Are you a dedicated follower?

I played ‘follow the leader’ a long time ago as I suspect we all did. Since then I’ve given the followers not a single thought, so I very much enjoyed a recent session in my Leadership module (Edinburgh Napier online MBA) where they were discussed.

“I’m Following” by Alan Levine (Public domain). Available:

What we are talking about here are followers in the context of leadership, and how they both interact in what is termed ‘leader-member exchange’ theory (LMX). This idea was developed in the 1970’s and a more detailed overview of its history and application can be found here in a paper by Green and Uhl-Bien (1995).

So we spend a lot of time thinking about leadership, and we may spend less time thinking about the perspective of those in our teams and their relationship with us. The LMX theory helps us understand these dynamics, and also why we might act in certain ways with our own leaders. We’ve all experienced rebels in the team, formation of a clique (‘in-group’) who have a close relationship with the leader, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced being more marginalised (‘out-group’). These are all explained by the theory.

I think what is interesting is the groups perceptions of each other, and I’m sure these resonate with us; in one study the in-group perceived the outs as “incompetent, silent and introvert” whereas the outs viewed the ins as “responsible, competent and hardworking” (Singh and Rukta 2018). So in any of our roles as team members or leaders, it could be useful to reflect on the dynamics and relationships that are playing out, and how we can go about working more effectively.

From my brief delve into this, many of the solutions boil down to increasing openness and trust within a group, sharing challenges and responsibilities, and setting a more level playing field generally. I think you naturally see more of this in work places today where structures are less hierarchical and teams might be organised around projects rather than departments, and with the dispersal of the strong power dynamics that are built-into hierarchies naturally gives rise to more open and sharing cultures.

It reminds me a little of open education practices, and that learning was richer when the power relationship (teacher-learner) was taken away and both groups co-produced the teaching learning experience. I think that’s where the magic really happened. The same is desirable in leading others where you’d hope that opportunities are equally delegated, people’s voices are equally heard (please pay attention to your introverts), and team members feel empowered to lead.

One limitation of the theory and its derivatives is it focuses on the face-to-face, and rather like online learning, it is assumed that everything merrily transfers to remote or digital working. Extra sets of guidelines, contracts between teams (whether they are working on business projects or are learning together), and taking time to build relationships are all an important start.

Good leaders need to guide and shine the light on the path ahead, but they should also understand the dynamics between themselves and their teams, to fully allow each and every one to do their awesome stuff. We should be less obsessed with leadership and focus on what makes for happy, fruitful relationships.

Keywords to look up:
LMX theory (leader-member exchange)
TMX theory (team-member exchange)

Graen, G. B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1995). Relationship-based approach to leadership: Development of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: Applying a multi-level multi-domain perspective. The Leadership Quarterly6(2), 219–247.

Singh, J., & Rukta, N. (2018). Attitude of In and Out-Group Employees and Leader Member Exchange. International Journal of Engineering Technology Science and Research5(3), 441–445.

Sustainable research – or not?

Having a fantastic time on my MBA with Edinburgh Napier, and this week we’ve been discussing authentic and sustainable leadership. I got to thinking how within organisations, sustainability is more often applied to supply chains, but I could find little about how we can develop our research departments, or R&D more generally in a sustainable manner.

I found this paper by Gayle Avery and Harald Bergsteiner a useful start. It talks about different modes of sustainable leadership – the Honeybee or the Locust. The Honeybee representing practices that are more collegiate and open, and the Locust perhaps more traditional and hierarchical. I think this can be applied to R&D as a starting point to consider elements and practices that are sustainable – or not – within organisations.

animal bee bloom blooming
Photo by Pixabay on

Why is this important to me?

