A new survey has revealed the impact the research environment has on the levels of  stress and mental health issues experienced by researchers, which RSB chief executive has described as a real cause for concern.

The survey, developed by the Wellcome Trust, saw more than 4,000 researchers share their experiences of research work culture, including experiences of harassment and bullying, stress levels, mental health concerns, toxic behaviour, discrimination and exploitation.

The survey found that 78% of respondents think that high levels of competition have created unkind and aggressive conditions, whilst nearly two-thirds have witnessed bullying or harassment, and 43% have experienced bullying or harassment themselves. 

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Four out of five felt that high levels of competition was detrimental to their workplace environment

Just one in three feel comfortable speaking up, with many doubting appropriate action will be taken as a result, whilst over half of respondents have sought, or have wanted to seek, professional help for depression or anxiety. 70% of the researchers surveyed said they felt stressed on the average work day.

78% of the respondents were from the UK, and 84% worked in academia. 

Dr Mark Downs CBiol FRSB, chief executive of the RSB, commented on the findings: “The RSB is deeply concerned by these findings.

“We continue to work together with other learned societies to champion resilience and wellbeing in the biosciences and broader STEM community; systems that value good research practice will have good outcomes aiding people and the planet.”

Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, commented: “These results paint a shocking portrait of the research environment – and one we must all help change.

“The pressures of working in research must be recognised and acted upon by all, from funders, to leaders of research and to heads of universities and institutions.

“As a funder, we understand that our own approach has played a role. We’re committed to changing this, to foster a creative, supportive, and inclusive research environment.”

The RSB works alongside other organisations such as the Science Council,  Athena Forum and the STEMM-Disability Advisory Committee, to support the development of an inclusive and supportive working environment.

The RSB has published a number of reports on workplace culture – the 2019 report ‘Technicians: Providing frontline and vital support for student health and wellbeing’ was published in collaboration with a number of sector leaders and offered recommendations to increase the support for the technical workforce.

The RSB is developing a suite of activities under our #BiosciencesForAll initiative on inclusivity and support. Please get in contact if you want to discuss these issues via email.