How is my research relevant to society?
How can you convert the scientific questions you propose into messages relevant to your audience (beyond your peers)? It is important to remember that conversations with your audience are a two way street. You are not just bestowing knowledge in your BI activities, it is a process of learning what is important to your audience and finding common ground to share how your research is relevant and perhaps provide solutions to questions your audience may have about the science. The goal is to understand which aspects of your research are most relevant to them, and what you should prioritize as you share your research beyond your peers.
NSF Examples of BI Priorities
Below are a number of examples of BI projects reflective of the NSF BI priorities as adapted from NSF's Perspectives on Broader Impacts.
You can use a variety of approaches to incorporate broader impacts in your research. You can focus on education or outreach or your goal can be to integrate educational or outreach efforts with your research.
The following examples, drawn from past NSF awards in compliance with the PAPPG illustrate the variety of approaches that PIs use to ensure the scientific and societal relevance of their research. These are examples and should not be copied for use in a proposal.
Full participation of women, persons with disabilities and underrepresented minorities in STEM
Improved STEM education and educator development at any level
Increased public STEM literacy and public engagement with STEM
Improved well-being of individuals in society
Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce
Increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others
Improved national security
Increased economic competitiveness of the United States
Enhanced infrastructure for research and education including facilities, instrumentation, networks and partnerships
In Your Proposal
When constructing and reviewing your BI statement, it is important to consider the following questions:
- Does your BI statement address a demonstrated need?
- Are the needs of those participating in your project described?
- Are the benefits to participation described?
- Is the length of the engagement with the participants described and adequate?
- Is there a mechanism described for reaching them?
Reviewers of your proposal will be asking:
- What is the potential for the proposed activity to benefit society and contribute to achievement of specific desired societal outcomes?
- To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
The following worksheet can help you think about ways to share your science in order to identify the most relevant elements for a particular audience.
Example: Can we use trflp profiling of high molecular weight ribosomes to determine if the percentage of active bacteria and specific individual bacterial species change in parallel to a strong environmental gradient?
Sharing your science:
Example: We can use molecular techniques to learn about what functions bacteria perform in the environment. We can learn about how bacteria can survive and grow in different places and how scientists can use molecular techniques to learn about them.
Example: Bacteria perform a key role in carbon cycling in aquatic systems. Carbon cycling is necessary for life as it allows for carbon to move from different reservoirs, including biosphere and all of its organisms. Through a deeper understanding of the carbon cycle and the role that microorganisms play, the audience can gain a greater comprehension of the science of climate change.
Building a Track Record for Positive Impact on Society: Building a BI Identity
Think of the Broader Impacts projects you develop as more than just a "one off", something needed to check a box to satisfy NSF. Although the budget for your BI efforts may not end up being large, the long term impact of your efforts to benefit society can really add up! As you write proposals over your career, you will add to your Prior Support section -- assisting reviewers in assessing the quality of your prior work conducted with prior or current NSF funding.
Just as you have probably thought about your research goals you hope to achieve over your career — your "research identity" — think about the long-term impact you could make through your BI efforts over your career — your "BI identity".
Food for Thought: As you craft you BI identity over your career, think about these elements:
- What is your superpower? What are you really good at? Which of your personality traits could weave well into your BI activities? Who do you like to talk to about your research?
- What is the nature of your research and how can you use it to connect with others? What critical questions drive your discipline? How can those questions engage others?
- What infrastructure exists within your institution to support your broader impact efforts?
Adapted from: Julie Risien, Martin Storksdieck, Unveiling Impact Identities: A Path for Connecting Science and Society, Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 58, Issue 1, July 2018, Pages 58-66, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icy011.
For more examples of successful scientists who have constructed BI Identities, check out these case studies.