Simon Baker: 00:07
Hello, this is Team Science, a podcast brought to you by Nature Careers in partnership with Nature Index. I’m Simon Baker, chief editor at Nature Index, which tracks research articles in leading science journals.
In this series, we explore behind the scenes of academia, and speak to the people who make it all possible, but do not necessarily get the credit.
This series is sponsored by Western Sydney University. And at the end of this episode, we’ll hear about how it is helping to champion team science.
In episode six, a call for change. We hear about some concrete initiatives that could improve research culture, and in turn, benefit science and the production of knowledge.
Hilary Noone: 00:54
I’m Hilary Noone. I am a volunteer with ARMA as a research culture lead. ARMA is the Association of Research managers and Administrators.
And I led or overseen their research culture survey in 2020.
The negative impact culture can have on science is actually quite huge. This kind of pressure to deliver, and we’ve all heard the what is it, publish or perish, it starts to create this fear of failure so that people actually can’t be seen to fail, they can’t be seen to have their science not work. They then don’t share it, they don’t publish it, because there’s no incentive to do so. Which then means that we end up funding more duplications of research. We’re not reusing and building on the work of others.
And we then also have effects on creativity. So people won’t start to, like, have inspiration about different ways to dress off, they’re afraid of talking to somebody in case the person judges them, that is not good.
And then that routes back down to psychological safety, which is people are afraid to share their vulnerabilities, or that not having the knowledge is seen as a bad thing. When actually the whole point of research and innovation is that we’re pushing the boundaries of knowledge. We’re not meant to know what we’re doing, because that’s why we do research and innovation.
And the negative impact as well is that like, if we only listen to those who have all the papers, and the publications and so on, that have been learned rules, played it well, then we’re not hearing the voices of the people who have that diverse knowledge that can be the key to unlocking a lot of the challenges that we’re facing.
So, for example, I know a tree surgeon, and he has isn’t an academic at all, he is a, very, has an intimate knowledge of trees and weather, everything in the soil.
And he watches certain kinds of decisions being made about planting and things like that. And he’s like, “That’s so wrong, that it’s going to be a waste of money”, or “It’s going to have lots of problems down the line.”
And he’s tried to talk to people about that decision, and show them his findings. But because he doesn’t have an academic qualification, they don’t want to hear him.
And so that’s the kind of, you know, the pressure and the capacity on the system is that people don’t have time to be able to explore, to translate, and actually bring in the diverse knowledge and voices to help us unpick some of the most intractable challenges that we’re facing.
And that’s not just say, people who are grassroots out in the community. There’s all the different roles. So like, technicians look at the work that they’ve achieved with COVID. And how absolutely amazing they were in taking a challenge around PPE, and machinery and equipment.
And then they were creating supply chains across their local areas. Like, that kind of thing was fantastic. But we have a system that doesn’t recognize or reward those those kinds of knowledge or the collaboration with it, because people are so driven by metrics.
That’s one of the things that we need to be mindful of. And whatever interventions that we’re doing in research and innovation culture is that we’re not creating new problems or moving the problem. And that’s a danger.
Institutions and organizations like ARMA have a huge amount to contribute in terms of being able to make visible a lot of the hidden roles that make up the research and innovation system, to highlight the knowledge and skills that they have, and the experience that they can bring to helping us accelerate the change for everyone’s benefit.
Groups like ARMA really have through a range of programmes that go from mentoring to professional skills training, work on empowering and develop agents of change.
So our research culture programme focuses on things like that. And recently they’ve done a programme specialized for research librarians, to help them own their role, to be researchers and advocates for change, which has been really a fantastic programme.
And really, it’s about giving identity, being part of a community, a collective voice that helps you then have more shoulders to the wheel in terms of pushing the boundaries and accelerating the culture change.
There’s a lot of things like say, by raising the visibility and giving people a voice and an agenda can actually be something that then other organizations take more notice. Because whilst you shouldn’t have to be anchored to an institution to be taken seriously, or something like that, it does actually help being part of groups like ARMA’s speciality interest groups, or going to the conference and talking.
They give a platform for people to share their ideas, which, in a very busy space of a lot of platforms, that is something really, really key and important.
