closed with a keynote interview with journalist Raphael Rowe, who talked about how his experiences of suffering had shaped his approach to work.

“The BBC employed me because I was different – because I did things differently and I thought differently…. Once I found my voice in that room, I became so powerful. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t articulate the story or pitch it in the way my colleagues could.”

Although reflecting on his experiences in media, Rowe’s point (see our conference coverage on page 14 ) felt pertinent to researchers, too. In a world swirling with conjecture and contrasting opinions, the sector brings a point of difference, bridging the gap between data and action.

In life, there has been a reappraisal of the ordinary. The pandemic years taught us that simple pleasures and interactions are to be treasured, and, as research from newspaper giant Reach has highlighted, community and connection are formed by shared, everyday experiences (see page 11 ). ‘Deinfluencing’ has even taken off on social media.

But simplicity shouldn’t equate to blandness; to solve big challenges, organisations need to make the space for free thinking to thrive. Many talk a good game on diversity, equity and inclusion, but the numbers of those walking the walk are frustratingly small.

The world doesn’t need more of the same. Organisations need people who think differently, people who can do things differently. Curiosity and critical thinking have long been fundamental tenets of research excellence. Paired with good business understanding and leadership, it’s a mix that will be all the more valuable alongside the developments we’re seeing in AI, as our report on this issue explores (page 26 ). But, as Bethan Blakeley observes in her column (page 43 ), calling for the industry to make so-called ‘soft skills’ a non-negotiable: “We need to go against the stereotypical grain.”

This leader has been a difficult one to write, as it will be my penultimate one for Impact. As you may be aware, MRS is closing the print issue of the magazine to focus investment on digital content, and the July issue of Impact will be the last. Finding a link between that and what I’m about to say has been a little tricky and more than a little tangential, but bear with me.

The thing about a good magazine is not the medium – it’s the ideas contained within its pages. The thing about insight is – methodological rigour aside – it should not matter where a good insight comes from.

The value lies in what can be done with it. What change, what action can be taken? What new understanding can be acted on? What transformation can be applied? Impact was launched in the first instance to celebrate and highlight just that – the ways in which evidence and insight make a difference. I believe it has done that, and more, in its 11 years under the current brand. And the editorial team will continue to do so, in a different way with Research Live.

Thank you for all your support and readership over the years – and stay tuned for what’s next.

This article was first published in the April 2024 issue of Impact. A digital version of the issue is published here.