Opinion

Our sector must come together to improve research culture

The UK government’s new Research and Development People and Culture Strategy is a big step towards making research culture more open, inclusive and honest. Here’s why it’s time for our sector to work together for change.

A group of researchers sit and stand around a white table, smiling and discussing some graphs.

Credit: SolStock / Getty Images

We need to make research culture healthier and more inclusive. Last year more than 4,000 researchers shared their experiences of the research environment, and Wellcome has been campaigning for change.

But individual organisations can’t transform culture alone. We need a sector-wide movement to drive progress.

That’s why I’m so pleased to see the UK government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) release their new Research and Development (R&D) People and Culture Strategy.

This strategy lays out the government’s plans to make UK research careers more attractive and sustainable. Targeting everyone in the sector, it aims to attract, retain and develop the diverse and talented people we need for research to thrive.

These ambitions will help steer the R&D sector in a good direction and move all organisations towards supporting open, honest and inclusive environments.

Taking a whole-sector approach 

Building a healthier culture means making sure that the system supports the behaviour we want to see. It’s encouraging that the R&D People and Culture Strategy lays out a framework for recognition and incentives for researchers and research institutes to build positive cultures.

Wellcome is working to reduce inequalities in the research we fund. We are also working with our partners to improve how the research we fund is done. We've committed that by 2031, Wellcome will be an inclusive funder – which means the people we fund will be better supported and more representative of the global population. We’ll also make sure that all Wellcome-funded research is inclusive in both design and practice, to help drive better science and more equitable health solutions.

A more inclusive research system will also foster international collaboration. Our report on the UK's role in global research showed that the UK government needs to radically improve the experience of researchers and their teams coming to work in the UK.

I’m happy to see that the R&D People and Culture strategy responds to the need to attract global talent, by working across government to launch an online portal that will support researchers from around the world by providing key information and guidance about living and working in the UK.

The UK government playing their part in the research culture system – alongside everyone who makes research happen – is a big step towards making research culture in the UK more open, inclusive and honest.

We should all be part of the change 

Strategic, sector-wide movements can drive real progress – but we all need to do our part. It’s vital that everyone across the sector takes a lead in their own areas and shares ideas for improving culture.

Building a better research culture is central to Wellcome's new discovery research schemes. We're aiming to reach new disciplines and new communities with our funding – and we’ll give researchers more flexibility. In return, we’re asking researchers to commit to promoting diverse, inclusive working environments.

As part of these schemes, we’re also implementing the core elements of the Résumé for Researchersa tool to help researchers to share their varied contributions to research in a consistent way across a wide range of circumstances. This tool will help funders and institutions better evaluate the many contributions researchers make over their careers.

Great leadership is essential for healthy research cultures, so we’re developing new assessment criteria to evaluate leadership capabilities. We’ll review the way we work with our committees to make sure good leadership behaviour is rewarded.

We’re also embedding support for leadership development into our grants and incentivising our grantholders to develop themselves and their teams.

And we need to keep listening. We’re looking forward to helping develop an annual survey of the research and development sector on research culture as part of the R&D People and Culture Strategy. It’s vital that we continue to build evidence and grow our understanding of what the sector needs, so we can support healthy research cultures going forward.

Related content