And we do a lot of things around cultue change. So lots of projects, like research culture libraries.We’ve got Bitesize for people who record, ladybird versions of some of the topics that a lot of people cover. So it’s about democratizing knowledge in a particular area for every kind of career stage.
Nik Claesen 06:50
My name is Nik Claseen, I’m the managing director of EARMA. That’s the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators.
And what we try to do at EARMA every day is try to make sure that we provide value to our members. Our members are research managers, and administrators or the terminology is a bit different. It’s not people doing the research, but supporting research.
And what we’re trying to do there is make sure that we give them a home, a platform for best practices exchange, professional development on the other hand. Also, we want to be a voice for that community to make sure it links better into the research and innovation system.
We’re focused as the European association on Europe, but also with great lengths to especially, of course, all of the EU member states, but the larger European zone, but also into the international network.
So day to day, what’s my job from the board, who is elected by our membership, I have the job of overseeing the office and making sure that our strategic plan, and all of those member benefits are rolled out correctly, and that we are the association that we try to be.
Our definition of research management management is very broad, including technicians, definitely people working with research infrastructure. So we try to be very inclusive on that. That’s very much our focus, but very inclusive.
And obviously all types of researchers, all types of policymakers, people involved, keeping the university running But looking at our day to day, and what we really tried to support is all those people, not the people doing the research, but supporting to research, but very broad. So definitely also technicians. It doesn’t go as far as to go into those people who are maybe the subjects of interviews, clinical trials, and all of that.
But pretty much anybody who has a role to support or manage research and researchers, we see as research managers. And we’re trying to use thematic groups or special interest groups also to branch out and make sure that we are as inclusive as we can be, both geographically and thematically.
So there’s definitely a feeling overall on average of under appreciation of not having a full or correct role or that the role is not known.
And this is one of the big issues. Also the awareness across research management or what research management is or what even the term is, because there’s a big dialogue going on about this.
Is it research management? Is it research administration? Depends per country. Is it support of research? Is it research services? Who belongs to this category? What are the subcategories of research management?
So when you start from not having a solid definition, and then go into well, not even a solid term and not a solid definition, and who belongs to it. Then how do you define this and how do you work with it?
But in the framework of the projects I’m leading, which is called RM Roadmap, so it’s trying to make a roadmap for what should research management or whatever the term should be, be in Europe, or how do we strengthen that in the future. And so we’re definitely looking also outside of Europe to get best practices from everywhere.
And one of the ones we’ve preliminary been in contact with, but also which we have good connections with is the US and Japan, who both I think have a quite different setup as I understand it.
And I think something we can definitely learn from our US colleagues is the big tradition that they have had in their, in associations. Meaning that the big associations which could consider the equivalent off EARMA. And they have been able to also make the framework around, and the clarity about what research administration in their terminology is, what’s it supposed to do and set more standards there.
They also have the RAC to get, which is a body, where you can get a certificate showing that you are a qualified research administrator, which of course makes a big difference, because then you’ve got something objective, which is measured, which has to have criteria, which at the beginning, also, I was speaking to some of the people who set this up was stalled us, okay, this is impossible to do, because it’s so multi dimensional, but in the end, helps.
And when you’e talking to policymakers, that is really going to help, because then you can define it, you have some some quality control and assurance in that.
So the tradition of strong networks, on the one hand, have a bit more standardization, on the other hand, on certification, making that stronger in Europe is definitely I think, something we can learn from the US.
And then when you go to the Japanese example, they’ve had a very interesting exercise going on over there for for quite a while now, I think, like six or eight years into work, where it works.
Where they started a system called a University Research Administrator, so focused on university, but which is a defined profession, which comes to an extent, top down.
So this is what it is. And let’s not try to train people in this. It’s obviously more nuanced, but it’s a very interesting thing that they have there. Because they created, they really created a profession within universities, university research administrators, and are looking how to roll that out.
Professional development wise, they’ve done a lot of work there. But now from the latest information that I have, people will be able to go online, follow courses for this. It’s an established career.
But I’m not saying that’s perfect. I don’t know all of the details. But it’s very interesting cases that we are definitely looking at to what can we take from that and bring it to Europe, to improve the situation that we have.
Hilary Noone: 12:42
There are loads of initiatives out there to improve research culture. And some of them have been going 30-40 more years. This isn’t a new idea.