  • R&D is cost – labour- and resource intensive and therefore likely to have a significant impact. R&D investment can be anywhere up to 10% of turnover, and for big industry therefore several £ million per year.
  • My research partnerships at Pukka Herbs span 20+ universities, and I’d like to know the impact of them on the ‘triple bottom line ‘ Planet, People and Profit.
  • I’ve had a go at applying some of my research approaches to Gayle and Harald’s framework by looking at ‘foundation elements’ which I prefer to call goals.
Studentship recruitmentProactive in recruiting women scientists and from diverse student bodies (Inclusive language in adverts, sharing to diverse groups)I feel this is being achieved with students from around the globe, and from diverse background. I could always do more
Partnership developmentProactive in seeking diverse organisations (e.g. not from top university Mission groups); proactive in working globally where possibleAchievable for many projects, but not where specialist knowledge or techniques are required. For commissioning labs, it isn’t always easy to gain the information to make this judgment. Ease of shipping of herbs/products for testing also a determining factor
Developing students All students are supported to speak at conferences and publish (will cover registration fees, publishing fees if required); introducing science communications training in 2021This has been a great success and enables students to participate where they would not have university support. As we grow, I’ll probably need to set some parameters
Valuing students and partnershipsValuing the partnership and the people; supporting them where possible with wellbeing goodies and giving access to our online learning
Long-term perspective We are transparent about our mission and longer-term goals, and that our relationships aren’t just about commissioning researchThis is paying dividends with relationships now deepening with some partners
Sharing our company visionAll students/partners are introduced to Pukka’s philosophy and foundations; students company inductionsScope for deeper discussions how some of these elements can be embedded more within university research teams; quite a superficial stance for now

But this isn’t quite what I’m looking for

There are also higher-level goals that are useful, particularly when reflecting on my approach to knowledge exchange and openness:

Knowledge sharingFrom Day 1 our Pukka Research adopted Open Science approaches to be transparent and encourage knowledge sharing and accessibilityProbably one of our strengths given my background in Open Education; interesting that society and science bodies now all call for this; we publish under open licenses where possible and share all our data and workings openly for our own research; we need to bring partners on board!

But what I’m looking for now, is more of a technical framework to help me think about:

Use of plastic materials in laboratories #PlasticFree

Resources and consumables

Waste disposal

More sustainable methods such as in silico modelling (computer modelling, big data)


I have all the time in the world…

…to publish in an academic journal.

I’m so thankful to the #FemEdTech community making this call to Journal Editors and Editorial Boards to support women in publishing at this time. This was in response to the observation that there is a drop in submissions from women contributing to academic journals at the time of the COVID-19 crisis, and that women…

“Take on more of the emotional labour of caring and pastoral support, labour that is rarely acknowledged or rewarded in the same way as research outputs and publications“.

My observation from recent experience is that the academic publishing could do an awful lot to help everyone by making the process more accessible and efficient. My main message is – submitting to journals is a horrendous experience. (Oh. I’m not in academia by the way, but I need to publish as part of my job). I can’t imagine the pressure that female academics and those with caring responsibilities must be feeling right now trying to home work pandemic work.

Assumed level of experience and technical support

I’m not part of a university of big research centre. I have no support to understand open access, how to navigate publishing systems and how to overcome the many technical hurdles. I’m slightly staggered at the stressfulness of the process, and assumed luxury of time and that technical support must be available to everyone.

Why no standard procedure?

Why isn’t there standard guidance for authors? I can understand Publishers wanting to maintain their own identities but why on earth when you’ve gone to the trouble of producing and openly sharing 4 sets of data, does one Publisher wish the open datasets to be listed at the end and the other wishes to include them as references? I couldn’t get that to work through my reference manager and spent time having to reformat 110 references. (Estimated 4 hours).

Why no standard citations and referencing?

It is just ludicrous that each Publisher has its own preferences and conventions. Why do I have to understand instructions on how to go into Mendeley and code a change of a round bracket into a square one? I couldn’t believe the time it took to go in and do extra coding, looking for the YouTube tutorials, and then finally succeeding. Then reference manager citations and reference lists always have to be double or triple checked. Numbered reference systems are prone to mistakes as you aren’t able to easily visualise what reference should go where. Recoding, reformatting and rechecking reference lists endless times? I always appreciated why students found referencing so stressful. (Estimated 3 hours).

Rapid article turn around or “I cannot be arsed reading your abstract’?

I submitted a meta-review (which is the type of research you do where several systematic reviews exist on a subject) to two journals. This research has taken me and colleagues nearly two years. It is extensive. Detailed. Precise. Four datasets. Two Editors just responded with the identical comment “why didn’t you do a systematic review?” My answer should have been “why didn’t you read my cover letter and abstract explaining why that is inappropriate and why we did the research in the first place?” I’m quite perturbed as to why separate journals made the same feedback, both failing to have read the rationale for the article or covering letter. Is there a central database of contaminated and unwanted articles?

And cover letters. Why?

