For me, acting responsibly requires a conscious decision and commitment. It is not something that just happens, but is a choice that we make. Responsibility, on the other hand, is different. Anyone can be given, or take on, responsibilities. For some, this can be fulfilling and a source of great pride, but for others the same responsibilities can feel burdensome and restrictive.
I remember very clearly the great excitement and pride that I felt when I started out on my own research career. I was going to do important work, answer outstanding questions and do it all to the very best of my abilities. I considered myself privileged to be in a position to do so, and life seemed very straightforward.
I would get up each morning and make my way to the lab where I would spend the day never too far from the watchful gaze of my PhD supervisor. Her habits became my habits. Almost by osmosis, I conducted myself, my experiments, my research, just as she conducted hers. I didn’t know what I didn’t know – and I was blissfully ignorant of this fact.
By the time I finished my PhD, the life of new research students was very different. It had become common practice for researchers to have at least two, if not three, students under their stewardship at any one time. Rather than enjoying the luxury of daily 1:1 time, students now had to compete with each other for their share of precious time with their supervisor.
Invariably, competition enables some individuals to shine; while, for others, it is a less positive and more frustrating experience. Herein lies a problem and a great missed opportunity. It was always subjective as to how much of research conduct would rub off, as if by magic, between supervisors and their students. Judging by the frequency of headlines declaring problems with the quality, reproducibility and reporting of some published data, it would seem to me that the time honoured magical process doesn’t seem to be fairing so well in this super-competitive modern era.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad and there are great supervisors around. Students and post-docs will still come across all manner of inspiring people that will influence them and their conduct throughout their research career. What I am saying is this….. it is no longer reasonable to assume that the next generation of research scientists will simply acquire the ‘common sense’ knowledge and skills required to conduct their research responsibly.
Thankfully, it is relatively simple to ensure that individuals are aware of their responsibilities and accountable for their own actions within a legal framework. BUT it is quite another matter to develop the confidence and skills required to think critically, act ethically and work openly – so that their endeavours can make a valuable contribution to the scientific record.
To me, the early years of any research career are critically important in determining what kind of researcher individuals will go on to become. From the start of their postgraduate activities, all the way up to their early post-doctoral years, individuals need intensive support, training and guidance. Yet strangely it is exactly at this point that training provision becomes sketchy.
The intention is that this blog will over time discuss the key practical issues associated with responsible research in practice. It will also be a place to find updates and overviews of useful resources, guidance and policies. If you like what you have read today, then please come back again soon. In the meantime, if you would like to know more about how Responsible Research in Practice could help you enhance how you support and develop the next generation of responsible researchers then please send us a message via the website today.