A kinder research culture is not a panacea

Podcast: Working Scientist (LS 29 · TOP 10% what is this?)
Episode: A kinder research culture is not a panacea
Pub date: 2020-12-08

Postdocs and other career researchers need better trained lab leaders, not just nicer ones, Julie Gould discovers.

Calls to change the research culture have grown louder in 2020 as COVID-19 lockdowns led to extended grant application and publication deadlines.

As the world emerges from the pandemic, will researchers adopt more respectful ways of communicating, collaborating and publishing?

Anne Marie Coriat, head of the UK and Europe research landscape at the funder Wellcome, tells Julie Gould about the organisation’s 2019 survey of more than 4,000 researchers. The results were published in January this year.

She adds: “We know that not everything is completely kind, constructive, and conducive to encouraging and enabling people to be at their best. 

“We tend to count success as things that are easy to record. And so inadvertently, I think funders have contributed to hyper competition, to the status of the cult hero of an individual being, you know, the leader who gets all the accolades.”

But what else is needed, beyond a kinder culture? In June 2020 Jessica Malisch, an assistant professor of physiology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, co-authored an opinion article calling for new solutions to ensure gender equity in the wake of COVID-19. She says “We can’t rely on kindness and good intentions to correct the systemic inequity in academia.

Katie Wheat, head of engagement and policy at the researcher development non-profit Vitae, tells Gould that researchers who feel that they’re their manager or their supervisor is supportive and available for them during the pandemic have better indicators of wellbeing than those who are not getting that support. 

“A PI might also be in a relatively precarious situation, reliant on grant income for their own salary, and for their team’s salary. 

“You can be in a scenario where the individualistic markers of success put everybody in a competitive situation against everybody else, rather than a more collaborative and collegial situation where, where one person’s success is everybody’s success.”


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