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Why we need to work together to support team science

by Guest Author on 22 Feb 2019

The follow-up meeting report by the Academy of Medical Sciences highlights good progress in supporting the careers of team scientists over the past two years. But there’s more to do. Here our Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt, also a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, shares how we’re working to encourage the uptake of team science models of research.

An important step in supporting team science is keeping track of the current roles and projects of the researchers we fund. Alongside other funders, we’ve adopted platforms such as ORCID to capture research outputs and allow the evaluation of contributions to grants. ORCID enables researchers to take ownership of their data to construct multipurpose portfolios of outputs and impacts.

There’s a lot of debate in the scientific community about evaluating research publications. One helpful approach is for authors to be allowed to include a 50-word narrative describing their contributions to key publications – something we’re currently considering. Wellcome have implemented this for grant applications. It gives authors the opportunity to explain why a paper is important and what they contributed.

Supporting team science projects

It’s important that team scientists achieve recognition. One way to facilitate this is to make sure that we recognise the contributions made by early career researchers to grant writing. That’s why we’ve introduced a new researcher co-investigator status (RCoI) that supports researchers on their journey to independence.

In support of team scientists more broadly, we’ve developed a cross-UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) statement supporting technology and skills specialists. The statement outlines expectations for both research organisations and researchers, and indicates a desire to implement change in recognising skills specialists.

Making roles fit for team science

To highlight the diversity of roles involved in team science, our interactive career framework now showcases team scientists among more traditional scientific roles and career pathways, to improve recognition and recruitment.

Initiatives such as the job families developed by the University of Glasgow and our MRC Skills Development Fellowships promote the progression of scientists with specialist technology skills. This type of approach will be tested for its effectiveness at the Health Data Research UK Institute before being promoted more widely.

We’ve launched a series of new funding schemes to support team science and interdisciplinary working. This includes the MRC/NIHR Clinical Academic Research Partnerships, to enable NHS consultants who are not currently research-active to participate in high-quality research with a research-active partner. And in 2019 UKRI will be piloting an Innovation Scholarships scheme to increase the porosity of talent between academia and industry.

Finally, strategic support is a key element of supporting team science research groups. This is an approach that we’re applying to projects such as our Stratified Medicine project. Composed of 17 consortia and six nodes, strategic support facilitates coordination of expertise and maximises outputs, in addition to offering expertise in the management of consortia.

Remaining cultural challenges

We hope that these initiatives will go some way towards better recognition of, and career support for, interdisciplinary individuals and teams. However, success will also depend on stimulating cultural changes in the way we value team science.

This article has been adapted from a presentation delivered by Fiona at the Academy of Medical Science’s June 2018 team science follow-up meeting, included as Annex 2 in the meeting report: ‘From innovation to implementation: team science two years on’.

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