The human side of research

An underexposed topic that deserves more attention

Scientists play a vital role in almost all of today’s challenges. Whether it concerns climate change, poverty or diversity in the workplace: scientists have an important function in both the creation of knowledge and the implementation of this knowledge in society. Science is an unprecedentedly beautiful platform for (human) development: the search for knowledge, the drive to educate people and to make social impact brings motivated, highly educated people together.

On the other hand, over the past decade study after study has shown that research cultures are challenged by high levels of stress and mental health problems, ineffective hierarchies, internal competition, a lack of (social) safety, inclusiveness, productivity, creativity and more.

If we want a productive, healthy, creative and inclusive work culture in science, it is time to take the human side of research seriously. Its upside and its downside.




  • 96% of researchers agreed that wellbeing is fundamental to an effective working environment.
  • Researchers are passionate about their work and proud to be part of the research community – they see it as a vocation, not just a job.
  • 69% of researchers think that rigour of results is considered an important research outcome by their workplace
  • Diversity is considered to be a crucial part of a positive research culture, in terms of both the workforce and the outputs
  • Researchers agree that competition has always been a significant and necessary part of research culture
  • 84% of researchers are proud to work in the research community


  • Only 28% agreed that their workplace wellbeing
    initiatives were appropriate for their needs and 44% agreed that their workplace offered adequate wellbeing support
  • 61% have witnessed bullying or harassment, 43% have experienced it themselves. 37% feel comfortable speaking up, with many doubting appropriate action will be taken
  • 23% of the junior researchers and students have felt pressured by their supervisor to produce a particular result.
  • Only 37% thinks their working environment reflects the diversity within society
  • 78% of researchers think that high levels of competition have created unkind and aggressive conditions
  • Only 29% feel secure pursuing a research career

Source: Welcome. (2020). What researchers think about the culture they work in.

No excuse

What will not work

Too often, there is still the illusion that the human side of research can be maintained simply by agreeing to meet regularly in an informal setting. Other commonly heard phrases are:

  • “My door is always open, so if there is something wrong, come to me.” (PhD supervisor / manager)
  • “We (PhD supervisor/manager) already offer everything, for example a helpdesk to report problems and a manual to deal with possible problems.”
  • “It is not up to me.” (students, PhD candidates, support staff)

What we believe will work

We believe that everyone in the entire chain is responsible for the human side of research, from employee and student to chancellor and CEO. Maintaining and strengthening the human side of research requires to have honest conversations about everyone’s experience in the workplace, no matter their rank. What are the strengths, opportunities and hopes of everyone and where are pitfalls, frustrations, and barriers? These can be tricky conversations that will not easily happen at the bar. Unfortunately, open door policy is not enough to translate these topics into actual improvements in the work culture.

Solve problems before they become Problems

It might feel as if investing in conversations about the human side of research would take more of our valuable time than we can afford. Yet, we should not underestimate the price we pay in the long run if we ignore issues on the human front. Topics that are easily disregarded are scientist/student dropout rates, job satisfaction, productivity, innovation and mental health – just to name a few. These are topics that can develop into serious problems if left under the radar for too long. The good news is that there are places where conversations about these topics take place regularly. It usually takes a little time in the beginning to get this habit going but once everything is installed, people report they lose little time but increase the team’s efficiency and job satisfaction tremendously. It pays off to tackle the problems before they become Problems.

Why us

We have been training research teams and communities, since 2009. We train over 5.000 researchers a year in a diverse range of skills, coach academic leaders, HR and other stakeholders in creating and maintaining healthy and productive research communities and guide teams and organisations towards a more effective organisational culture. Learn more about us….