Recently Diane Hird, the Local Network Lead (LNL) Community Project Coordinator, met with LNL Dr Sarah Gunn to learn more about open research activities at Leicester.  This blog is the result of that conversation. A huge thanks to Sarah for her time.

Dr Sarah Gunn is a practicing clinical psychologist who has recently moved into academia. She is a lecturer in the School of Psychology and Vision Sciences where she teaches undergraduates, clinical psychology trainees, postgraduates and also intercalated medical students. Sarah continues to work clinically in the NHS and in the third sector. Sarah first became interested in open research when she attended a conference about the replication crisis, which opened her eyes to the scope of the problem.

Open research is not well-known within clinical psychology, which makes Sarah’s teaching work so important. She is also part of Leicester’s School of Psychology and Vision Sciences open science group, that focuses on delivering undergraduate teaching in open research within that School. The group is enthusiastically supported by the Head of School, Prof Kevin Paterson, who was one of the early adopters of steps towards open research in the department. Sarah has found that students and trainees enjoy learning about open research – it’s especially fun when she elicits gasps of horror when talking about the replication crisis, as context for why we need open research. Students email her afterwards asking for links so they can learn more. Her clinical trainees are interested in research transparency and sharing an accurate narrative, to support good clinical practice. Open research can help here because it gets data and preprints into the public domain, so that people have the opportunity to draw their own conclusions.

Sarah believes that a big part of her LNL job is to make open research feel accessible and achievable for everyone. She draws on her therapy training to promote change and motivate people to try new things – to show people that they don’t need to be a technical whizz, or brilliant on R, they can still make changes that will create more robust and replicable research.

Recently UKRN invited Sarah to chair an interdisciplinary discussion as part of a webinar on Only Good Antibodies.  Sarah found it interesting to chair a discussion about lab-based biological work, that was outwith her area of expertise. It was also an opportunity to meet new people within the University of Leicester working in different disciplines, who are creating change in open research.

Open research across the university  

Leicester are part of the UKRN Open Research Programme. The previous Institutional Lead (IL), Prof Mark Purnell, created a strategic leadership group on open research, now with current IL Prof. Richard Thomas.  The group includes library staff, researchers and Sarah in her role as LNL. They have worked as a team with an animator to create an open research animation, introducing teaching and research staff to the fundamental principles of open research, and outlining steps they can take to get involved. Sarah is now working with library staff to present this at departmental meetings across the university, and discuss how it applies to their particular discipline. More broadly, the university strategy is building compliance with open research into its processes, for example aiming to include it in recruitment processes.

Open research events

ReproducibiliTea: There is a very active ReproducibiliTea club at Leicester run by Dr Samantha Tyler, who started it during her PhD and continues to run it alongside Dr Mahmoud Elsherif, Helen Walters and Billy Church. Recent sessions have included a presentation by Dr Marta Mangiarulo on hyperprolific, hyperfamous authors, and a session on reporting checklists by Billy Church. Another highlight was the recent visit by Charlotte Pennington to speak about her new book on open science.

Open Research Forum: This initiative brings postgrads, PhDs and both early career and senior researchers from across the university together, including library and teaching staff. Events aim to be positive and motivational – no matter what discipline you are working in, there are steps you can take to improve your open research practice. The Forum is community-led, with attendees voting on topics for upcoming seminars in the series. Recent examples include a researcher who collaborated with library staff to ensure they were able to share data on tribal communities openly and ethically, and workshops on adoption of open research tools. There are also showcase events where people give a quickfire pitch about their work and how they integrate open research practices. Seeing examples of the different approaches colleagues have taken helps others to consider which aspects of open research practice could work for them, and to start taking positive steps to improve the robustness, transparency and accessibility of their own research. The focus is always on the idea that any small positive steps are a win, rather than aiming for perfect research from the beginning. This helps to encourage people new to open research into taking a first step, or getting more experienced people to try new things.

The Forum has been running for a year. There is a mailing list newsletter, and they also include content in departmental newsletters and advertise events in the university-wide bulletin. A member of library staff manages a Teams channel. As a result it’s difficult to gauge how big the local network is because people are being reached through these different channels, but it is growing all the time. It always feels like a particular win when students ask to join, because they’re learning the good habits early that many of us only came across later on.

The LNL role

Sarah has integrated a lot of her LNL work into her teaching content and role, with a particular focus on bringing open research to clinical psychology and medical students. She likes the idea of supporting researchers in these areas to contribute to a high-quality evidence base, which helps to underpin good patient care. She has also worked with the library to put together a programme on information governance in line with open research for clinical trainees – what to do with data, what data flow may look like, where to store data, and general data management planning. This has had real positive impacts on trainees’ understanding of these key issues in responsible research.

Sarah was one of the LNLs who attended informal LNL online catch-up meetings. She found this unstructured chat space really useful, offering an opportunity to speak with other LNLs who had experienced challenges and were able to offer advice to push the open research agenda at Leicester. Even simply receiving positive validation from fellow LNLs that ‘it’s hard, but keep going’ was valuable in the early days of building the Leicester local network.

Sarah would welcome the creation of a regional LNL group, bringing several LNLs and their networks together. This could provide opportunities for LNLs to meet in person, and put on joint events with a larger potential audience. She has also enjoyed recently getting more involved with UKRN central activities, such as supporting with an in-progress working paper for the group and acting as a stakeholder rep for UKRN to the Horizon iRISE (improving Reproducibility In SciencE) project.

Hopes for the future…

At a local level Sarah would love to see preregistration being standard practice for students, as an achievable next step. She plans to try this with her clinical trainees and if it goes well, for this to be rolled out as a model more broadly at Leicester.

Sarah would also like to see journals and publishers taking more responsibility for promoting open research practices, alongside the grassroots work being done by researchers and UKRN. She believes that if institutions and publishers place more focus on open research, this will in turn support researchers to do better and advance the open research agenda more rapidly.