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Building a world-class research environment: how we’re prioritising equality, diversity and inclusion

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

28 March 2018

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Cancer Research UK fellows 2016.
Cancer Research UK fellows 2016.

At Cancer Research UK, we support a thriving network of talented researchers. To foster an environment that supports innovation and creativity we are prioritising equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), making sure that regardless of background or circumstance we are supporting the best people and ideas. Here you can learn about the changes that we’re making to help support you throughout your career.

We believe your success as a researcher should be determined by scientific ability and nothing else, so we’re revising our funding culture and practices to ensure that, no matter your background, you have a fair chance when pitching ideas to us. We know that if you aren’t able to follow a career path that works for you, we risk missing out on important talent and the chance to deliver high impact research.

Changes we’re making

The changes we’re making to embed equality, diversity and inclusion in all our research funding activities will not only help increase the diversity of scientists we support but will have a positive impact on how we fund and improve the research culture for everyone.

Inclusive and flexible funding policies

We intend to remove time-bound eligibility criteria for our fellowship schemes, to give you more flexibility when applying to us. The number of years-post-PhD will be replaced with a competency-based framework which will outline what experience and skills you should demonstrate to be suitable for a particular fellowship.

We support part-time and flexible working on any of our awards – as outlined in our flexible research careers funding policies. These policies also detail the support we provide if you need to take long-term leave, including paid, long-term leave for PhD students. 

To embed this change in our decision-making process, we will ask our reviewers to take into consideration any periods of long-term leave when assessing track record, productivity and career progression.

More balanced representation

We’re improving the diversity on our committees and panels as well as ensuring more balanced representation of speakers at our research events.  

Minimise unintentional bias 

Following an independent review, we’re revising our funding decision-making processes to make them as fair as possible. 

To help minimise unconscious bias, we’re developing a new induction process and guidance for reviewers. 

And to improve transparency about our decision process, we’ll be providing clearer guidance for applicants about how funding decisions are made, so you will know what reviewers are looking for.

Broadening research assessment

We’ve signed up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which commits us – and our reviewers – to value all research outputs (read our recent article for more details). 

We now ask applicants to highlight key research achievements and why those achievements are important in the field. This will allow you to demonstrate broader contributions to science, beyond publication record.

Effective career support and development

We run an extensive programme of support through training, events and networking opportunities, to offer researchers great opportunities to develop new skills and form the collaborations you need to be successful.  

We’re working in partnership with our Institutes and Centres to identify training challenges, priority areas and to share best practice so researchers at all levels have the same opportunities for career progression. 

Our Women of Influence programme pairs successful women from business and other industries with our fellows to provide mentorship and guidance. 

Promoting a positive research culture

We’ll use our role as a funder to inspire and encourage our research network to embed EDI fully in their own institutions, with a focus on ensuring a positive and inclusive research culture.

Transparency and continuous improvement

We want to ensure the changes we make and the support we offer continues to be relevant and evolve with the changing research landscape. We are improving the quality of data we collect on diversity measures and will continue to monitor our applicant and reviewer representation, so that we can continue to understand any challenges and the impact of our work.

Why this is hugely important to us

Following an academic career can be challenging, and we want each and every researcher to have the freedom to make the decisions that are right for you, in your career and personal circumstances.

We know there are a mix of complex structural and cultural factors at play, so we’re working in partnership with other funders, institutions and our research community to tackle imbalances and challenges across the science workforce.

We care about supporting the best cancer researchers and funding the highest quality research, and, as a funder, we also care about the culture of research and the way in which science is carried out. We want to make sure that all researchers feel supported and valued, and that you have the freedom to explore ideas within a positive, environment that embraces diversity.

– Iain Foulkes Executive Director, Research & Innovation, Cancer Research UK

We’re confident that by doing more to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, we’re supporting a rich and inclusive community that can accelerate progress against cancer. If you’d like to contact us about our EDI in science work, please contact Sue Russell, Policy & Diversity Manager (Research).