Professor Niamh Fitzgerald

Professor Niamh Fitzgerald

Institute of Social Marketing and Health, Faculty of Health and Sports Science

Role: Director of ISMH/Professor of Alcohol Policy

Research interests: I specialise in mixed methods evaluations of natural experiments in alcohol policy including complex interventions like public health engagement in alcohol licensing systems, increasing availability and consumption of no/low-alcohol drinks, and changing late-night opening hours for licensed premises. I am particularly interested in policy processes, policy debates and the governance of commercial interactions in science.

Why do you think a positive research culture is important?

A positive research culture provides mutual benefits for researchers and institutions by supporting and enabling everyone to deliver to their full potential. It saves energy for what's important - creative thinking about solutions to serious problems and where research can make a difference - instead of that energy being drained in interactions and processes that are demotivating or undermining.

What aspects of Research culture are most important to you?

A positive, encouraging, supportive atmosphere is so important - where successes are shared and celebrated even if small, and people are supported through inevitable rejections. Where everyone is happy for each other’s successes and is keen to share credit with others.

I think it’s important that we start from a point of respecting and valuing people as they are and their contributions, whatever their strengths and weaknesses. It seems obvious, but all of our work is delivered by research teams, not individuals, and so it’s vital to instil an open, collaborative and collegiate culture in teams where people look out for each other.

Can you give an example of an action you have taken to improve research culture?

As we are research-intensive, we are not all on campus as much as we used to be, and so we have introduced a quarterly team meeting which is in person only and enables us to get to know each other and each others' work and to take strategic action that will improve our culture and ways of working in future. We've only had the first one but we set up three little committees to work on communications, social/space, and our carbon footprint in between the quarterly meetings. These are largely led by colleagues who are not senior in the team and already contributing to shaping important aspects of our work and working life.

What is something that you personally would like to do next to improve research culture?

Not sure... it's all a bit exhausting/daunting sometimes! I think our culture is already pretty good and it's hard to be constantly thinking of new things. We need research culture improvements to come from the bottom up, not just me as a senior colleague. We will have the opportunity to discuss this further at the next quarterly in-person meeting of ISMH.