This was a new thing for me entirely. Even the guidance for writing the covering letter is quite an extensive list of points to consider. Is there some cryptic clue that you need to include? I remember a bunch of us writing our PhDs would include a rude word in the middle of the dissertation just to show examiners didn’t read that thoroughly. And they didn’t. Placing basic information in the letter is clearly not getting through. I concluded these were a complete waste of time. (Estimated time 1 hour per submission).

And the submission process.

Admittedly on submitting to one journal I must have been exhausted at the end of a long Friday and the kindly Editor wrote back with 7 things I had missed – including uploading Figures, re-arranging the order of authors, placing the declarations before the acknowledgements, including my shoe size, and including an additionally signed checklist buried within the lists of instructions. And then the joy of creating an account. I can fully understand the need to create an account to submit to the online system. But for Elsevier this took ages and after trying two use two of my email addresses, I ended up setting up a completely new email address in order to create an account so that my Elsevier account could connect with EVISE. Why? (Estimated time 2 hours).

And recommending reviewers?

I can’t quite get my head around this one. I simply listed people I knew. This can’t make for a robust process surely? Clearly people who are part of large research teams can ask for reviewers from other large research teams. Probably an area where male researchers are quite advantaged from having access to stronger networks. The fact that you are required to submit reviewers shows how overburdened the system is I guess. (Scurrying round the internet for emails and addresses, 30 minutes).

So back to the #FemEdTech request:

An article first published at FemEdTech highlights that women, people of colour, early career researchers, precarious employees, and those on lower pay grades are routinely required to carry an invisible burden of emotional labour in providing care and support for students and colleagues”.

This is such an important point at this time, but I might, add at all times. Might this be the time for some permanent changes? Women always have to over-prove themselves to compete for opportunities and promotions?

  • Of professors, 26% were female in 2017/18. This has increased by one percentage point year on year since 2013/14.
  • Academic staff employed on other senior academic contracts comprised 36% females in 2017/18. This has gradually increased from 33% in 2013/14. (

Females also tend to be part-time and presumably juggling many different personal and professional activities.

  • Female staff accounted for 48% of full-time staff and 67% of part-time staff in 2017/18. (

Females are less likely to be reinforced by the presence of each other in publishing communities.

  • Females Are First Authors, Sole Authors, and Reviewers of Entomology Publications Significantly Less Often Than Males. (

We end up being told that our lack of success equates to a lack of confidence, forgetting this is reinforced at an early age by teachers who support boy’s and penalise girl’s behaviour. At secondary school my headteacher used to call me ‘granite faced’ because I kept a stern face and tried not to cry – if I was a boy I”d probably have been called strong and resilient:

“Unsurprisingly girls in general get ‘progressively more silent in class and experience an associated drop in self-esteem’ ”

From Caroline Criado-Perez “Do It Like A Woman”  quoting The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyar in 2003, p261

As we try and resolve one level of inequalitywe create more. This is a travesty.

There is a management phrase – “don’t be a busy fool”. The publishing industry and the entire academic structure assumes people have all the time in the world. We surely should all be able to contribute and be part of a system that freely exchanges knowledge for the betterment of human kind. And our careers shouldn’t depend on it.

If you want to go far, go together.

It seems that if you are a researcher based in industry these days, you are in a tricky space. You may have spent a career contributing to research that you may have believed to be valuable, but that may not be how others see you?

Alan Levine “Let’s walk this together” Flickr CC-0

Having transversed from academia to industry (7 years), to academia (15 years) and back to industry (going on 2 years), I can see the benefits and limits of being a researcher in academia and industry from both sides. What I think is disappointing, is the closing down of conversations that I’ve experienced recently. That isn’t just disappointing; I think it is worrying from the perspectives of having a good old fashioned healthy debate.

But industry is biased!

I completely understand that published articles that are sponsored by industry are problematic – and have concluded such in a poster recently the need for more non-commercial research in some areas for a more balanced evaluation of available evidence. The pharmaceutical industry has withheld important results in the past with actions that are morally questionable. Publication bias from commercially-sponsored research is higher than that funded by other means.

I’d would add that publishing is problematic full stop. Journal editorial boards have favoured the publishing of positive results for far too long, and I once myself tried to publish negative findings on the use of fish oils on inflammatory bowel disease, and had a paper regarded ‘not novel’ enough. Two years of postdoctoral research was unpublishable.

Authors declare conflicts of interest which helps readers weigh-up the limitations and potential biases of any paper, although I also know of academic researchers on systematic reviews who have not fully declared their funding origins on published articles. The system is a mess.

