The factors driving poor research culture are complex and connected. Existing initiatives such as Wellcome’s new bullying and harassment policy have attempted to isolate and address single symptoms, while broader schemes such as the Royal Society’s Changing Expectations programme are struggling to secure the scale of change needed.
To generate real progress, Wellcome is committing to making research culture a priority for every part of our organisation, and adopting the consistent approach needed to tackle the root causes of a poor research culture.
Our first target will be to improve management and leadership – a driver that was highlighted in our PhD survey data, and which is linked to many poor research practices. The current system predominantly rewards ‘excellence’ based on what a researcher produces, while under-emphasising how the research was produced. Factors such as good management of a team should be supported, rewarded and required.
Achieving this will require changes across the system, including from individuals, institutions and funders like us. It may require us to reimagine the way Wellcome operates as a funder – from the support we provide to researchers, through to the way we assess grant applicants. Augmenting the definition of excellence in this way will not undermine the importance of ideas and outputs but put these in the context of a researcher’s conduct.
Improving management and leadership will lay the foundations for a broader period of cultural change. This will help attract and retain a more diverse and inclusive research workforce, who would be able to thrive in a system that sees their wellbeing and mental health as an asset. It could help recognise a broader set of contributions to research and ensure the research endeavour operates within society’s expectations.