The same way, EDI isn’t a new idea, which is equality, diversity and inclusion, it’s just a new brigade are people picking up the baton from those before, in order to push the boundaries and the progress further.
In terms of the different kinds of initiatives, there’s everything on a whole scale of the really high profile, like things like DORA and the San Francisco Declaration.
Things on, you know, reward and recognition like such as CoARA that’s been developed by Science Europe, and things like the Technician Commitment campaign about raising the profile of technicians and their career pathways, as well as things like the Wellcome Trust Reimagine Research Culture.
So people who have a very high profile, and role or leverage are able and to be able to kind of accelerate the change, which is something that Wellcome did quite well.
And other things that are happening around improving research culture. One of my favourites is the widespread adoption of narrative CVs. Now, this might not seem like a big initiative, but a lot of funders are starting to use them.
So these are CVs that start to ask more questions around contributions to research and innovation beyond the grants and the publications, asking people about like their contributions to developing others, their work with society, and so on.
And it’s not just for researchers or someone who has the job title of researcher. It is for anyone who works in the research and innovation system. Could even go beyond. And what it does by making other contributions visible, it really starts to shift the dial in terms of what is visible and then what’s valued. And by that it also means who is valued.
So these kind of CVs are going to are getting used by an awful lot of funders globally. And because not everyone just you know, right, applies to one funder or reviews for one funder. They’re all sharing their experiences and consistency. So that it makes it easier for people, you know, applying and reviewing for all of these groups.
But if you want to do this, taking a really systems approach, it’s about looking at all the different processes that could be applied to, right?
So recruitment, promotion, mentoring, all over. And what this will do as more people adopted, it will facilitate a lot more porosity between different sectors, disciplines, and roles. It will really, really start to accelerate the change.
And I think it’ll be really fantastic for roles like technicians and research managers and administrators, because they’ll be able to evidence or contribution to research and innovation, and have their ideas actually considered in terms of them being able to deliver and run a project, which they totally can.
Sofla Marwaha: 16:08
Hi, there, my name is Sofla Marwaha. I’m an independent consultant, a lawyer, and I hold several onboarding committee positions across organizations like ARMA, EDIS, add NHS Blood and Transplant.
And I have worked in a couple of different research organizations and research funders in the sector. So I’ve got a really broad experience across research and innovation.
And I now work on issues like strategy, governance and culture, trying to improve the inclusive environment that we’re all working in.
I think the dialogue between research managers and funders really has increased significantly. And I think it’s showing sort of an impact already.
And that we’re seeing, you know, being involved in that consultation process means that the end result works better, actually.
When you’ve spoken to all of the communities that are going to have to implement a new policy that you’re considering as a funder, before you put it in place, that you’re testing your ideas. You know, it just tends to land better and work better.
So I think, you know, we’re definitely having sort of less surprises in terms of, you know, new policies landing and people feeling like they weren’t aware, like they weren’t involved in the process.
So I think that’s a really positive development. I think also there is, there’s much more dialogue in what people care about.
So making sure that the issues that people think are priority are what are dealt with, because ultimately, that’s what, what drives people. They need to feel like they have that autonomy within their own environment and that ability to influence it.
Funders have a lot of power. You know, they hold the purse strings, but they also design the systems and processes around how funding is distributed.
So for funders, those are some really key mechanisms about making sure who gets funded. You know, paying attention to who’s getting money.
And, again, when you look at the statistics that UK Research and Innovation have released, we can see that there are really dramatic differences.
Often the focus can be about what can funders influence universities or research organizations to do. But I think there’s a lot of work to be done within them as well. addressing those inequalities addressing what we can change in who we fund, who we involve, how we involve them.
You know, we have a system that relies a lot on volunteers, for example. And actually engaging people in a professional way, compensating them for their expertise can be a really important way to to change who’s involved and how we’ve got to get creative about how we change like, As I say, the answers aren’t out there yet. We’ve still got to find them.
Hilary Noone: 19:03
The other one that’s developing is more of a semantic change. So one of the things that I think we all need to be careful of, and I realize the irony of me saying this as an Irish person who might accidentally curse, is we all need to watch our language.
So in terms of how we might, you know, how we communicate with others, creates or reveals, or can maintain different power structures, okay?
