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Women in Science

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Video clip: Alison says that for the REF Oxford only includes papers for those who are first, last or corresponding author. This means that collaborative research comes with a penalty.

What about publishing? How did you find publishing in your early career?

I think publishing in my early career was easier because often it was largely me doing the work and then the lab head on the end, maybe with somebody in the middle who’d helped out a bit as well. It was relatively straight forward.

So it was fairly easy to decide who was going to be first author.

There’s always going to be issues. So I had one manuscript I wrote that was then submitted with somebody else as first author after I’d left the lab. These things happen and I was advised by my new Head of Department, ‘It’s one paper in a career. Let it go.’

Mm. So it’s irritating.

And at that time you think, ‘What do you mean, let it go. It’s my paper.’ And I look back now and think, ‘Actually, it was hard to take but it was good advice.’ Actually what I did say was, ‘I want joint first author or I will contact the journal.’ And I did get joint first author.

Oh, I didn’t know they could do that.

Yeah, and I think one of the hardest things with publication now is the way that the Research Excellence Framework works is that here you can only return papers on which you’re first, last, or corresponding author. So whilst the funding bodies and the University are trying to promote multidisciplinary collaboration, there is a huge penalty if you’re not the person who’s actually ultimately in charge of that.

I didn’t know that, for the Research Exercise, it was only the first or the last.

It is because Oxford’s looking for its ranking. So it wants to be up there at the top of the league tables. So they’ve got to be good enough papers and you’ve got to have a good enough position on them and that actually makes life very difficult because you have to negotiate.


And everybody’s in much the same position and I think one of the things that women find particularly hard is that in the end we’re in a scientific career that was set up, I don’t know, fifteen, sixteen hundreds by a very, very small part of the population; upper class white men, and the whole thing is set up to be adversarial. You defend your thesis. Why should you defend your thesis? Why should anybody be attacking you?

Mm. Good point.

Why shouldn’t they be interested in the ideas that you’ve come up with and discussing them to see whether they make sense and you understand and to help you do better science.