Research Culture Awards

We are not always good at saying thank you, especially for things that are difficult to measure. The Research Culture Awards aim to recognise and celebrate those who demonstrate good role modelling and make the environment better for others; staff can thank those around them who are good leaders, mentors or organise valued activities. The longer-term aim is to include these aspects in promotion criteria and to value them more formally, but this informal method has helped develop a community of people who actively think about good research culture and how to replicate it elsewhere.

What kind of an organisation are you in the context of the Concordat?

The University of Stirling is a research-intensive university with 500-600 research active staff.

What challenge were you trying to address with this initiative?

  • To encourage collaborative and supportive behaviour by recognising and celebrating staff members who demonstrate good role modelling across the career spectrum
  • To increase visibility of efforts and place value in often-hidden contributions
  • To highlight good practice and create a shared understanding of what we value at Stirling.

What did you do and how does this align with the Principles and keywords you have selected below?

The Research Culture Awards were first introduced in May 2020 as part of the annual Festival of Research as a way to recognise people and groups who actively contribute towards a positive research environment at the University of Stirling.

Colleagues are invited to nominate a colleague/s anonymously for outstanding contributions across various categories each year: (1) research leadership; (2) collaborator; (3) support from professional services; (4) mentor; (5) early career researcher; (6) activity dedicated to enhancing research culture; and (7) research activity dedicated to equality, diversity and inclusion.

Importantly, nominees receive feedback from their nominations and are also invited to an awards ceremony to collectively celebrate endeavours. A panel reviews all nominations, identifying common themes and exceptional contributions, presents the “highly commended” nominees and raises the profile of all efforts during the Awards Ceremony. All nominees receive a Research Culture Awards e-certificate and button to add to their e-mail signature. Deans of Faculty and other senior managers are informed of all staff nominations and outcomes are shared via university & faculty newsletters and a dedicated blog.

This aligns with the institutional Concordat responsibility to regularly review and report on the quality of the research environment and culture, including seeking feedback from researchers, and use the outcomes to improve institutional practices (ECI6).

What were the challenges in implementation and how did you resolve them?

The first challenge was to establish a shared understanding of good research culture, activity and expectations at Stirling. To address this a range of initiatives were undertaken:

  • In the first instance the Research Culture themed Festival of Research in May 2020
  • The Research Integrity Mini-Festival series of events over Autumn-Winter 2020
  • The internal Research Integrity staff survey in November 2020
  • The hosting of a series of Café Culture Conversations based on the Wellcome Trust Café Culture model over Spring 2021 as an opportunity to discuss shared perspectives and common challenges.

Discussions have continued with the most recent Professorial Colloquium which was held during the 2022 Festival of Research with co-creation focussing on “research culture: an opportunity to do things differently.” The discussion focussed on the importance of social cohesion, self-care and vulnerability in leadership.

Although engagement has grown significantly with the number of (i) people nominating and (ii) nominations increasing twofold since the inaugural event in 2020, there are still a significant number of research staff who we have not yet reached. We need to work on widening engagement, highlighting and sharing good practice, and harnessing momentum.

To achieve this:

  • a Research Culture Champions Network has been established which sees all faculties represented by a highly commended research culture award nominee
  • Research Culture Conversations are held monthly and are open to all combining a mix of topic presentation and open discussion with action points shared via a dedicated blog
  • A dedicated MS Team has been set up which is open to all staff, both professional services and academics, who are interested in research culture. 
The aim of these activities is to develop an open, sharing community of staff who feel supported to work together towards supporting research culture. 

How did you evaluate the impact of your initiative?

Impact is evaluated in different ways:

  1. Engagement with the awards both in terms of number of nominees and number of nominators
  2. A dedicated feedback survey following the event
  3. Measuring sign ups to the MS Team and attendance at the monthly sessions and use that as a measure of growing engagement from the staff in research culture more widely than the awards.
  4. Ongoing discussions with Research Culture Champions.

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

The simplicity of the main benefits arising from the awards has been surprising. We've demonstrated and championed colleagues who are generous with their time, who create connectedness, share knowledge, nurture relationships and inspire others.

There is still a temptation for people to make this competitive and so we have to reiterate the message that this is about celebrating good research culture, not being the best at research culture. In order to raise the profile of the work currently being undertaken in departments and research groups, we have identified Research Culture Champions who are frequently nominated. We want to harness this network to amplify this work and we will work with our communications team to highlight their good practice. That will then be shared with the wider research culture network, which we will use to build a community of practice.

What advice would you give others wanting to do this?

This has been a very enjoyable and worthwhile activity. The highlight is when the nominations are received and the wording of the nominations is then sent out to the nominees, who subsequently receive and read the positive feedback given by the nominator.

There is an administrative load in evaluating nominations, sending out emails, and so on. You need to allow time for reviewing and think about clear criteria on how to assess the highly commended, although this can be tricky since the quality of the nomination depends on the nominator, not the nominee. In terms of the awards ceremony, online works well for inclusivity but it would also be nice to celebrate face-to-face, so we have to decide whether to move the awards to an in person format moving forward.

Beneficiaries: Research staff Research and teaching staff Technicians Managers of researchers Professional support staff

Stakeholders: Managers of researchers Professional staff Senior/executive team

Concordat principles: Environment and culture

Keywords: Research culture Researcher voice Working conditions Leadership development Recognition