We have become enculturated to believe we can’t, whereas – actually – we can.
– Marcus Munafò, Cumberland Lodge (10th August, 2021)
A key component of the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) is its grassroots network of (at the time of writing!) 64 Local Network Leads (LNLs) based across 57 institutions. Composed of action-oriented and self-organising researchers, LNLs play an important role in supporting transparent and reproducible scholarly practices within and outside their institutions. In its commitment to build and strengthen this community of LNLs, the UKRN hosted their first annual LNL Summer Retreat, which we – Drs Samuel Westwood and Emma Norris – attended as LNLs for the University of Wolverhampton and Brunel University London, respectively.
The retreat took place at Cumberland Lodge, a truly unique venue, nestled in the sleepy and serene Windsor Great Park. Since 1947, Cumberland Lodge has functioned as an educational retreat where societal issues can be discussed with open dialogue and debate, and between 9th-11th August 2021 it was home to 12 LNLs from across the UK. The two and half days saw a diverse programme with a central aim of facilitating open discussion, collaboration, and career development. Its co-organisers – Malcolm Macleod, Marcus Munafò, Nadia Soliman, and Daren Bowyer – facilitated a series of engaging and interactive seminars and group discussions. These covered leadership as applied in promoting research integrity; grant writing, including how to identify funding sources in meta-research, prioritising one’s workload, and developing collaborations; and finally mentoring, which focused on senior and junior academics learning from each other’s perspectives. A particular highlight was the after-dinner virtual talk by Dr Helen Munn, Interim Chair of UK Committee on Research Integrity – CORI, an inspirational speaker who painted a promising picture of the future of reproducible and transparent research in the UK. Another highlight was on the last day, where we were asked to write postcards to our future selves, with messages about goals we want to achieve 6 months from now. We all eagerly await the post to reflect on how far we have come, and to hopefully relive our special time at Cumberland Lodge.
We left Cumberland Lodge refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose, which we attribute to three aspects of our time there. First, with limited working hours and bandwidth, it is inevitable that our time as a LNL can come at a cost to something else, usually our career progression in environments that may not reward or recognise our efforts as a LNL. The Summer Retreat focused on developing our career, with plenty of discussion on how to thrive in an ecosystem with misplaced incentives. Second, as LNLs, we can feel isolated and unsure of whether we’re doing too much, too little, or even the right thing – a problem worsened by the dislocating effect of working remotely during the pandemic. The Summer Retreat was replete with breaks and opportunities to discuss with other LNLs, allowing time to vent and to decompress, to feel validated and reassured, and to build long-lasting support networks. Third, and above all, there was a strong sense of community and collective effort. In the true spirit of Cumberland Lodge, the Summer Retreat created an environment that was refreshingly democratic, where there was a free and open exchange of ideas that sought to guide the future strategic objectives of the UKRN and to highlight the support we need. In an academic environment dominated by hierarchy and relentless focus on the individual, it was a rare joy to see academics from diverse backgrounds and at different career stages working towards a common and equitable goal.
We both agree that this was a highlight of our academic career so far, so we’re delighted that the UKRN plans to hold future retreats. These retreats may differ in time and location, and/or be delivered online and in-person, in an effort to be more inclusive and accommodating. We encourage all LNLs to attend one of these future retreats. We both have made new friends, gained new insights, and have renewed energy after a period where we’ve felt burned out and often isolated. Make sure to save the date when the next invite comes around, you won’t regret it!
Written by Dr Samuel Westwood and Dr Emma Norris
About the authors
Dr Samuel Westwood is the co-Local Network Lead at the University of Wolverhampton, and formerly King’s College London, where he set-up the RIOT Science Club and the King’s Open Research Group Initiative (KORGI). Follow Sam on Twitter: @westwoodsam1, www.samwestwood.com
Dr Emma Norris has been the Local Network Lead at Brunel University London and established Brunel’s Open Research Working Group since summer 2020. Previously, Emma helped establish UCL’s ReproducibiliTea with Dr Jessie Baldwin and Dr Tabea Schoeler. Follow Emma on Twitter: @EJ_Norris