So when you have somebody who just flippantly says “Oh, the admin support support services.”
These are all like servile words and connotations can inadvertently maintain that kind of power structure.
Do we need to try and be mindful of the impact or unintended consequences that in how somebody then feels in terms of their role and their relationship then with others in the system. And I, you know, I’ve often had this debate with academic colleagues where I’ve said, Well, we could be professional services.”
And they were like, “But that would suggest that academics aren’t professionals.”
So, you know, I think there can be fun exploring the language together, in order to find something that works for everyone.
And I think spending some energy on that would be really, really good. And I know that there’s some projects in development to look at, like the challenge of changing discourse and organizational contexts, to be able to help contribute to the culture change.
Nik Claesen: 20:53
The key thing that EARMA was trying to do in making a better research culture come to be I think, is awareness.
Its recognition of the profession, also part of it. So the research management profession, but awareness about what the role is, because that’s very much lacking still, overall.
The key thing is that researchers the system, that people realize, that to get to a better culture we need and relevant to research management, we need to get to awareness that research managers are there to make the system better, and what their specific role is.
And we’re trying to promote that through everything we do, our conferences, our events our thought leadership our policy may papers, our projects that we are leading in that direction, EARMA Roadmap, so what is the future so the key thing for us is to enhance this awareness which leads long term into recognition of the profession and better support for researchers.
Simon Baker: 22:07
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Team Science Podcast. I’m Simon Baker, chief editor at Nature Index. The producer was Dom Byrne.
And next up, we’ll hear how Western Sydney University, the sponsor of this series, is helping to champion team science.
Caris Bizzaca 22:31:
I’m Caris Bizzaca and welcome to this podcast series from Western Sydney University. Over this six-episode series I’ll be introducing you to some incredible research taking place – from a million-dollar fungi project that’s helping combat climate change, to surveys into maternity-care treatment, to creating electric vehicles for women in rural African communities, and more. These projects are just a handful of those that entered the 2022 and 2023 Research Impact Competition, run by Western Sydney University in Australia.
There’s also something else they have in common: they each speak to a Sustainable Development Goal or SDG – a list of 17 goals created by the United Nations which tackle global issues including poverty, hunger, climate change, gender inequality and access to education.
So how do we identify problems and then the path forward? Well, through research. And this research is happening at universities across the globe, who are graded in the annual Times Higher Education Impact rankings on their commitment to the SDGs. This is significant because out of 1,700 universities in the world, Western Sydney University ranked number one overall for the past two years. And if we drill down into the SDGs it excelled in, it came first for the goals Gender Equality, Partnership for the Goals, and Responsible Consumption and Production. For more information about Sustainable Development Goals you can visit sdgs.un.org and keep listening, as the researchers across this series will talk to how their projects contribute to positive change.
Before we dive in, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the custodians of the lands where Western Sydney University campuses are located, and pay respect to the peoples of the Dharug, Tharawal, Eora and Wiradjuri nations. I pay my respect to elders past and present. Always was, always will be.
Now, let’s hear from some of the researchers from Western Sydney University’s Research Impact Competition.
Dr Maria Rashidi 24:38
We’ve been pioneering the application of using drones for bridge inspection in Australia.
Caris Bizzaca 24:43
That’s Dr Maria Rashidi, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Infrastructure Engineering within the School of Engineering Design and Built Environment at Western Sydney University. As part of the 2023 Research Impact Competition, Dr Rashidi was one of two winners of the inaugural Western Ventures prize, which is an initiative to support projects with excellent commercialization potential. Dr Rashidi shared the win for her research into using drones for the asset-management and health-monitoring of bridges.
Dr Maria Rashidi 25:15
In Australia, the road network is currently valued at AU$200 billion and AU$60 billion is spent annually on maintaining and extending the road network. So the bridge network is consisting of 50,000 bridges where 82% of them were built before 1976. And unfortunately one out of four are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. So having this knowledge and knowing the fact that the reason for the failure of majority of bridges has been a lack of a proper and proactive asset-management and health-monitoring system was a good motivation for me to spend around ten years of my research on this topic.
Caris Bizzaca 25:57
The project began with a collaborative study with Transport New South Wales into the feasibility of using drones for bridge inspection.
