Research Culture: Changing Expectations

(Part 2 of 2)

It’s now been two weeks since I attended the Royal Society’s Research Culture - Changing Expectations meeting and it’s amazing how many topics from the meetings have come up organically in conversations with other academics, particularly early career researchers. I’ve already written about a few of these in my earlier post and in this post I’ll summarise some key topics from the second day.

As mentioned in my last post this and my last post are a brief summary of just some of the ideas and messages that particularly spoke to me. Whilst I have referenced speakers throughout many of these points are my own interpretation and opinion.

UKRI and Research Culture

Tuesday started with a plenary by Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Sir Mark highlighted UKRIs vision of a research culture which was open, respectful, driven by a balance of curiosity and scepticism, supported by rigour and open to constructive and kind challenge - of dogma, of results, of interpretations. I’m sure many science researchers would agree that these tenets are indeed important to a healthy science research culture. However, as Sir Mark said, there is no single magic bullet that will solve any problems we currently have.

Attitudes and Beliefs

Much of Tuesday fits under this title. Problems in attitudes were identified and many changes were proposed. These spanned Professor Tom McLeish’s suggestion to open all the doors in to and out of the palace of science - not just the main door. This was echoed by Dr Jenny Rohn who challenged the notion that staying in academia was the main route and everything else ‘alternative’.

This is all supported by the ideas of broadening what we see as success, e.g. not just a professorship with lots of grant money, raised by Professor Andrea Brand. Further, Robert-Jan Smits said his indicator of a culture change will be when data scientists and other, similar technical and research support roles are fully represented in paper author lists.

This was again mirrored in the afternoon’s session where David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said that an ideal future would be a research culture where the global academic enterprise was not driven by the top 1%. Those top 1% stand on the shoulders  not just of giants but of the 99%, many of whom do the day-to-day research and community building that drive science forward.

In Conclusion

There’s a great deal more I could write about from these two days. Many fantastic talks, inspiring ideas and important stories. If you want to see for yourself then both days were recorded and the YouTube links are available on the Royal Society’s pages here.

But what will I do. I am hoping to start making small changes in my day-to-day work, including:

  • highlighting when meetings are held at non-family/carer friendly hours
  • making sure researchers in my group take time to get out of the office/lab together
  • make any outputs from my research fellowship 100% open
  • and, in doing so, support and engage with new open science platforms, such as OCTOPUS (see last week’s post).

And, last but not least, take a bit more time to reflect on how my practices and those of academics around me might be contributing to negative aspects of the research culture I am part of.

Chas Nelson
LKAS Research Fellow in Data Science

An interdisciplinary scientist with a background in quantitative microscopy and bioimage analysis.