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Researchers need recognition for team science

Posted on 21/03/2016

Universities, funders and publishers of research do not adequately value the contributions of individuals who participate in “team science”, particularly those at the early stages of their research careers, according to a new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences.

The Working Group responsible for the report was chaired by Professor Anne Ridley from the Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics. The report is the first to investigate the issues with Team Science from a career development perspective, and finds that there are few incentives for researchers to take part in collaborative work as there isn't an appropriate system to assign credit for team contributions.

As Team Science becomes more common, the report highlights the need for urgent action to address this lack of credit, which could lead talented people to drop out of science, abandon research or avoid participating in large collaborative projects.

Professor Anne Ridley said: ‘We need team science to be attractive to talented researchers or it will not develop. At the moment the track record of researchers is based on whether they have first and last authorships on papers and if they are a Lead or Principal Investigator on grants.

If we don't find a better way to acknowledge and reward everyone's contributions, great team discoveries may be more difficult to achieve. 

The human genome project would not have been possible without a large team of scientists from different countries and across disciplines working together. But team science is not just about global-scale efforts, it is also about collaborative efforts within universities and across institutes in the same country.’

The Working Group recommended several ways in which improvements to how contributions to team science are recognised and rewarded so that they are not disadvantaged compared to the single Principal Investigator standard. To overcome one of the fundamental issues of team science - how to record an individual's contributions to research, the report recommended funders and publishers adopting ORCID as the standard identifier for researchers. Scientists providing a specialist service should also be included in this contribution system, as they are rarely fully acknowledged for their contributions to research outputs, and a clear career path should be laid out for them to retain their expertise.

Other recommendations highlighted the need for more flexible funding schemes, as team science projects have different needs, such as travel and training, and often need longer timescales to produce their results.

The report concludes that researchers should be offered training in team science skills such as management, leadership or conflict resolution, and that these skills should be considered and recognised in grant applications.

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