Follow-up workshops in 2015

Research culture follow-up workshops 

November 2015

One-year after the Council’s report was published, the Council and the UK Research Integrity Office jointly hosted a workshop on 16 November to discuss how the report’s suggestions for action might continue to be addressed.

Download a note of the workshop

The aim of the workshop was to facilitate a discussion between key stakeholders in the research community about how to respond to the report’s proposals for improving the quality and ethical conduct of scientific research. A number of presentations were given, including from:

  • Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Advisor
  • James Parry, Director of the UK Research Integrity Office
  • Steven Hill, Head of Research Policy at Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)
  • Peter Darroch, Research Metrics at Elsevier

Jonathan Montgomery, Chair of the Council, chaired the meeting. Workshop participants included senior researchers and Government officials, and senior representatives of funding bodies, journals, professional bodies, learned societies and campaigning organisations.

Several speakers and participants praised the Council’s report for providing an overarching, ‘umbrella’ view the different factors that shape the culture of research, and for providing evidence and data on the perceptions of researchers. We heard that the report has already been influential within the internal discussions of funding bodies, universities and other organisations.

Participants highlighted the importance of being realistic and proportionate in any attempts to bring about change and that the success of existing initiatives should be built upon. Suggestions included:

  • Providing mentoring and appropriate careers advice for researchers
  • Creating a set of tools aimed specifically at PIs and Heads of Dept
  • Aligning and being open about HR policies for promotion and recruitment
  • Using a broader range of metrics and indicators in the assessment of research and encouraging more universities to sign up to DORA
  • Focusing more on rewarding teams or departments rather than individuals
  • Levering the next Research Excellence Framework to provide financial incentives for change
  • Encouraging universities to be more open about research integrity issues
  • Improving communication between funding bodies and universities, and within universities.

July 2015

On 21 July 2015, research leaders and research support staff from universities across the UK gathered to discuss how the suggestions for action made in the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ report on the culture of research are being or should be taken forward by higher education institutions and the research community as a whole.

The Council was delighted to co-host the workshop with Universities UK, the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, and Aston University, Birmingham.

Download the workshop pack, which includes the programme and speaker biographies.

The issues and ideas discussed by the participants are summarised below.

Assessment of researchers

  • Universities need to move away from a focus on measuring the inputs of research (i.e. funding) and the outputs (i.e. papers). The quality of research is affected by many more factors in the middle ground, such as mentoring and other professional activities. If these are better rewarded then they will be better encouraged.
  • University policies for assessing researchers may no longer be fit for purpose. For example, research collaboration is encouraged, but researchers are still working in a culture where the Principal Investigator (PI) receives the majority of the credit.
  • There continue to be gender issues in science, for example it has been shown that many metrics for assessing research favour men and most PIs are men. It is hard to measure progress in this area, but pay difference may be one way.
  • The Researcher Development Framework is helping HR departments define and assess the full range of researchers’ work. But changing culture is difficult, and HR departments are small players in the system. HR and research support services in universities are could communicate better.
  • A critical review of the REF is needed given it is a strong driver of how universities value research.
  • More universities should be encouraged to sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

Research integrity and ethics

  • Key challenges are: changing culture, supporting leadership, and measuring change. The Nuffield Council report illustrates how research integrity is affected by all areas of research culture.
  • Training in research ethics is now well embedded with PhD students. There is less structure with post docs. All new staff should go through an induction process with research integrity training. Good leadership and role models are also important.
  • There are good examples of universities being very clear and open about their policies on research integrity and how cases of misconduct have been handled.
  • More work is needed on the definitions of different kinds of misconduct.
  • For cross-disciplinary collaborations, upfront discussion and agreement about how the research will be conducted will help mitigate differences in standards across disciplines and borders.
  • Ethics frameworks can be too rigid for many research projects.
  • All REC committee members should have proper training.

Career development and support

  • The Nuffield Council report highlights issues that are relevant to all six of the principles in the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.
  • The numbers of early career researchers (ECRs) who aspire to or expect a role in higher education are much higher than the actual figures achieving this. Yet, there is a sense of failure when leaving academia.
  • ECRs need to gain broader experience to allow them to move successfully to other sectors. Early career advice would be helpful, but the level of support for ECRs varies from institution to institution. Learned societies might play more of a role, for example by offering careers talks.

Conclusions

  • Culture change is hard and takes time, but we should take a step-by-step approach.
  • Current research culture is focused on the inputs and outputs of research and not on the process.
  • We need to incentivise high quality research, but this is difficult because the best measures of research are often qualitative.
  • SMART objectives are not a good fit for research:
    • Specific – research often has broad criteria or aims
    • Measurable – qualitative measures are often the best
    • Assignable – we don’t always know who will do different tasks
    • Realistic – OK, we hope research is realistic
    • Time limited – the benefits of research can take a long time to be realised
  • We might suggest alternative ‘NICE’ criteria:
    • Nuanced
    • Inclusive
    • Courageous
    • Ethos-oriented

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