Research Policy and Governance Officer | UCL
Dr Magdalena Morawska has a PhD in Molecular Biology from University of Gottingen in Germany, and now works as a Research Policy and Governance Officer in the Research Integrity team at UCL.
11 July 2022
Magda talked to us about her career background, her current role, its highlights and challenges, and also gave some tips for researchers who would like to follow a similar career path.
Tell us about your current role and department.
I am Research Policy and Governance Officer and I work in the Research Integrity team in Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science (LCCOS) within the Office of the Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement). It is a varied and interesting role that requires me to keep a broad overview of the research and policy landscape around research governance and integrity. I develop policy, procedures and guidance relating to emerging research integrity matters. This includes advising senior managers around research governance issues, including research ethics and integrity with regards to general policies but also advising individual researchers on their research projects.
My role also includes influencing and leading developments across the UCL research community with respect to the implementation of regulatory requirements, including organizing and delivering seminars/training for staff and students at all levels on matters related to research governance, ethics and integrity. For example, I have created Overseas Research Roadmap; I have been working on the new Code of Conduct for Research; I organize and co-deliver ‘Introduction to Research Support and Integrity’ training for all PhD students.
How did you move from academic research to your current role?
I have a PhD in Molecular Biology from University of Gottingen in Germany. While doing my postdoc, I realised that although I love science, I didn’t want to pipette any more. I wanted to somehow stay connected to science but in a different capacity. I was also tired of moving cities and countries, and at the time I wanted to stay in London.
I started going to career seminars and learning more about other options. In one of such seminars, we had an editor from Nature Reviews journal come and give us a talk about what she does. It sounded very interesting and I managed to get a one week internship in the journal. That week confirmed that I really no longer wanted to be in the laboratory, but also that working in science publishing could be something I would enjoy. From then on, I started to apply for jobs as an editor in journals. It was not easy but eventually I got a job as an Executive Editor at BioMed Central.
It was in this job that I discovered my passion for ethics and integrity and after a while, I joined the Research Integrity team. I worked in that role for more than three years. While I loved my job, it involved dealing with a lot of issues that would have been much easier to deal with before the manuscript was submitted to the journal. I released that I wanted to go back to academia to help researchers to deal with integrity issues and to train future generations of researchers about research ethics and integrity. I luckily got my job and now I do just that.
What does a normal working day look like for you?
I don’t really have a ‘normal day’, as a lot of my work is project oriented. At any given time, we have a number of big projects happening. I might be doing research into polices or legislations and try to understand how they affect our researchers, or whether as an institution we need to create or revise our policies or guidance. Some days I spend replying to researchers’ emails about matters relating to ethics and integrity or I am in meetings with other colleagues and teams working on projects that cut across UCL faculties/departments. Other days I might be drafting new guidance or delivering training for our researchers.
What are the best things about working in your role?
It is a varied and creative role, and it is never boring. I get to work with academics and professional services staff across the whole UCL. I also deliver a lot of training on research ethics and integrity to both students and staff, and this is my favourite part of the job.
What are the biggest challenges?
Working with academics and professional services across UCL. It is on one hand the most rewarding and interesting part of my role but can also be challenging making sure that everyone is heard, understood and on the same page.
Is a PhD essential for your role? If not, did you find your PhD experience nevertheless useful?
No, PhD is not essential for my role. However, I do find it useful. The fact that I used to be a researcher myself, often helps me put myself in researchers’ shoes and I try to think from their perspective when working on the policies and guidance or training.
There are also a lot of soft skills that I gained during my PhD that come in handy. As a researcher you get exposed to working in international environments, with people from different cultural background and develop useful communication skills for working with different people. Also, all the years of organising and planning the lab work gave me some practical skills like time and project management, especially managing multiple projects at the same time. I also think PhD helped me develop my problem solving skills and a focus on finding of practical solutions for the issues I come across.
What’s the career progression in your role?
While careers in ethics are quite well established, research integrity is still a relatively young area, career-wise, but more and more publishers, institutions and funders create, develop and expand their teams. What is great about this role, as you get exposed to a variety of polices, issues and people, you can develop your career depending on your preferences, e.g., more towards teaching or research management or specific policies. Opportunities are there.
What top tips would you pass on to a researcher interested in this type of work?
Go for it! Interest in ethics and integrity is a must, so brush up on your knowledge in the area, e.g., visit our Research Integrity and Ethics websites. You can learn more about ethics by volunteering as a lay member of ethical committees. When you are ready for the next step, probably the easiest place to start would be in research integrity roles in publishing, these are definitely open to people straight from PhDs.