Bullying in academia: why it happens and how to stop it
Morteza Mahmoudi witnessed bullying behaviours during a series of lab visits following his PhD in 2009, and now studies the topic alongside his role as a nanoscience and regenerative medicine researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing. In 2019 he co-founded the Academic Parity Movement, a non-profit which aims to end academic discrimination, violence and bullying across the sector.
In the seventh episode of this podcast series about freedom and safety in science, Mahmoudi tells Adam Levy that bullying is triggered by workplace power imbalances and is particularly prevalent in academia with its hierarchical structure, often causing targets to stay silent.
Bullying can cause a range of physical and mental health problems, he says. Perpetrators damage individuals, institutions’ reputations and wider society. He outlines steps to take if you find yourself bullied, and how academic institutions can tackle the problem.
Mahmoudi is joined by geoscientist Chris Jackson, who left academia in 2022 for a role at engineering consultancy Jacobs, based in Manchester, UK. Jackson welcomes the fact that bullying harassment and discrimination in academia is now more talked about, but says its root cause is an individual’s inability to put themselves in someone else’s position and identify with their personality and experience.
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How ChatGPT and sounds from space brought a “luminous jelly” to life28:05GUI/GOOEY is an international online exhibition that explores digital and technological representations of the biological world.In the fourth episode of this six-part Working Scientist podcast series about art and science, Julie Gould talks to some of the artists and scientist whose collaborations created exhibits for the event, which ran from March to June 2023.Its curator Laura Splan, an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, New York, says GUI/GOOEY reconsidered how technology affects our understanding of nature and our constructions of nature. She is joined by Diana Scarborough, arist-in-residence in bionanotechnologist Ljiljana Fruk’s lab at the University of Cambridge, UK.Scarborough describes a project involving Anna Melekhova, an inorganic chemist based in Fruk’s lab, which was influenced by an ancient method used in Mayan art to stabilise pigments using clay.Scarborough says the film she produced to communicate Melekhova’s science depicted a “luminous jelly,” included soundtracks from space, and a conversation generated by ChatGPT to symbolise the new material coming to life. “I was fascinated by the movement of this nonliving material. It looked really as though it is a living organism. I could very easily imagine alien species looking like this,” says Fruk, who also talks about how she and Scarborough first started working together.Will Etheridge, a PhD student in Fruk’s lab, also attended the first screening. “It just represented this kind of embryonic substance that was just coming into being and questioning its own existence,” he says.
Scientific illustration: striking the balance between creativity and accuracy23:51In the third episode of this six-part Working Scientist podcast series about art and science, artists and illustrators describe examples where accuracy is key, but also ones where they can exert some artistic licence in science-based drawings, sculptures, music and installations.For Lucy Smith, a botanical artist at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, measurement and accuracy is important, she says.But accuracy can sometimes take a back seat for illustrator Glendon Mellow, who is also a senior marketing manager a life sciences learning and development company Red Nucleus, based in Toronto, Canada.“When I put wings on trilobites, I’m not too concerned. It’s not likely that anything I do is going to suddenly nudge opinions into someplace they shouldn’t go on these fossils,” he says.But what if the science changes? You need 10 to 20 years to be able to look back on data to see whether something’s accurate or not, says artist Luke Jerram, who describes a 2004 project to produce a glass models of the hepatitis C virus. ”You ask the scientists if it actually look like that?” And they say, 'Well, we don’t really know.'”Sculptor and ceramicist Nadav Drukker outlines the challenges of capturing string theory in art, plus other concepts that form the basis of his theoretical physics research at King's College London.Kelly Krause, creative director at Springer Nature, explains how the art displayed on a Nature front cover comes about, and how she and her team aim to strike the right balance between accuracy, creativity and clarity to draw readers in.
