A better culture for better research

Cat Ball is a FLIER participant and Assistant Director of Research and Innovation at the Scottish Funding Council. We asked her what she has learned on the FLIER programme and her hopes for the future.


Q: What issue in health research do you want to take on and why?

A: One area that I'm particularly passionate about is research culture. When you talk about challenging culture I think it resonates with a lot of people who've spent time in academic research. There's a feeling you have to ‘put up’ with things. But why does it have to be like that? Surely those conditions aren't conductive to generating the best ideas, sparking the most creativity or fostering the innovation that comes from the inclusion of different viewpoints. Many research funders are increasingly interested in culture, and it feels like we're at a juncture. I'm keen to support the university research system, particularly in Scotland because that's the focus of my role, to adapt to make the most of this focus and support long-term change.

Q: What have you done differently as a result of FLIER?

A: I think it's fairly safe to say that I lean into my values as a leader and manager more. I've also definitely backed myself more thanks to the support and coaching from FLIER. I’m more likely to look for opportunities to take forward initiatives and ideas now, and feel more comfortable in going for them.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: Honestly, it's the classic 'don't care so much about what other people think'. I’d also tell myself how much value there is in making mistakes. Glib as this sounds, I’ve come to realise that they are fantastic opportunities to learn. If you're not making mistakes then you're not taking enough risks.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of research?

A: I would really like to see research become less siloed within government and more connected to addressing national challenges. It's almost cliched to say it now, but the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the power of science and research and what can happen when the strength of the research base is focused towards a uniting goal. When we look to the climate crisis or our ageing population or numerous other big societal problems, it's exciting to think about what could be done if such an approach was emulated. But all too often, research doesn't get the opportunity to flex its muscles fully. I'd love to see governments fully harness research, bringing in the public as part of the process. And, for health research particularly, that's linked to meaningful and large-scale patient and public involvement.


Dr Cat Ball is a participant in Round 2 of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ FLIER programme, a unique programme that will develop leaders of the future who can create collaborations across academia, industry, the NHS and government to drive innovation.

The FLIER programme is generously supported by the Dennis and Mireille Gillings Foundation and the Government Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ‘Investment in Research Talent’ fund. You can find out more about our funding model and explore our donors here, or visit our Support Us webpage to explore ways to help our work. 

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