Intended for healthcare professionals


Team research must credit individuals, says Academy of Medical Sciences

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 16 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1584
  1. Matthew Limb, freelance journalist
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. limb{at}

The Academy of Medical Sciences has warned of a threat to “team science” if individual participants in biomedical research projects do not get the credit they deserve.

It said that talented researchers could drop out of science, abandon research, or shun major scientific collaborations if their contributions were not recognised.

The Academy published a report on 9 March that recommended new ways of acknowledging and rewarding researchers’ contributions.1

Anne Ridley, who chaired the working group said, “We need team science to be attractive to talented researchers or it will not develop.”

The report is said to be the first to examine the issue of team science from a career development perspective. It said that collaborative and multidisciplinary research was likely to play a growing role in biomedical discoveries.

Projects like the human genome project and UK Biobank have brought together researchers with a range of specialist skills from different institutions, often across different countries. But academic reward and recognition systems have failed to match the growth of team working, the Academy said, and researchers were not adequately supported or encouraged to take part. Researchers had few incentives to join team based research efforts because there was no appropriate system to assign credit for contributions.

The report said that currently the “track record” of researchers was based on whether they had first and last authorships on academic papers, and if they were a lead or principal investigator on grants.

“If we don’t find a better way to acknowledge and reward everyone’s contributions, great team discoveries may be more difficult to achieve,” Ridley said.

The Academy said that academic recognition must embrace a “fundamental change.” All research outputs and grants should include “open, transparent, standardised, and structured contribution information.”

For team science grants, funders should phase out any requirement for a lead or principal investigator, and list all applicants as co-applicants.

The Academy said that funders need to develop and publish clear criteria for co-applicant status.

It also said that researchers, funders, and publishers, in recording an individual’s contribution, should adopt ORCID as the standard identifier for researchers.2

The contribution system should recognise what researchers with specialist skills provide to research outputs and “a clear career path should be laid out for them to retain their expertise.”

Other recommendations in the report touch on the need for more flexible funding schemes, as team science projects have different needs, and management and leadership training in team science skills.

Bob Burgoyne, a member of the working group, said, “Academic recognition must change and provide better information about the contributions of individual team members.

“There is a need for a structured and uniform way to record information on contributions, a system to record this information needs to be developed and phased in, and it needs to be consistently used by researchers, employers, and funders.”