The future of research

2 min read

At a time when there are calls for us to invent a better future, we need to increase the diversity of those involved in research.

What the Black Lives Matter campaign has highlighted is the need for institutions in the UK to better reflect modern Britain, and ensure that everyone, no matter what their background or where they are, is given the opportunity to use their full potential.

Too often BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) representation is woefully lacking at senior levels and nowhere is that more apparent than in the UK’s research sector, where only a tiny minority are represented.

Science, engineering, technology and the humanities have all been responsible for delivering many successes, but if they are to truly deliver and meet the needs of modern society we need to acknowledge that research is simply a microcosm of society itself, with its strengths and weaknesses, and that if it is going to address the challenges we face, whether that’s COVID-19, climate change, an ageing population, waste and pollution as well as coping with the huge technological revolution taking place around us, then it needs to represent the wider society.

We live in a time of social unrest, massive inequality and growing scepticism about research and innovation, when even the fundamental values of science are being undermined by fake truth and news.

So what happens with research is really important and if it is to continue to receive state funding and support from the public purse, it will need to demonstrate a measurable contribution to the nation’s health, its security, and economy.

We’ve so many crises to address we need to invent a better future for ourselves, and to achieve this we really need to increase the diversity of those involved in research.

It’s important because, as Magdalena Skipper, the Editor in Chief of Nature Research, said at the COGX 2020 this month, “When you are asked to imagine a scientist you tend to think of a white male, and that has important consequences for research and the way in which questions are framed with women and people of colour excluded.”

So if research is to address the fundamental questions we are facing then it needs to be more inclusive, more diverse and equitable and in doing so be better placed to ask more relevant questions.

If research fails to represent or understand the world around it how will it be able to find better and more inclusive solutions for our problems?

Science, for many, appears to detached from daily life and while Blue Sky research is vital and needs to be valued, it also needs to demonstrate its relevance - it needs to re-attach.

If science is to benefit everyday life, and be seen to do so, then there needs to be a more tangible way of measuring its impact on how we live our lives.

To achieve this there needs to be greater transparency when it comes to research and how it is then perceived by the general public.

Trust will be vital, as will understanding how it is done, and how researchers then discuss and consider it in terms of outcomes.

Greater openness, communication, transparency and, above all, collaboration are going to be critical.

What happens to research matters, Black Lives Matter and we must ensure that equality of opportunity is delivered and made real.