Improving research culture still high on the agenda for 2020 and beyond - January 2020

 Improving research culture still high on the agenda for 2020 and beyond - January 2020

by Dr Katie Wheat, Vitae, Head of Higher Engagement and Sarah Nalden, Vitae, Communications and Marketing Executive 

Vitae welcomes the commitments that UK Science Minister, Chris Skidmore, made in his speech at Durham University last week, with a strong focus on the sustainability of the research and innovation system, including investment needed to sustain the required pipeline of research talent.

The researcher development community should take note that his speech acknowledged challenges in research culture and included a pledge to develop a ‘Research People Strategy’ to transform research practice and culture within research departments. The adoption of open research practices and the improvement of reward and recognition for staff were also encouraging proposals for implementation.

Improving the research culture certainly looks set to be a continuing focus for the decade. So far, in January alone, there has been a flurry of related reports and articles. For example, Wellcome have reported on their international study of over 4,000 researchers, shedding light on what researchers think about the culture they work in and some of the perceived challenges within the current research culture. On Martin Luther King Day, University and College Union (UCU) published a report arguing that casualisation of the academic workforce can lead to a ‘cycle of dehumanisation’ and make it increasing difficult for individuals employed on casual and fixed-term contracts to move onto continuing academic contracts. Somewhat ironically, Times Higher Education also ran a story on New Year’s Day about a study published late last year, which analysed trends in submission times for manuscripts and peer reviews by country and revealed patterns of a “culture of overwork”.

However, it is not all bad news for research culture. Professor Julia Buckingham, Chair of the Concordat Strategy Group and Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University, London provided an update on behalf of the Concordat Strategy Group (CSG) that a further 17 organisations have signed the Researcher Development Concordat since the launch last September, making 32 signatories in total so far.

Revised Concordat

Professor Buckingham, acknowledged the Science Minister’s speech by saying:

“It is encouraging to hear the latest government proposals of investment in researchers over the next decade and the alignment of priorities around improving research culture outlined in the Minster’s speech. The ambition for a healthier research culture is embedded in the Principles of the revised Researcher Development Concordat and a new Research People Strategy should support the gathering momentum.

The Concordat recognises the critical role of research and innovation in delivering the UK’s ambitious economic and industrial strategies. It also acknowledges that whilst talented researchers are vital to continue the pipeline of research, it will be necessary for many researchers to move beyond academia, applying their wealth of skills to highly-valued careers throughout business and within industry.

Concordat Signatories will play a vital role in engaging with systemic challenges needed to boost the research environment for the future, by undertaking a gap analysis and drawing up an action plan”

Dr David McAllister, Associate Director for Research and Innovation Talent at BBSRC, URKI said:

“The Minister’s speech paves the way for an exciting decade for the world of research and development. It serves as a catalyst for improvements to the research environment and culture, where researchers can flourish and thrive, where exceptional talent is nurtured, and an environment in which boosts the growth of excellent UK research.”

No doubt 2020 will continue to provide a rollercoaster of policy developments in research and higher education, with potential impacts on research culture and researcher development.

We look forward to sharing these with you as and when they happen and hearing your perspectives on their implications. In the meantime, research culture will also feature among the themes for the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2020, taking place on 14 and 15 September in Birmingham, as well as a key theme in this year’s annual programme of activities. 

Themed postcards

Rachel Cox, Vitae, Engagement and Policy Project Manager commented:

“In our mission to help realise the potential of researchers, our four annual programme themes are centred around improving the research environment and culture for future researchers. We at Vitae are working hard on developing our own Concordat action plan, which will be supported by the Vitae annual programme of activities. We will be collaborating with members of the community throughout the year to inform our direction and provide a place where questions can be asked, and key challenges discussed.”

If we want to fully support and nurture researchers so that they can flourish in the future, the financial commitments and pledges spotlighted in the Minister’s speech could help vitally improve the research environment. Time will tell what developments will follow and what implementation takes place. So, in our current sea of uncertainties, there is a glimmer on the research environment horizon that could deliver on promised impact for researchers.