Research Culture – Changing Expectations

(Part 2 of 2)

It’s now been two weeks since I attended the Royal Society’s Research Culture – Changing Expectations meeting and it’s amazing how many topics from the meetings have come up organically in conversations with other academics, particularly early career researchers. I’ve already written about a few of these in my earlier post and in this post I’ll summarise some key topics from the second day.

As mentioned in my last post this and my last post are a brief summary of just some of the ideas and messages that particularly spoke to me. Whilst I have referenced speakers throughout many of these points are my own interpretation and opinion.

UKRI and Research Culture

Tuesday started with a plenary by Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Sir Mark highlighted UKRIs vision of a research culture which was open, respectful, driven by a balance of curiosity and scepticism, supported by rigour and open to constructive and kind challenge – of dogma, of results, of interpretations. I’m sure many science researchers would agree that these tenets are indeed important to a healthy science research culture. However, as Sir Mark said, there is no single magic bullet that will solve any problems we currently have.

Attitudes and Beliefs

Much of Tuesday fits under this title. Problems in attitudes were identified and many changes were proposed. These spanned Professor Tom McLeish‘s suggestion to open all the doors in to and out of the palace of science – not just the main door. This was echoed by Dr Jenny Rohn who challenged the notion that staying in academia was the main route and everything else ‘alternative’.

This is all supported by the ideas of broadening what we see as success, e.g. not just a professorship with lots of grant money, raised by Professor Andrea Brand. Further, Robert-Jan Smits said his indicator of a culture change will be when data scientists and other, similar technical and research support roles are fully represented in paper author lists.

This was again mirrored in the afternoon’s session where David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, said that an ideal future would be a research culture where the global academic enterprise was not driven by the top 1%. Those top 1% stand on the shoulders  not just of giants but of the 99%, many of whom do the day-to-day research and community building that drive science forward.

In Conclusion

There’s a great deal more I could write about from these two days. Many fantastic talks, inspiring ideas and important stories. If you want to see for yourself then both days were recorded and the YouTube links are available on the Royal Society’s pages here.

But what will I do. I am hoping to start making small changes in my day-to-day work, including:

  • highlighting when meetings are held at non-family/carer friendly hours
  • making sure researchers in my group take time to get out of the office/lab together
  • make any outputs from my research fellowship 100% open
  • and, in doing so, support and engage with new open science platforms, such as OCTOPUS (see last week’s post).

And, last but not least, take a bit more time to reflect on how my practices and those of academics around me might be contributing to negative aspects of the research culture I am part of.

Research Culture – Changing Expectations

(Part 1 of 2)

Earlier this week (29-30th October 2018) I attended a meeting at the Royal Society (London) with an aim of considering the UK scientific research culture – identifying challenges, highlighting best practice and considering what the future UK research culture can and should be. This meeting is a culmination of a two year programme of events and consultations (see here).

The meeting was full of inspiring speakers and great ideas and this and my next post are a really very brief summary of just some of the ideas and messages that particularly spoke to me. I have referenced speakers throughout but some of these points may be my own interpretation and opinion.

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Imaging the Beating Heart in Zebrafish

2018 has been a busy year so far (and I expect it will stay that way) but I’ve finally made time to write another blog post (and also to move my blog into my personal website). Given that so far this year I’ve spoken about my current research – imaging the beating zebrafish heart – to audiences of academics, the public & students I thought it was about time to do a blog post summarising said research. Hopefully this short post will provide you with an idea of what we’re trying to achieve, why and how we’re going about it (although I’ve kept off too much detail for now).

The Challenge of a Beating Heart

Here at the University of Glasgow I am working with Dr Jonathan Taylor on techniques for imaging the living, beating heart in zebrafish. This work is part of a British Heart Foundation funded collaboration between us and a team of biologists at the University of Edinburgh. Our collaborators are interested in quantifying how the heart responds to injury, which in turn can be used to develop drugs that improve the natural injury response. Eventually, the fundamental research being carried out in the zebrafish can be translated to other model organisms and may, after much validation, be trialled in humans. At a conference I attended earlier in the year, one speaker gave the (uncited) statistic that 22 out of 24 drugs developed in the zebrafish have been successfully translated to humans despite the differences between a fish heart and a human heart.

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Better Imaging of Living Animals and the 3Rs

Recently, I was explaining my research to another academic from a different field. I was describing how, when imaging living animals under the microscope, we strive to keep laser power levels to the minimum needed. The question I got in return was: “Is that for the animal’s sake or for the imaging?”. And of course the answer is both – in general, I find that good science and better microscopy align very well with performing more humane animal research.

This article is about how researchers are working to improve animal research by minimising numbers used, sharing animals and data and refining experimental procedures.  This is not an article on whether or not animal experimentation should or should not be done; that is a matter of personal ethics. However, should you be interested in the rules and regulations surrounding animal research in the UK, I would suggest you start with Understanding Animal Research [1] and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (the NC3RS) [2].

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Let There be Light… but Not Too Much… Phototoxicity in Microscopy

Light is an Essential Aspect of Microscopy

An essential aspect to microscopy is light. Early microscopes used ambient light or used mirrors to reflect light, either from the sun or a candle, onto the sample of interest. With the inventions [1] of the electric light bulb additional, artificial light sources could be used and the light from lamps could be focussed onto samples with much greater control.

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Microscopes on Your Mobile Phone

Many modern microscopes can be large, highly technical and expensive pieces of equipment. This is most evidenced when you consider that, when funding such equipment at UK universities and research institutes, many funding bodies stipulate a requirement for sharing across multiple research groups or institutes. However, as developers of new microscopy technology a focus on such fancy and costly microscopes should not be at the detriment of the continued research into miniaturisation, cheaper manufacturing and improved transportable microscopes.

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