Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be. You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.Emma:
Hi, it's Emma, and for those of you who don't know me yet, I lead the researcher development and culture team at the University of Leeds. You're joining us in season one of our research culture uncovered podcast, where we're getting to know our co-hosts in a bit more detail before they go on host seasons of their own, each covering a different aspect of our research culture.
But today we're mixing things up a bit. We've already met the hosts in our previous episodes, so today we're getting to meet one of the driving forces behind the research culture change work at Leeds. I'm delighted today to be joined by Professor Catherine Davis, or as we know her, Cat, our Dean for Research Culture.
This was a brand new role at the University of Leeds, and Cat is currently leading on work to create our research culture strategy, having already released our research culture statement, but I'm sure we're going to hear more about both of those things as we continue this discussion. So Cat, you and I have spent quite a few meetings together and I've heard you mention on more than one occasion that you've spent time in Japan and you often talk about it very positively.
And Japan is one of my favorite places. So I'm just wondering, what is it for you that you really enjoyed about Japan?Cat:
Mm. I guess at the time that I was there, it was my early twenties. I was fearless. Uh, I said yes to everything just because I thought I'm in this completely new culture. I'm never gonna get this chance again.
I mean, I did stay three years. Um, but yeah, you know, lots of things were just, why not? You know? Yes. I'll take a Japanese exam in my first three months. Yes, I'll learn Taiko drumming. I've did, did snowboarding. Yes. make machi with the mayor's children. Yes, I'll DJ in this club. Um, so yeah, lots of opportunities just flying at me.
Um, uh, loved learning the language. Loved not just making Japanese friends, but um, actually friends from all over the world. Learned a lot about different cultures and actually lot about British culture from being in Japan. Um, and actually the contract was the best thing cause it was three months on, three months off. So that was a really nice way to work for a while.Emma:
Wow, you spent a lot longer than I did. I was only there for two weeks and yeah, I would love to go back at some point.Cat:
Yeah, me too. It's been over 20 years now, so I'd love to take my daughter back and, and see how it's changed. Right.Emma:
So the reason we're here today obviously is to talk about research culture and this role, your role the Dean for research culture was a new role at Leeds, so we hadn't had it previously and I think in fact it's fair to say it's a relatively unique role across the sector. So there aren't many institutions that have similar roles. There are a few more cropping up, but what was it about the role that made you think, Do you know what, I really want to do this. This is the role I want to try.Cat:
Sure, yeah. When the role came up or when, when the papers started coming through to committees. I was coming to the end of my ECR years. Um, I had a little bit of time to reflect on my experiences. I'd learned a lot in my role as director of research for languages, cultures, and societies.
So not just kind of tunnel vision into my own research, but learning a lot about different kinds of research and how that works so differently even in within one school. So while I was pretty busy with my own developmental work, um, I was really keen to manage things better and to make things better for o others, I guess find different ways of doing things that kicked back against outdated traditions.
Lots of us working in research culture, uh, have been quite wounded by research. I've gotta say research practices. From inequalities, from unfair treatment, from just sort of inefficient ways of doing things. So I really wanted to take that opportunity, um, and see how we could do things differently and do things better at Leeds.
It was also kind of post covid and I'd spent a lot of time knocking on senior leaders doors trying to. You know, covid effects on researchers, and particularly those who were homeschooling at that time, um, on their agendas. Um, so yeah, it was just, it sort of, it seemed like it had my name written on it.Emma:
Brilliant. And so it was a, a new role, so I think it's fair to say there's a lot of, um, exploring as well that goes on as part of this. Yeah. So, you're gonna be engaging with other people in similar roles like yours as i said more are popping up. Um, and we're also seeing more activity across the sector, so more networks, more groups popping up with this, um, focus on research culture. Are you seeing any particular areas that are common in these discussions or, um, you know, where do you think the sector is in terms of appetite for change?Cat:
Yeah, I mean, research culture is such a huge area. There are of course commonalities between different universities, between universities and funders, universities and publishers. Um, so yes, lot we're grappling with lots of the same kinds of issues. There are of course differences. You know, it Leeds, we are a really big and diverse institution and that brings with it some of its own issues and challenges. Um, but overall there's a consensus that we really, really need this work. Um, people are leaving the sector and those that do, some of them tend to shout quite loudly about their reasons for leaving.
And, um, within those testimonials, um, they cite poor research culture as a push factor. So we can see now we're losing some really great talent and probably failing to attract other great talent. Um, so we really, really need this work. I think also the thing that there's real appetite for, um, is diversity. So there are pretty depressing, appalling statistics on diversity, particularly in the higher levels of research and research management. Um, You know, it's amazing now that some institutions are making really bold and open and honest statements that they have been and continue to be institutionally racist.
Um, so that makes things really exciting that we're actually acknowledging where we've gone wrong now. Um, so there's appetite to, to really tackle these inequalities and not just pay them lip service to actually put some actions, um, in place to ensure that, uh, people are not disadvantaged, um, unfairly. Um, There's also real appetite for the recognition of team research.
So, you know, previously known as team science, um, the recognition of everyone within the research endeavor of all roles and all skills, um, and those contributions that they make. Um, and, and along with it the need for development in all of those different roles. So one example I talk about here is technicians.
