What makes a successful research culture?

12 April 2016


Reported by Adele Julier, NERC-Funded CSaP Policy Intern (January 2016 - April 2016)

A CSaP Policy Workshop organised in collaboration with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) explored research cultures, how they are formed and what influences them.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ report on The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK argued that open access and collaboration have helped enhance the quality of science. However, it also reported that researchers were concerned about issues such as well-being, publishing practices, competition and research governance and integrity. This report formed the starting point for a Policy Workshop held in February, and framed many of its central discussions.

The purpose of the workshop was to situate recent debates about research cultures in a range of historical perspectives, including a variety of periods and approaches beyond the standard story of the development of science in the post-war period.

The workshop explored the nature of success, and what it meant in an academic context, with the distinction being made between hypotheses being upheld, and a sound research project being undertaken. Different research cultures were discussed, with the Manhatten project and the Morgan fruit-fly lab providing examples of highly contrasting but successful research environments.

It was noted that there needs to be space for failure within research cultures, but that the nature of academia as an almost exclusively peer-assessed profession might sometimes make this difficult to achieve, as positive results are generally more publishable than negative ones.

It was concluded that careful reflection was needed when using any form of quantitative assessment when attempting to allocate funding or assess research output, as research cultures are diverse, and that a diverse system of funding and management may also be key to their success.

(Banner image c/o Tulane Public Relations via WikiCommons)