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Research cultures for major bid success

This is Part 7 of a 10 part mini-series.

Click here to view all current posts

This Blog is the seventh of a 10-part series looking at developing major research bids.

Last week we considered the importance of crafting a strong narrative for your major research bid, examined the core features of high quality proposal writing, and discussed the benefits of visualisations.

This week we hear from Dr Louise Ker who describes the benefits of cultivating a positive research culture, explains what funders are looking for, and offers her 5 factors for success when building good research culture into major bids.

What do Nobel Prize winners in the last century all have in common? 


All else being equal, at all times in the past century, the papers of Nobel laureates are more likely to be produced by larger teams, compared with those of ordinary scientists.

– Li, J., Yin, Y., Fortunato, S., & Wang, D. (2019). Nobel laureates are almost the same as us. Nature Reviews Physics1(5), 301-303.

Research across the board shows that diverse, inclusive and psychologically safe working cultures are critical to driving team performance, innovation and financial success in organisations. Feeling cynical? Have a listen to this brilliant TED talk by Margaret Heffernan, who explains how and why diverse and psychologically safe teams far outperform individual ‘stars’.

What are Funders looking for?

The major research funders recognise that research success depends on positive working cultures. The Wellcome Trust is actively re-designing funding schemes to recognise and support good research working cultures. UKRI is working in conjunction with the UK Government BEIS to deliver the commitments outlined in the research and development people strategy to support good research working practices and culture.

In our earlier interview with Alex Peden, Head of Regional Engagement for Scotland at EPSRC, her view on the direction of travel for funders also places an increased emphasis on people and cultures:

I think you’ll see an increase in the training, mentoring and ED&I obligations of senior teams in these larger grants.

5 factors for success when building good research culture into major bids
1. Recognising your research culture

What research workplace practices do you have in place that showcase a good workplace culture that you could highlight in your proposal? For example, do you encourage and recognise ‘community service’ roles such as research integrity or dignity & respect champions? Do you have processes in place to ensure even distribution of ‘community service’ work, such as committee representation? Have you looked at what other areas in Edinburgh are doing for inspiration?

2. Bid Practicalities

Consider directly costing in capacity to enable you to support a positive research environment and inclusive recruitment. This could be for example costing in potential disability adjustments or caring adjustments for staff before recruitment takes place (most funders are keen to accommodate flexible working patterns/adjustments/care support within budgets). It could also include things like data storage or website costs for enabling open datasets, or knowledge exchange, outreach or impact activities to ensure the benefit of the research is felt as widely as possible.  Have a think about recognition too, have you named and apportioned credit to all potential Co-Is on your bid?

Head over to the top tips & how-to page of the major research bids toolkit for practical tips on building equality and diversity into research proposals.

3. Training, Mentoring & Collaboration

Think carefully about the training and development needs of your entire research team. Large research projects include a wide range of multi-skilled staff, from postdocs to technicians to project management to outreach. Have you considered training and development opportunities for all staff planned to be involved? Have you costed for these in your budget?

For more ideas on how to build team development into proposals, visit the top tips & how-to page of the major research bids toolkit.

4. Good research practice

How will you persuade the panel that you have optimised your research project design and analysis to minimise errors and maximise confidence in results? Can you demonstrate open research practices and a high standard of integrity and ethics?

5. Reward & Recognition

How do you recognise and reward good research practice and inclusive working cultures within your research team and wider collaborative networks?

Coming up

This week heard from Dr Louise Ker on research cultures for major bid success. Come back next week when Dr Anne-Sofie Laegran talks us through her top 5 tips for embedding impact into major research bids.

Keep up to date

Avoid missing out on future installments of this Blog series by subscribing to the Edinburgh Research Office Blog. Make sure to also bookmark the major research bids toolkit homepage for easy access to the materials highlighted thus far, and to stay up-to-date with the latest major research bids content.

About the author

Dr Louise Ker is Strategic Research Executive (Analytics), within the Strategic Research Development Team, Edinburgh Research Office.


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