Um, so I mean Emma, we've just been chatting about this before we, we hit the record button, but there's a real groundswell, I think, in an understanding of the many and varied contributions that technicians make. Now, of course, there's many different types of technicians, including librarians, including, um, facilities. Um, and particularly through Covid, those people were in, they were on campus, they were on the ground. And so because of that, they were pulled into lots of different roles, including sort of wellbeing roles. Um, they kept things ticking along, They kept, you know, labs running in many cases. Technicians also play, they provide a kind of safe space, I think outside of these kind of rigid hierarchies, sometimes within research teams. Um, so there's a lot of, um, invisible work, but really valuable work that technicians do. Um, so yeah, happy to say that when I'm talking to my fellow deans of research culture in different universities in the UK and beyond that, um, you know, were really um, shouting about the different kinds of contributions that, that, that these people make and not just those who are PI or who have their name on research papers, although post script technicians and those that contribute should have their names on research papers. Um, So, yeah, I'd say overall the, the, there is a, a dire need for work on research culture on, uh, addressing inequalities and a lack of diversity and for acknowledgement of team research.Emma:
Brilliant. Thank you very much. Um, I'm not sure where we go from that one, uh, but I've already mentioned this is a new role at the University of Leeds. I think we were incredibly lucky to get the role. We do have really great support for what we're trying to do. I think it's fair to say that, um, that you've been in post for just over 12 months at the time we're recording this. Um, It's been busy, it's been hectic. There's been a lot of things thrown at you, but what are you most proud of for your first 12 months?Cat:
Oh, this is so hard. I can't pick one thing. I've got so many. Um, and I'm going to slightly fudge this answer by, uh, a sort of umbrella answer that I'm really proud that we've had the time and space and money actually to do things in a different way. Um, so things like, um, releasing interview questions in advance for, um, recruitment of, um, academic and professional services post that was, was something that we went out on a limb for. Um, We weren't quite sure what was gonna happen with that, but actually we found some really great outcomes from that.
Some that we knew about and some that we didn't expect. Um, it's been way more inclusive, um, for Neurodiverse applicants. Um, it's actually led to, um, some really, really slick interview performance and really impressive interview performance. Um, and I'm really pleased to see that that's being adopted and, and adapted by different areas of the university now. So that was an example of I think doing things in a, in a different way. Um, I'm really proud of the grassroots stuff, so when we've just enabled people to show us what they can do and they've done it. So one example of that would be, um, Some funding that we gave to the six women on our black women professors now track, we gave them some research funding to enhance their projects along research culture lines, and they really ran with it and they thanked us for, um, allocating the funding rather than doing it competitively because of inbuilt biases into the application process. So some fantastic work, uh, by that, that cohort, um, also projects through The Crucible, so looking at, um, language support for grant applications. Uh, oh, lots and lots of different things. And I'm also gonna say the research culture awards, because that was really fun and it was really lovely to see how proud people were.
Not so much of the award itself, but of the work that had gone into the awards and to actually learn more about, um, these brilliant things that are going on within the university that we don't always hear about.Emma:
The bit Cat isn't mentioning there is that those awards were held on the hottest day of, well, the hottest day ever, I think in my lifetime. Um, it was a fantastic day, but blimey, it was hot.Cat:
It really was. Oh my God. It was memorable for, uh, for that reason as well as everything else. Yeah, it was, it was pretty stuffy in there, but, um, yeah, people were, were amazing and thank God for the, um, air con in the refractory, I would say.Emma:
Yeah, definitely. So in amongst all of that, you've mentioned, um, the interview questions in advance. I'm thinking that could probably be a podcast on its own actually. We, we really should go back and revisit it. Um, and just to make the listeners aware that in the show notes, you can find links to all of the things that are mentioned in the podcast.
So if there is anything you want to follow up, that's where you need to head. We've mentioned, um, in several of the previous episodes, my my own included, that research culture is huge and there is so much work that sits underneath it. So I'm gonna put you on the spot now and ask you what you think the biggest challenges are, either for us at Leeds or across the sector, and where do you think it's gonna be hard to make significant progress?Cat:
Mm. This is not an easy job. Um, you know, I didn't throw my hat in the ring cuz I thought it was gonna be, uh, easy. It's certainly not. Um, but that's what makes it more compelling. You know, there are really serious issues here, um, and I think we can make a difference on them. So one thing a really sticky challenge that we have that I face weekly in various forms, it's sort of, it's this kinda gremlin that shows up in many different ways, is that ever present tension between traditional measures of success like outputs and grant capture, cuz those things still matter, right? We still need to be doing that to, um, get our research out there, to be able to make our research financially sustainable.
We can't not have those things, but there is a tension between those things and other more diverse and inclusive measures of success. Like developing the next generation of researchers, like, um, equity, diversity, and inclusion work. And where the former, the traditional measures of success, when they kind of become too heavy on that balance is where you get some, some really nasty consequences actually and some pretty bad behaviors where you get the hyper competition.
