MedSciLife: research culture

What does it mean to have a good research culture? As part of our #MedSciLife campaign, researchers and clinicians share how they support themselves and those around before and through the pandemic. Find out more on our research culture page.


Care for your team

“My lab is like a second family. We spend a huge amount of time in the lab, and ideally I want everyone in my lab to come in, happy and enthusiastic about the day. I don’t want them to feel that they’ve got to work 24/7 and be miserable, or that they can’t take a break every now and then.” Professor Andrea Brand FRS FMedSci, Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Biology, Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge (below)

“I really care about my team; they’re like family. It’s thanks to them that your dreams can come true, so I take them on retreats, I talk with them, and I’m in total awe of them.” Professor Edith Heard FRS, EMBL Director-General 

“The COVID-19 lockdown was hard on the team as we were so used to being together. I had to get creative about how to do activities together in a virtual setting and making sure everyone was looking after each other. When allowed, I did a lot of one-to-one walks – particularly with team members who had recently moved from abroad or lived alone.” Professor Muzlifah Haniffa FMedSci, Professor of Dermatology and Immunology at Newcastle University

“My main message would be to always buy your team coffee (or other refreshments). It seems to work.” Dr Neil Hill, Consultant in diabetes and endocrinology at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, interviewed in the 'Leading your team' section of our COVID-19 support space

Define your own boundaries

“As a student and postdoc, my lab life was also my social life. Part of the reason I worked many long days and weekends in my early career was because I really enjoyed the social aspect of being at work as much as the work itself. These days I prefer to leave work having finished the tasks I wanted to achieve for the day. This way I can focus on other things when I’m at home.” Dr Atlanta Cook, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh

“During the pandemic what we find with home working is work has intruded even more into our home lives that it ever did before, so I've tried to separate work and home in a much more defined way.” Professor Philippa Saunders is Professor of Reproductive Steroids at the University of Edinburgh, interviewed in the 'Stress and overwork' section of our COVID-19 support space

“In the past, I always tried to keep my work and home life separate, but since establishing my own laboratory, my group have become an extension of my family. I involve them in outreach, including at the school my son attends.” Dr Margaret Rose Cunningham, Chancellor’s Research Fellow, University of Strathclyde (below)

Protect yourself

“When I work with infectious patients I live apart from my family because you have to be very cautious. Going home to an empty house is very depressing. When we had the Ebola epidemic I saw a lot of situations where, for instance, a family of 22 - all of them died except for two. So you go home, with those images in your head, and you have to go through them alone. It's like removing your heart from thorns. Lean on your support system - for me it's my husband, my mum, my younger sister, colleagues at work - they'll help you.” Dr Rashidatu Fouad Kamara, infectious disease specialist clinician from Sierra Leone, interviewed in the 'Looking after yourself' section of our COVID-19 support space

“Learn, on occasion, to say no. If you have a keen sense of citizenship within a university setting, and you deliver what you say you will do, you will be asked to do lots of things over and above what your job description suggests your job will be. These activities can be very rewarding and all institutions need good citizens to make the place run smoothly – but it is important to get the balance right.” Professor Peter Brocklehurst FMedSci, Director, Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit and Professor of Women's Health, University of Birmingham

“When I was doing my PhD in London, I managed to get seven papers in four years – I was very productive. But I also managed to almost become an alcoholic. In the end, I was taken aside by the guy whose lab I was in. He said you’ve got a lot of talent, but you’re going to have to change something or you're going to finish up in a really bad place.” Professor Derek Mann FMedSci, Dean of Research, Newcastle University (below

Change the system

“I believe that the way forward when it comes to research is team science. I lead my team in a style that goes against tradition – not ‘one person, one project’ but instead two or three team members co-leading a project, as this brings different expertise to the research. This also means we need a more plural form of recognition from the research output and findings.” Professor Muzlifah Haniffa FMedSci, Professor of Dermatology and Immunology at Newcastle University (below)

“When I hear the words 'diversity' and 'inclusion', they imply charity from a position of power. It makes you feel like one group holds the key to the door - and the whole point of having an equitable society is there shouldn't be a key, the door should be widely open. To me this language is not just semantics: it is the foundation of how I see myself, and how others see me as part of society.” Dr Nisreen Alwan outlines why we need to change the language of fairness in the 'Challenging inequalities' section of our COVID-19 support space

“I worked part-time for 17 years after I had the boys – it was a necessary compromise between professional pressures and our family circumstances. Since I have had a leadership position, I have tried to tackle institutional barriers to flexible working practices, which I believe are largely cultural. Limiting academics only to those who are able to work full-time is in nobody’s interests.” Professor Catherine Law FMedSci, Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology, UCL

Collaborate not compete

“Treat research like a team sport: Always strive to be on the best team, even if it means being the worst player.” Mr Kourosh Saeb-Parsy, University Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Transplant Surgeon, University of Cambridge

“Allowing all members of the team, even those who perceive themselves to be at the bottom rung, to be able to say what they feel about what's going on - be it good or bad -  is really important to make sure that we function our best.” Dr Virginia Newcombe is a Consultant in emergency medicine at the University of Cambridge interviewed in the 'Leading your team' section of our COVID-19 support space

“Most research is collaborative, most clinical work is team-based, and most of us don’t get very far on our own.” Dr Thomas Smith, Head of Aerospace Physiology, King’s College London (below)