Bringing Non-Traditional Research Roles in from the Cold

Bringing Non-Traditional Research Roles in from the Cold

The Festival of the Hidden REF

The inaugural Festival of Hidden REF is coming to Bristol on Thursday 21 September 2023. This unique event will bring together policymakers, publishers, and people in non-traditional research roles to explore ways of improving the assessment of research in the UK. You can sign up to be notified about early registration on the Festival website. General registration is free and will open on 3 July 2023.

Founded in 2021, the Hidden REF is a grassroots campaign aimed at securing recognition for non-traditional research roles and practices that research assessment bodies have historically overlooked.

While the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) is open to examining a diverse range of research outputs and the broad interdisciplinary community of people who create them, institutions tend to be conservative with their submissions. As a result, the REF ends up focusing on publications – and the select few academics who are named. Most other members of the vast and rapidly evolving research community – that is, librarians, Research Software Engineers, technicians, lived experience contributors, and countless other established and emerging disciplines – are absent from the picture of UK research that the REF is constantly building and shaping through its assessments.

This chronic oversight constrains the potential of UK research by perpetuating a regime in which recognition fails to reach the individuals and institutions who often carry out the most innovative research.

Recognising this, the Hidden REF was launched in 2021 as a competition, allowing individuals to submit examples of research that fell outside the criteria normally submitted to the REF. It was a phenomenally valuable exercise, garnering attention from major scientific publications, generating a huge amount of online commentary, and even moving one submission reviewer to tears. Having begun as a one-off event, the Hidden REF quickly became a movement, pressing for vital reform in UK research. 

The Festival of Hidden REF is the first opportunity for the members of that movement to gather in one place, exchange ideas, share stories, and collectively plot a more positive way forward for the UK research community.

Taking place at M Shed, an innovative dockside museum space on Bristol’s Princes Wharf, the Festival of Hidden REF is a free one-day event made up of lectures, break-out groups, expert panels, and more. The event will be attended by policymakers from across government and academia, as well as those involved in designing research assessment frameworks in the UK and abroad. 

More importantly, it will be attended by those who have contributed to research without receiving the proper recognition – the hidden roles – either for the contributions they have made or for the potentially valuable outputs they have helped to create. 

If your work falls into any of the categories set out by the Hidden REF–or, more importantly, an entirely new category that we haven’t thought of yet–we hope to see you in Bristol on 21 September. 

The Festival of Hidden REF is an open and collaborative forum that relies on new ideas and perspectives. To that end, a working document will be curated throughout the event, incorporating delegates’ ideas and insights, and eventually disseminated throughout the research community in a bid to bring these ideas into the light. 

Whether you can make it or not, we hope to hear from you. Please get in touch with your ideas and questions. 

If you would like to help with the organisation and running of the Festival of Hidden REF, meanwhile, we encourage you to sign up.

Keep checking the Hidden REF website and Twitter for the latest news. 

And hope to see you in September!

Last chance to celebrate the staff the REF doesn’t reach

Andy Dixon is keen on the goals of the Research Excellence Framework, but joined the Hidden REF because it is both a serious and playful accompaniment to the REF proper, providing an alternative lens through which we can explore the potential future for research assessment.

Read the full article on Research Professional.

The focus of research evaluation on papers and grants excludes far too many vital contributions

Writing in Times Higher Education, Simon Hettrick argues that one of the most destructive divisions in academia is that between those who conduct research and those who are recognised for conducting research.

Read the full article on the Times Higher Education website.

Hidden REF and the importance of software

Mike Croucher writes in the MATLAB community blog about the Hidden REF and the importance of software in research.

Anyone who has worked around academia for a long time will tell you that there are many roles in academic research that are vital-but-unrecognised.  Software development used to be one of them!  Back in 2012, a group of people decided to change this situation and created what has since become the Research Software Engineering (RSE) movement. As I can personally attest, this movement has been a game changer for those of us who contribute most through research software rather than journal writing.  Our place in the academic world now has a name, a career structure, fellowship opportunities, an international association and more.

Read the article on the MATLAB community blog.

Why it matters who seeks to change how we celebrate research: the people behind the Hidden REF

This article is about the Hidden REF team situating ourselves, about not shying away from the fact that we have a standpoint, and about opening up space to widen our view, especially as we move towards constructing assessment panels to judge responses to the Hidden REF. The hope is that this reflexivity can help us to help potential entrants contextualise how we’ve framed the competition and categories such that entrants think of them as capaciously as we hoped they would, even if our descriptions of the competition and the categories narrow towards our perspectives, experiences and knowledges.

Read the article on the Transforming Society blog.

The Hidden REF raised in Microscopists interview with Dame Ottoline Leyser

Dame Ottoline Leyser was asked about diversity, inclusion and the way that research teams are organised during a recent interview on the Microscopists podcast. The Hidden REF raised as an example. Her response highlighted the “extraordinary contribution of everyone in the system”.

Hear the interview on Youtube or via the Microscopists podcast.

The Hidden REF celebrates the whole research ecosystem

The Hidden REF offers all members of the research community the chance to celebrate their unconventional contributions to knowledge. 

The REF comes in for a lot of criticism: it’s big, it’s expensive and it soaks up time that many argue would be better spent on conducting research.

There’s truth to these criticisms of course, but this does not mean that research assessment is unnecessary. In fact, a certain level of accountability is important, especially in receipt of some £11.5 billion in research and development conducted in higher education and government-run labs.

The REF is the perfect system for assessing research yesterday, but research assessment must remain fit for more modern challenges, including the need to align research and society values more closely, and the evolution of how research is practised and knowledge disseminated.

Read the article on the WONKHE website.

UKRI looking for 101 different jobs in research and innovation

The Hidden REF is not alone in campaigning to raise recognition of the diversity of roles that are vital to research. In a recent article, UKRI CEO, Dame Ottoline Leyser, announced a collaboration with the Minister for Science Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway, to find 101 people, doing 101 different jobs that make major contributions to research and innovation, but who are not researchers.

If you are one such person, or work with one and would like to participate in this project please email your suggestion to

Read the article on the UKRI website