The unexpected outcomes of artist-scientist collaborations23:48Artist and illustrator Lucy Smith helps botanists to identify new species. Usually they request a set of drawings, she says, with a detailed set of requirements.But Smith, who joined London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, more than 20 years ago, says: “We also feed back to the scientists and say, 'I’ve seen what you’ve asked me to see. But do you know what, I’ve also seen this? Did you know that this flower has this structure.'”In the second episode of this six-part Working Scientist podcast series about art and science, Smith is joined by other artists with experience of science collaborations. David Ibbett, resident composer at the Harvard and Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says: “By trying to synthesize these different perspectives on what the science means, we arrive at something new.”Diana Scarborough, artist-in-residence in bionanotechnolost Ljiljana Fruk’s lab at the University of Cambridge, UK, says that the best collaborations are long term ones, requiring also curiosity and passion. “Looking at their research from a different angle opens up opportunities. If I can make a difference at that point, that will be superb.”Each episode in this series concludes with a follow-up sponsored slot from the International Science Council (ISC). The ISC is seeking perspectives from science fiction authors on how science can meet societal challenges, ranging from climate change and food security to the disruption caused by artificial intelligence.
Art and science: close cousins or polar opposites?26:13In the first episode of this six-part Working Scientist podcast series, Julie Gould explores the history of science and art and asks researchers and artists to define what the two terms mean to them.Like science, art is a way of asking questions about the world, says Jessica Bradford, head of collections and principal curator at the Science Museum in London. But unlike art, science about interrogating the world in a way that is hopefully repeatable, adds UK-based artist Luke Jerram, who creates sculptures, installations and live artworks around the world.Ljiljana Fruk, a bionanotechnology researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK, says artists can be more playful and work faster, whereas scientists need to repeatedly back up their work by data, a more time-consuming exercise. They are joined by Arthur I. Miller, a physicist who launched the UK’s first undergraduate degree in history and philosophy of science in 1993, and Nadav Drukker, a ceramic artist and theoretical physicist at King’s College London.Future episodes in this series will focus on how scientists collaborate with artists and why their partnerships are so important. It will also feature researchers who, like Drukker, juggle research careers alongside creating art. Each episode concludes with a follow-up sponsored slot from the International Science Council (ISC). The ISC is seeking perspectives from science fiction authors on how science can meet societal challenges, ranging from climate change and food security to the disruption caused by artificial intelligence.
Could new ‘narrative’ CVs transform research culture?31:59Narrative CVs are increasingly being used by funders to capture how a successful grant application will positively impact society and promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Crucially, the narrative format also acknowledges contributions from citizen scientists, local communities and administrator colleagues.UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the largest public funder of UK science, is one adopter. In September 2021 it announced that its new approach would “enable people to better demonstrate their contributions to research, teams, and wider society”.In the final episode of this six-part Working Scientist podcast series about team science, Hilary Noone, research culture lead for the UK Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA), says that to push the boundaries of knowledge, we need to hear from more than just people with a long list of publications to their name. Narrative CVs, she argues, make these other, hidden contributions more visible, and more funders globally should start using them.Nik Claesen, managing director of the Brussels-based European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (EARMA), says his organisation is keen to see greater awareness of the role of research managers and how they support the scientific enterprise. Confusingly, the profession is called different things around the world, he adds.This is the final episode of Team Science, a six-part podcast series that showcases the roles of research managers, administrators and technicians, and their often hidden contributions to the scientific enterprise. It is a collaboration between Nature Careers and Nature Index. The series is sponsored by Western Sydney University. This episode, and others in the series, concludes with a section looking at how it is helping to champion team science.
How to craft a research project with non-academic collaborators34:27In the penultimate episode of this six-part podcast series about team science, Richard Holliman describes a project involving indigenous researchers in Guyana who wanted to limit insecticide spraying without jeopardising the South American country’s efforts to tackle malaria.The early warning system they developed with Andrea Beradi, an environmental systems researcher and a colleague of Holliman’s at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, involved satellite technology, drones and ground monitoring systems.Holliman, who studies engaged research, says members of the wider project team were all paid and listed as co-authors. “That was a really straightforward example of just recognizing contributions from some fabulous people,” he adds. But sometimes, he argues, payment and authorship on a peer-reviewed paper may not be what co-producers are seeking. Instead they may want to co-write a report that would better serve their community’s needs in discussions with policymakers.Helen Manchester, who researches participatory sociodigital futures at the University of Bristol, UK, adds: “For me, there’s a real politics to knowledge production. We really need to be considering all the time when we’re doing our research, to think about our own position as researchers and our relationship to and with other people.”And finally, Lorraine van Blerk, whose project about homeless young people in African cities featured in a previous episode, lists key questions to ask when working with young people in a research setting. “How do we make sure that young people are involved in the research design, in the data collection, and the analysis and impact of data?” she asks.Team Science showcases the roles of research managers, administrators and technicians, and their often hidden contributions to the scientific enterprise, and is a collaboration between Nature Careers and Nature Index. The series is sponsored by Western Sydney University. This episode, and others in the series, concludes with a section looking at how it is helping to champion team science.
