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Creating a positive research culture will help make the UK a ‘science superpower’

Published: 11 Feb 2021 in Society news

The Society welcomes the government’s commitment to developing a People and Culture Strategy as part of delivering the UK R&D roadmap, and is advocating for an integrated and national approach to building a positive research culture. The call comes as part of our response to the “Equity in the STEM workforce” enquiry currently being held by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The Government’s roadmap states that “we want science to be for everyone no matter what their background…. [we want] to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent”. The current inquiry - and the Society’s response – highlight that systemic and cultural barriers stand in the way of realising this ambition. The pandemic has exposed and magnified the precarious nature of scientific careers, particularly at the early career stage. These challenges, which we have examined in our response, are known to affect women and other under-represented groups more markedly. Clearly, immediate steps are needed to protect those affected, particularly at early career stages. However, whilst this is essential now – it is not a substitute for the systems level change that is needed.

There is a strong appetite for such change, and much activity within the scientific sector. Our response welcomes steps taken by UKRI , Wellcome and the work of EDIS, of which the Society is a member. A forward-thinking diversity data strategy that sets and monitors clear goals will help bring this work together. We recognise that there is not a simple solution, but we do think it is worth the investment to create the data systems we need.

The pandemic has also shown that collaboration around a common goal has been one of the reasons that the UK has been able to deliver world-leading science to support the international COVID-19 effort. In addition to undermining diversity efforts, current academic incentives are not designed to support individual success instead of collaboration. Rewarding all contributions, explicitly supporting collaboration, incentivising against impact rather than publications, and valuing people will make scientific careers more inclusive – and it will also help deliver the Government’s ambition of making the UK a science superpower.

The Society has committed to playing our part, recently launching our Vision for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in Pharmacology. The Vision places equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of pharmacology, in terms of the opportunity for a successful career and to benefit from pharmacology research. We hope that continued Government leadership and resource will unlock much goodwill and support ‘on the ground’ across the sector. There is much to do, but coming together as part of a national approach will give the runway we need to truly make science for everyone. 

You can read our full response to the enquiry here.

To find out more about the Society’s work and plans in this area, please visit our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion pages.

Get in touch with us via policy@bps.ac.uk to share hidden stories about contributions to pharmacology and drug development. Or to discuss this work, please contact Anna Zecharia via email (anna.zecharia@bps.ac.uk) or through the BPS Community.