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Action Research on Research Culture

The Action Research on Research Culture project is an international collaboration investigating how changing the recruitment, development and retention of researchers could improve research culture.

Improving research culture – the norms, values and behaviours of researchers and the research system – is a key to revitalising research and increasing its contribution to society.

The Action Research on Research Culture (ARRC) project investigates how changing the recruitment, development and retention of researchers could improve research culture.

Numerous empirical studies, reports and surveys point to problems in the culture of academic research. These include an over-reliance on inappropriate metrics, poor leadership and management, a lack of job security, unhealthy competition, and poor inter-team relationships. These problems lead to a loss of talent and diversity from the sector, and a consequent loss of quality and creativity in research.

Various solutions to these problems have been proposed and the ARRC project will test three approaches intended to improve research culture.

The findings will be used to develop relevant frameworks, policies and materials to ensure effective approaches are embedded in institutions and produce sustainable long term change.

The ARRC project is an international project, led by the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh (UK), Leiden University (The Netherlands), Freie Universität Berlin (Germany), and ETH Zurich (Switzerland). As the project progresses the empirical research will be developed with and extended to partner institutions.

The project is co-led by Liz Simmonds, the Head of Research Culture, and Steve Wooding, from the Research Strategy Office.

The project team encompasses a balance of skills to enable them to: engage with researchers and other stakeholders in the research system; understand the context of the different institutions, circumstances, and disciplines, and; carry out high-quality, robust research, to produce the resources that individuals, and the sector, can use to improve practice.

The team members at the University of Cambridge work on three main research projects:

Narrative CVs

Using ‘Narrative CVs’ in recruitment is intended to move away from an overreliance on publication lists and grant awards. The project will quantify how different CV formats affect the shortlisting of research applicants alongside studying applicants and recruiters experience of those different formats. This will build an evidence base for the potential for narrative CVs to drive positive culture change.

An example narrative CV template, based on the Royal Society’s “Résumé for Research” can be downloaded here.

Tools for development conversations

A number of challenges in research culture relate to a lack of opportunities for researchers to discuss their professional development, formally and informally, in an open and honest way with the academics that manage them, and others they work with. This project will explore a range of tools and approaches that support these kinds of conversations, trial them on participants engaged in professional development programmes, and help researchers get, give and receive feedback on their research leadership skills.

Precarity in academic careers

Precarity in early research careers caused by short fixed-term contracts is one of the major issues cited by the community as leading to challenges in research culture. The problem is complex, and many discussions of the issue fail to take account of the many constraints on, and within, the research system. This project will develop an understanding of how early career researchers make choices about their research career; how principal investigators make recruitment decisions and; how the variety of research posts has changed over time. The findings will lead to a better understanding of the different solutions available for addressing questions of precarity or mitigating its worst impacts.

Career opportunities with the research project

For more details on the research approach read an outline of the project plans.

The ARRC project team can be emailed at: 

The research team for this project is based in the Research Strategy Office and the Human Resources Division, working in association with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. The team is supported by a grant from Research England alongside funding from the Institutional Strategy Support Fund of the Wellcome Trust, and internal University of Cambridge resources.

Related People

Dr Steven Wooding

Affiliated Researcher

Dr Steven Wooding is Head of Research on Research in the Research Strategy Office at the University of Cambridge, a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Science Policy and...

Liz Simmonds

Liz is the Head of Research Culture at the University of Cambridge, responsible for driving the research culture agenda across the institution. She supports the Research Culture Steering Committee in...

Becky Ioppolo

Affiliated Researcher

Becky Ioppolo is an Affiliated Researcher at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. She is interested in understanding the characteristics of high-performing research environments, particularly in universities. Currently, she is...

Jessica Hampton

Jessica Hampton is a Research Assistant at the University of Cambridge for the Action Research on Research Culture project. Her academic background is in Linguistics and for her doctoral thesis...

Mollie Etheridge

Mollie Etheridge is a PhD researcher in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Her doctoral research explores how the transition to parenthood and/or desired parenthood changes academics’ engagement with the norms of...

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