In 2013, very soon after I started this blog, I presented my personal perspective on the REF 2014 exercise. Despite hating the process in many regards, I concluded:

It tells the academic world that Chester has arrived on the scene as a young, vibrant, very motivated and new research hub for archaeology. We have outputs, environment and impact to show off. We have exciting field-based research, exciting new ideas and exciting new approaches. Whatever its problems… in the end, it is a reality about what we do. We may not like all aspects of the game but it is a game we have to play. My job has been to try and ensure we play it the best we can as a small, new research unit that I believe has a very bright future.

Since, then, I’ve stayed quiet about the exercise including the REF 2014 results where we did amazingly well for outputs but our impact and environment statements were evaluated unfavourably. I’ve now concluding my work on the REF 2021 audit period and I want to reflect on this process again. This time around has been different in many ways, with an increased REF attention afforded to ‘impact’ and various attempts to decouple outputs from individuals. These changes and others have had their benefits, and we have adapted what we have been doing to respond to the expectations of the REF process. However, this time around I have faced new difficulties and challenges. So, while we are assuredly destined to do much better in the REF 2021 exercise in so many regards, it has been an exhausting and demoralising process for me as a researcher. I can’t go into the details here, but it hasn’t been as easy as it could and perhaps should have been, even before the pandemic.

In any case, a significant fraction of my research will not be included (only a sample ever can!). Merely for my own benefit, I wanted to jot down here what I feel I have achieved in my limited research time in an academic job that is teaching-heavy. So, here are my main research achievements great and small from 2014 to the end of 2020:

I’d like to point out that academic archaeologists do a varied range of research activities: my particular set of activities needn’t be seen as typical or standard. For instance, those working on detailed long-term lab-work or fieldwork won’t be doing much of what is above. Also, it’s important I recognise that all this work has involved the support and collaboration of dozens upon dozens of other people: students, fellow academics, museum and heritage professionals and amateur archaeologists, not to mention friends and family. Indeed, my personal strategy has been to prioritise research that supports collaboration with a range of individuals and organisations, but this isn’t for everyone.

Moreover, I don’t just want to list ‘successes’. To balance against these, there are inevitably ‘failings’ or at least ‘limitations’ to my endeavours:

  • These figures don’t include the many projects I’d hoped to complete and have been delayed for a variety of reasons, not least the coronavirus pandemic.
  • I failed to complete quite a few book reviews I was commissioned to undertake since 2014.
  • While I’ve applied for grants, I haven’t secured a major research grant award as PI, even though as CI I have brought in a significant 6-figure grant, a fraction of a larger grant awarded to colleagues at another HE institution;
  • I’ve been unable to do more than occasional independent field visits and no fieldwork since 2012 due to personal and academic circumstances, and this might be regarded by some as a failing by those who regard fieldwork as integral to archaeological research;
  • I made a strategic decision not to try and complete either of my 2 planned research monographs in this audit period; this will be undoubtedly seen as a ‘failing’.
  • Likewise, in my career to date, I’ve not written a text book or trade book, and that is another task I regret not having time for.

These points notwithstanding, I’ve done my best in trying circumstances, not least keeping this blog going. With some folks keen to point out my academic failures, I think, on balance, I’ve done ok.