Dr Maria Rashidi 26:05
So in this pilot study, we examined the effectiveness of this technology in terms of different criteria, such as cost, time, accuracy, safety and traffic disruption, comparing to the conventional methods.
Caris Bizzaca 26:19
The study concluded that drone technology was very efficient for the inspection of bridges, with positive impacts on the community, safety and reducing costs.
Dr Maria Rashidi 26:28
So it actually reduces the disruption caused to the community because sometimes you have to close the traffic if you’re going to use an elevated work platform for under-bridge inspection. So drone images captured from multiple locations can be used to construct 3D models using the photogrammetry techniques. So this positively impacts two areas of bridge safety practice – that drone models can be employed for virtual inspection, and as built-model development of old bridges where no previous drawings are available. Also, drones today are capable of capturing images from under-bridge regions, without the need for manned lifts and potentially closing down the roads. So this has dramatically enhanced the safety of bridge inspection in comparison to the significant risks of ropes and cherry pickers used by conventional methods. Drones can also dramatically reduce the overall inspection costs by up to 30%, particularly for larger-scale bridges it is more cost-effective. Additionally, the use of airborne aerial photogrammetry enables us to digitize and preserve old heritage assets. So a report by Deloitte Access Economics in 2020 estimated that utilization of drones will result in AU$48-billion saving across different industries, particularly in infrastructure and agriculture, by 2050.
Caris Bizzaca 27:54
There are challenges, particularly when it comes to access.
Dr Maria Rashidi 27:58
We need to approach the asset owners to get approval for access, especially if they’re, for example, bridges in the rail corridor or in the realm of railway bridges. Also dealing with rules and regulations, for example, again obtaining approval from, ah, Civil Aviation Safety Authority or CASA, sometimes is not easy because we have to comply with their standards. For example, the drone has to be within their visual line of sight or shouldn’t exit a certain level of altitude. And also we are not allowed to fly drone in populated areas. You should not fly a drone close to the airport, and similar other regulations. All these criteria needs to be met prior to starting the project.
Caris Bizzaca 28:52
Dr Rashidi has already explained the positive impacts on safety, as well as reducing costs and interruption to the community, but the research also contributes to two SDGs.
Dr Maria Rashidi 29:03
Mainly 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, as well as 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. It ticks all the boxes of safety, functionality and sustainability. And I think I can say, like, safety is the most important thing; because of the ageing infrastructure, the challenges that we’re facing and the necessity of having regular inspections, a proper and proactive asset-management and health-monitoring system could be the highest priority. But sustainability in terms of environment cost and community is another factor, and also in terms of functionality I think this technology is quite efficient.
Caris Bizzaca 29:46
So much so that it was awarded the inaugural Western Ventures Prize, which assists research projects with the potential for commercialization to advance to the next level of development. Part of the criteria was specifically around impact, which Dr Rashidi has spoken to, but also engagement.
Dr Maria Rashidi 30:05
I think I’ve been quite successful in terms of interaction with different stakeholders and industrial partners, ranging from federal government bodies such as Australian Rail Track Corporation or ARTC, state government agencies – mainly Transport for New South Wales – and local councils and private firms. And I hope I can use this prize to register the provisional patents in the pipeline, and also use it for commercialization of our upcoming projects.
Caris Bizzaca 30:34
In talking about next steps, after the pilot study, Dr Rashidi and her team expanded their research to look at how other emerging technologies could be used, such as laser scanning, digital twinning, IoT, artificial intelligence and robotics.
Dr Maria Rashidi 30:49
We are hoping that we can come up with new advancements. I think in the future with this fast progress and the basic adaptation of emerging technologies, we are moving towards autonomous, intelligent health-monitoring systems that are less subjective and we can address more accuracy, and the subjectivity of human interpretation and decision is reduced. So hopefully we can have safer infrastructure and have it more cost-effective and sustainable solutions.
Caris Bizzaca 31:29
That was Dr Maria Rashidi, one of the winners of the inaugural Western Ventures prize as part of the 2023 Research Impact Competition. That concludes this podcast series from Western Sydney University, but you can find out more about the university and the Research Impact Competition by visiting westernsydney.edu.au/future-makers. Thanks for listening.