Let’s better recognise and reward ‘team effort’ in research.


A healthy competitive research environment is an outward-facing, open, inclusive place. Of course, it’s a place where researchers are incredibly talented, with the energy, creativity and disciplinary or cross-disciplinary expertise needed to develop new knowledge and understanding of excellent quality, and where researchers undertake research rigorously and uphold expected standards of good practice. But something else is happening too. In an environment that is healthy, as well as competitive, researchers are in regular contact with others, exchanging and critiquing each other’s ideas and welcoming diverse perspectives from within and outside. The culture is supportive and productive and there is a sense of community – more being achieved through dialogue.

This University, in its Policy on Good Research & Innovation Practices, defines research integrity as about how R&I activities are undertaken from start to finish but, equally, about a researcher’s behaviour towards others involved in and/or affected by the R&I activities – being respectful towards others: www.sheffield.ac.uk/ethics

Research is intrinsically curious – researchers’ work is informed and inspired by the research of others and by the world around. This is true for lone scholars and for researchers working in teams – no researcher works in a hermetically sealed environment and necessarily will come into contact with others, and/or require collaboration with others. And, increasingly, researchers collaborate not only in the same discipline or cognate disciplines but at the boundaries of disciplines far from their own disciplinary home.

For many researchers research is intrinsically collaborative and requiring team effort.

But there is a problem – a problem recognised by major stakeholders in research. Whilst collaborative and interdisciplinary team research has really taken off, recognition and reward systems tend still to place a higher value on individual researcher effort – your position in a sequence of authors matters. This matters because individuals supporting team-based research should be credited, acknowledged, recognised and, where appropriate, rewarded for their individual contributions to the team effort. Yet most author sequences don’t clearly explain an individual’s specific contribution to a team effort.

How could things be different?

In 2012 a group of editors and publishers of journals met in San Francisco and developed a set of recommendations now known as DORA –

San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment: www.ascb.org/dora/

Its recommendations include:

  • Encouraging responsible authorship practices and the provision of information about the specific contributions of each author [‘contributorship’]
  • Being explicit about the criteria used to reach hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions, clearly highlighting, especially for early-stage investigators, that the content of a paper is much more important than publication metrics or the identity of the journal in which it was published.

At a workshop in November 2015 major stakeholders in UK research (including Royal Society, RCUK, the Wellcome Trust) called for greater recognition and reward for the contribution of whole teams, in response to the findings of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ report on the culture of UK research: http://tinyurl.com/jjlmdfx

The Academy of Medical Sciences published an entire report on this very subject in March 2015 Improving recognition of team science contributions in biomedical research careers: http://tinyurl.com/zz34pw9

 The 2015 Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management (‘the Metric Tide’) http://tinyurl.com/nvdyuxv

whose findings may influence how the quality of research is assessed in REF2021, states:

‘it is currently difficult to decipher individual contributions by consulting the author lists, acknowledgements or contributions sections of most journals’ … ‘for researchers, the ability to better describe what they contributed would be a more useful currency than being listed as a specific author number. Researchers could draw attention to their specific contributions to published work to distinguish their skills from those of collaborators or competitors, for example during a grant application process or when seeking an academic appointment., This could benefit junior researchers in particular …’

(pages 33-34, the Metrics Tide)

This University’s Policy on Good Research & Innovation Practices contains sections of advice on good authorship and publication practices – it’s worth reminding yourself. Unfortunately every year there are researchers who fall out with each other over disagreements, or misunderstandings, about what constitutes fair credit and authorship – discuss these issues early on. In early 2015 the University ran a workshop Much to be gained – many ways to get into trouble in collaborative research and resources from this are at: http://tinyurl.com/j7ylzkn


ad6resinLet’s better recognise and reward ‘team effort’ in research.