To dismiss all industrial research as biased and unworthy is a worry; we would encourage our students to be healthily critical and weigh up the evidence before them, not dismiss all research outputs at point blank range.

So why are industrial partnerships encouraged?

Most governments encourage university – industry partnerships. The UKRI benefits from co-investment from industry, and along with other philanthropic and charity partners; this totalled around £500 million in 2019 for universities. I don’t see universities turning the money away because it was unscrupulously derived from company profits. A university nearby to me didn’t think twice at trying to hose an event for military arms dealers on their campus.

The value of these partnerships of course is in the sharing of expertise, resources and providing university students with career-enhancing and enriching opportunities. The Office for Students in 2018 endorsed the need to “encourage even greater collaboration between universities and business” … for the benefit of student employability.

Enough said.

How about academic bias?

While I’m here, and having worked in public and private sector, I would suggest academia is not perfect either. Academics are pressured by the system to aim for high impact journals and anser the question “are you REF-able” at interviews, and the professional reward structures perpetuate this. Many have argued the system is not fit for purpose. I’ve also seen it written that the net societal impact of university research funding and the advancements to humanity are much slower than one would expect.

Let’s not go into retractions, plagiarism and the fact that a great chunk of research in some academic subjects is not reproducible anyway.

So I’m not having a go – I’m just saying that academic research structures aren’t perfect either and does not command the moral high ground.

What to do about research?

  1. Joober in 2012 writes about a system that needs to change with more journals encouraging negative results and:

    “Divorcing the publication process from all financial constraints (and hence the tyranny of the impact factor) would go a long way to help negative findings emerge from the dark recesses of researchers’ data books into the light of publication”.

2. Let’s cut the crap! Let’s cut the quantity of scientific publications. I spend a vast proportion of my life writing systematic reviews, and a recent one has identified duplicate reviews in many areas that were practically identical to each other. Journal editors and review panels need to be far more scrutinizing. Detatching research outputs from league tables is greatly over-due.

3. Open science. There are some great initiatives these days encouraging the sharing of protocols for systematic reviews #Prospero; #ALLTRIALS encouraging the publishing of all clinical trial data; #OPENSCIENCE and #OPENDATA initiatives encouraging the sharing of data and research workings.

I would stick my neck out and say again this needs to be policy-driven and mandatory for all research. Open access publishing should not just viewed as another hurdle that academics have to jump through to be REF-able (in the UK). 

As an researcher from within industry, I don’t have to comply with any of this, but me and my company choose to do so. We share data openly on #Figshare, I contribute to open reviewing, I can’t afford Gold open access publishing routes, but fully encourage university partners to share pre-prints via their repositories.

We are all in it together, aren’t we?

I might have been your last academic collegue. I might be your next one (you are in for a treat). I know so many people who move between academia and industry, and from an educational perspective this is a huge asset to learning and teaching. It seems disingenuous to quarantine researchers whilst they are in industry and invite them to give their souls just because they join academia.

Most researchers I know – wherever they are situated – are driven by the passion for what they do, by wanting to achieve their best, and for the most part, wanting to share their knowledge with others, which includes supporting enthusiastic learners.

Aren’t we facing some quite big global problems?

The world is approaching crises – whether we are discussing the peril of our natural environment, antibiotic resistance, or the unsustainable nature of our food sources. I was at a recent conference where a panel were discussing “planetary health” and the need to bring multidisciplinary teams of biologists, nutritionists, ecologists and agriculturalists together. In the next breath it was argued that they didn’t want to involve industry. We did not have the right business models. The speaker clearly did not have any understanding of the nature of many businesses today, for example, the growing number of B Corps that balance business and profit (over 3000 companies across 64 countries, and growing). The Guardian joined them last week.

It seemed ironic that in most of the university courses that I’ve taught on  – nursing, healthcare science –  we used to drum home and have entire modules on interdisciplinary working, and the need to work together across boundaries. Build onto that, the need for diversity in decision making. I was surprised at this event to have the doors shut to me regarding conversations about nutrition and people’s health by people who will be teaching classrooms of students next week.

My plea

“Open your hearts and open your minds” said the wonderful poet Lemn Sissay. Let’s understand each other’s differences. I’ve seen before the dangers of closing down conversations before they have begun. You might just find people from different sectors with similar values and hopes.

After all it is said:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.