“Couldn’t cut it as a scientist.” How lab managers and technicians are smashing outdated stereotypes33:45Elaine Fitzcharles, a senior lab manager at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), says the role is sometimes wrongly perceived as someone who “couldn’t cut it as a scientist.” Fitzcharles and her team oversee five BAS research stations, its main facility in Cambridge, UK, and the research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough. Their responsibilities include advising on health and safety, import licenses, and chemicals and kit can be taken into the field. Their skillsets are completely different to researcher colleagues’, she argues in the fourth episode of a six-part Working Scientist podcast series about team science. “Recognising that everybody brings different things to the table gives you a much stronger organization, and much better science output,” Fitzcharles adds.Terri Adams, a scientific glassblower at the University of Oxford, UK, says speaking up at work helps to promote the contributions of lab managers and technicians: “It pays to ask for investment, to tell people what you can do, and to be proactive in seeking things out and publicising yourself rather than sitting back,” she says.One obvious example of recognition for lab managers and technicians is to acknowledge their contributions in publications. But Devin Lake, a lab manager and PhD student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, has mixed feelings about this. “Some lab managers don’t intend on moving forward in academia, so it doesn’t matter to them whether or not their name is added,” he says.Team Science showcases the roles of research managers, administrators and technicians, and their often hidden contributions to the scientific enterprise.
Culture clashes: Unpicking the power dynamics between research managers and academics36:27Before launching his own consultancy in 2021, Simon Kerridge worked as a research manager in UK academia. “We’re the oil in the cogs,” he says of the role, adding: “Obviously, it’s a service profession, but we have to be careful not to be subservient.”But how empowered do research managers and administrators based in other countries feel, particularly those working in nations with rigid hierarchies, or where the profession is less established?Allen Mukhwana leads ReMPro Africa, a research management professional developement programme based in Nairobi. Some professors don't understand why a “lowly research manager” has the audacity to stop their study for ethical or regulatory reasons, she says. “They feel that research managers and administrators are adding extra layers of bureaucracy to their research.”Tadashi Sugihara, a research manager at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, says a Japanese government scheme to develop the research manager role envisaged that postholders would have a PhD, as he has. Having a doctorate can help build trust between administrators and academic staff as the “customer”, he adds.Kerridge says the research management career pathway is most established in the US, with perhaps three generations from the same family joining the profession. Meeting a project proposal deadline or collaborating on a successful grant application at a research-intensive institution, he adds, will often result in a bottle of wine or box of chocolates from an appreciative researcher. But the pressure on them to increase their research income often results in huge power dynamics, says Kerridge, who cites instances of bullying and of academics setting unreasonably tight deadlines to submit a project proposal.
This alternative way to measure research impact made judges cry with joy31:49The UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) collects research outputs from UK universities and is used by the the country’s government to distribute around £2 billion in research funding. But its focus on publications to measure outputs has drawn criticism. The Hidden REF, set up in 2020, looks at alternative measures. Simon Hettrick, its chair and director of the Software Susaintability Institute at the University of Southampton, UK, explains what can be submitted, and why publications are excluded. Gemma Derrick, a former member of the Hidden REF advisory committee who studies research policy and culture at the University of Bristol, UK, talks about its “hidden roles” category, and why some entries moved judges to tears. Kevin Atkins, who has worked as a site engineer at the University of Plymouth’s Marine Biological Association for 32 years, was highly commended in the category. He describes a typical day, and how his work contributes to the wider research enterprise.Another highly commended entry was Growing up on the Streets, an international co-produced research project led by the University of Dundee, which focuses on around 200 young people aged 14 to 20 across three African cities: Accra, Bukavu and Harare. Lorraine van Blerk, a human geography researcher at the university, explains how six young people in each city were recruited as researchers, and how their roles were recognised and celebrated.