Um, So it's about keeping those two things in balance and actually kind of combining them, and this is my solution to this. We can get past that tension. And the way to do that is by understanding that research culture with open research and collegiality and all of that, that goes into a good research culture is the other side of the coin to research quality.
You can't have one without the other. So more diverse teams, we know that. So along, um, race lines, along gender lines, along international lines, we know data shows us. That makes with better research quality, these come out higher in the ref, the research excellence framework. So it's about getting that word out there.
Of course, the more languages you work with, the more diverse your research participants are, the more robust your research is going to be. So for me, that's how we strike that balance between, Yeah, we need to bring the money in. Yeah, we need to be publish. Great, um, great research, but we also need to be doing that, um, through inclusive and responsible behaviors.
So that's the sticky point, I guess for me. Uh, just keeping those two things in check.Emma:
We've already heard from, um, Nick Shepard in his podcast that he did about, you know, the need for change for open research to enable a lot of this change to happen. So it's not something that we can do as an institution, it's that sector wide approach that's gonna really need the publishers engaged, the funders engaged the institutions and the individuals. So I really do understand where you're coming from when you say think that might be the one that takes a little bit of, um, uh, pushing to make progress on.Cat:
Yeah. I mean, but I do see this happening more and more, which is lovely. So I was in, uh, a leadership forum recently, and we were talking about the job description for a new high level, uh, research management position at the university. And, um, one of the, the forum came and said, you know, we need research culture friendly criteria to be front and center of those within that job description.
So it was really, To hear that. And actually the chair of that meeting then came back to me immediately after the meeting asking me for a bullet point to describe research culture, behaviors and values to include in that job description. So that was a, a, yeah, I guess a quick win actually. Something we can do without, you know, waiting for funders or external partners here within, you know, our own university.Emma:
And I think that's really reassuring to hear because I do think, um, I might be biased given where I work and what I do, but I do think we're very lucky at Leeds cuz it does feel like there's an appetite for change and we've got people who at all levels want to engage with this. They're willing to get involved. So what are you hoping to see in the next five years?Cat:
Five years isn't long actually. Uh, you know, considering culture change, real deep lasting culture change is gonna take time. Five years isn't, isn't long. But there are a few things I would like to see within that period. So I think, um, One area where we're doing really well already is in open research. So I'd like to see in five years time open research practices just being the norm. Our bread and butter, this is the way we, we work. We make our, um, papers open access. We make our data and code open access. We use open platforms like Octopus or others. We, um, conduct our research openly with our participants and we engage with the public transparently.
So I would like all of that stuff just to be business as usual. The other changes I would like to see in the next five years. Are actually some policy changes, cuz I think actually changing the rules, um, can really accelerate that kind of grassroots culture change. I'll tell you what I mean. Um, so I'd like to see more funding calls with research culture as an explicit focus. I think once money is, um, uh, on offer, this can really focus minds, um, and, and make change. So I'd like to see more calls with research culture in the call. Explicitly, I would like to see the same in the next ref. So I would like the environment statement perhaps to include more explicitly on people and culture.
Um, and I would like to see that within the promotion criteria. I would really like to see more reward for research, cultural practices, open research, EDI, collegiality, development, these kinds of things being added to impact um, and other, um, fairly recent measures actually of, of success within the promotion criteria.
So once we've got, you know, these kind of policy changes and rule changes made by those with power, then I think the grassroots culture change will follow. Well, actually they kind of move in tandem, but I think then, uh, we'll start to see a reduction in harmful research practices. So exclusion of self-interest of wasting resource.
Now, none of that kind of happens because people are bad or you know, they've got Machiavellian tendencies. The fact that they are interested in their own self-promotion or that they include others, it's because the system traditionally has rewarded that. So I'm not blaming people that do that. They really, there's this kind of systemic influences which, which result in those outcomes. Um, and I would love to see people recommending research as a career to the next generation because they enjoy it.Emma:
Wow. I really hope to see all of that in the next five years. Um, I did joke in the episode that I did that, you know, if if everything was going right, I'd be out of a job. Yeah. So I might want to rethink that one.Cat:
Um, there will always be work to do.Emma:
There will yeah, I think that's fair to say there will always be a, a challenge for us to tackle. Um, so we are up to time. It's amazing how quickly, um, time flies when you're having a conversation. But what we tend to do is finish each episode by giving you an opportunity to raise anything that you haven't already said. Uh, if you want to highlight a particular thing that you're working on or a topic, um, and I will finish by saying thank you very much, Cat, for joining us today and over to you.Cat:
That's brilliant. Thanks Emma. Um, yeah, loads going on at the moment. So we have a call out at the moment for a research culture projects, so it's an open call um, for money from Research England for faculties, individuals, research teams, um, of all stripes to propose research culture projects. So deadline for that is December the ninth, I think Emma are you gonna put the link in the notes? Um, and I've been thinking a lot about reward and recognition and how we uh, recognize each other and kind of acknowledge and thank each other in a really easy way. So, you know, say thanks to a colleague today. Send them an email if just mentioning their outstanding work, CC in their line manager um, you know, these are really easy ways offer, It's not enough alone, but I think it's just something that we can do pretty easily and quickly, um, to make each other feel valued.Intro:
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