On Researchfish

One of the things I definitely don’t miss about working in the UK university system is the dreaded Researchfish. If you’ve never heard of this bit of software, it’s intended to collect data relating to the outputs of research grants funded by the various Research Councils. That’s not an unreasonable thing to want to do, of course, but the interface is – or at least was when I last used it several years ago – extremely clunky and user-unfriendly. That meant that once a year along with other academics with research grants (in my case STFC) I had to waste hours uploading bibliometric and other data by hand. A sensible system would have harvested this automatically as it is mostly available online at various locations or allowed users simply to upload their own publication list as a file; most of us keep an up-to-date list of publications for various reasons (including vanity!) anyway. Institutions also keep track of all this stuff independently. All this duplication seems utterly pointless.

I always wondered what happened to the information I uploaded every year, which seemed to disappear without trace into the bowels of RCUK. I assume it was used for something, but mere researchers were never told to what purpose.

When I left the UK in 2018 to work full-time in Ireland, I took great pleasure in ignoring the multiple emails demanding that I do yet another Researchfish upload. The automated reminders turned into individual emails threatening that I would never again be eligible for funding if I didn’t do it, to which I eventually replied that I wouldn’t be applying for UK research grants anymore anyway so there. Eventually the emails stopped.

Now, four years later, it seems the software is no better. That’s not surprising as since everyone has to use it on threat of excommunication there is no incentive to improve it.

Yesterday I noticed on Twitter – not for the first time – an academic complaining about Researchfish. It was however the first time I saw this sinister reply from the company that runs the system:

I’m out of the UK system for good, so I can say what I think. To put it mildly I don’t think this response is at all appropriate. Researchfish would be better off trying to engage with the research community to improve its system, especially the awful user interface, than threatening the people who criticize it.

(And there are other software providers, you know…)

Update; unbelievably, with this crass “apology” they’ve made matters even worse!

Update: “ResearchfishGate” has now been covered by Research Professional and the Times Higher.

And now here’s their second attempt at an apology:

Apart from the very weird prose style, I’ve yet to see much evidence for what is claimed in the second paragraph…


7 Responses to “On Researchfish”

  1. I just did mine one last week. It has improved somewhat in that you can import papers from astro-ph, Web of Science etc, so it does make that part of it a bit easier. However you are right in that it is very clunky and it is not intuitive – with the best databases it is generally pretty clear how you do stuff, and the guidelines and help facilities are good. For example I do find the Je-S system for UKRI grant submission good, as are the Royal Society and Leverhulme Trust ones.

    I assume your colleague was not being abusive to ResearchFish staff but just stating that the system is poor? That is not abuse!

    • telescoper Says:

      This is the tweet that started it off. No individuals were abused and it wasn’t even addressed to the Researchfish Twitter account. They must have looked for it.

  2. People are feeling burned out after the covid years: staff as much as the students. Stress can cause non-linear responses. Researchfish has improved as far as finding publications and grants. Not on the other aspects. It is designed for small grants. Doing it for consolidated grants is pretty much impossible, so only the bare essentials may be submitted.

    • John Peacock Says:

      Albert: that’s the point. They have no way of knowing what a full and complete return would look like. In early encounters with the system I concluded it would take weeks of full time work to supply all the details I was being asked for. In all the years it’s been around, I’ve never been aware of the data being used for any concrete purpose – is it any wonder we’re in a state of maximum cynicism about it. But hey, imagine working inside it: spending all your time on something that you know that everyone knows is pointless.

      • I am not arguing for the system… it is bean counting and it goes for quantity over quality. It is what people who hand out the money to UKRI want. For our consolidated grant I tried to get the papers in Anything else seemed ‘optional’. I wouldn’t want to be the person providing user support

  3. […] may remember that about a month ago I posted a piece about the scandalous behaviour of the people who operate Researchfish – the execrable […]

  4. […] may recall that I blogged here and here about a software platform called Researchfish and the heavy-handed reaction response to criticism […]

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