Recently Diane Hird met with the two new LNLs at Queen’s University in Belfast, Dr Joost Dessing and Bethan Iley, to learn more about their work and open research at Queen’s. This blog is the result of that conversation. Huge thanks to Joost and Bethan for their time.

Queen’s excels at public engagement and science communication and there is lots of participatory research within local communities. Open research support is delivered by the Open Research Team within the Library. Their main page provides a single point of guidance and access to a wide range of open research support services available to everyone engaged in research across the university. Their remit has recently changed to include data sharing and transparency alongside open access. The Graduate School also provides optional postgraduate training on data management plans and open access.

LNL Joost Dessing has been a lecturer in the School of Psychology since 2012. In his previous lab he saw research procedures that he felt were not ideal and he knew that if he were ever to have his own lab he would commit to doing open research. He now does, he has, and he ‘hasn’t looked back’. Joost admits that his research is not yet fully open, for example it takes time to learn open source code and integrate this into research projects.

LNL Bethan Iley is a final year PhD psychology student, researching conspiracy theories and why people believe them. She first became interested in open research during the statistics lectures delivered by fellow LNL(!) Roger Giner-Sorolla as part of her Masters course at the University of Kent. A positive reminder of the lasting impact a teacher can have on their students.

ReproducibiliTea journal club

The previous LNL at Queen’s, Gonçalo Rosas da Silva, set up a ReproducibiliTea journal club and he was shortly joined by Bethan and Joost. The meetings were initially held online but post-pandemic are now in-person. It’s a space where researchers from all fields, and from any career stage, can relax and discuss reproducible practices and open science and scholarship.

Bethan successfully applied for postgraduate school funding so there were finally able to provide tea and biscuits. She circulates the schedule of ReproducibiliTea events to the main admin contacts in all schools across Queen’s for them to pass on to postgraduates and staff, and it’s mainly PhD and postgraduates who attend. They usually get 16 – 20 sign-ups and 5 – 10 people turn up. Joost hopes that central advertising will increase numbers and bring in researchers from other schools. As a permanent member of staff, Joost provides long term stability for the club if there isn’t a PhD student running it. Recently he applied for longer term support from Queen’s Research Culture Agility Fund. Interestingly the application was initially declined and they were advised to reapply with a ‘more ambitious’ application i.e. ask for more money – a lesson there for us all. Queen’s Research & Enterprise Department has subsequently committed to provide central support the ReproducibiliTea event and its promotion.

In addition to her LNL activities, Bethan works with the Framework for Open and Reproducible Research Training (FORRT), where she was a team lead and now provides operational support.

Open Science Work Group

Although Joost is a huge advocate of open research his was one of the few labs at Queen’s using open research practices. And because ‘when you make noises you are going to be given a task’ the Head of Department invited him to set up Open Science Work Group to provide opportunities for staff to engage with open research. The group have created open science guidelines for their school and organise events and initiatives, they report to the Research Committee. The working group now has 10 members who are all available to offer help to researchers trying open research practices, such as pre-registration or making data available. This is a slow process, simply because colleagues are busy and even if they know about open research this doesn’t mean they will engage with it.  Joost would like to see all schools within Queen’s set up an Open Science Work Group and to learn from each other, share guidelines etc. He is only aware of one other school currently doing this.

A key initiative of the Open Science Work Group was to create an open research white paper to be considered as part of Queen’s 10 year strategy because this did not explicitly mention open research. The paper was well received and led to the creation of a central Open Research Group that guides support for open research practices. Their main focus is support for transparency, the onus on reproducibility or replicability lies more with researchers themselves.

Joost encourages others not to reinvent the wheel, a university may not need to create their own space for data, they can use existing capabilities such as OSF or Figshare to store data. The university will provide support but researchers and academics need to take steps to become robust researchers themselves. Joost cites the University of Utrecht withdrawing from the Times Higher Education league table as an example of standing up for that they believe is right, of leading not simply following. Their Open Science Programme is university wide and the underlying ‘intrinsic motivation is science itself, not policy or guidelines’.

Reviewing paper submissions for REF

Psychology are discussing how can they make REF paper reviewers aware of how open research impacts research quality. For example, the Open Science Work Group believe that a registered report should be given a higher ranking.  Currently it’s not known what the guidance for reviewers will be and the concern is that this type of criteria may be lost during review process. Joost suggests this could be a discussion topic for the LNL community. How are they tackling this challenge? As a grassroots network, LNLs have the power to feed this information up, to influence decision making around REF paper reviewing.


Queen’s offers some open research teaching, for example Joost’s Research Skills module. In an ideal world there wouldn’t be separate lectures on open research because all science teaching would be open research teaching. Within Psychology an upcoming review of both under- and postgraduate teaching will offer opportunities to increase open research content. For example, they have upskilled staff to using R before integrating it into teaching programmes. The review will also consider how to implement pre-registration and data sharing for all research projects. However these are school initiatives rather than institution-wide ones. Joost hopes that these initiatives can be used as a model for other schools.

In general students are interested in learning about open research and see the value of it. However, the reality is that even with them on board, not all students may find that their final year project supervisor already fully engages with open research for thesis projects. Robustness is one of the marking criteria however only really engaged students will actively say to their supervisor I want to pre-register my thesis. An indirect benefit of implementing pre-registration for research projects as a requirement is that supervisors will need to know how to do this, thus lowering the threshold for using such practices in their own research.

Bethan’s open research

Bethan has structured her PhD thesis to be as open as possible, she has pre-registered her studies and makes all her materials and data open.  She finds it frustrating when fellow PhD students say they know open research is important but just don’t have the time to do it. PhD supervisor support is critical here. Bethan’s supervisor, Dr. Ioana Latu, has been incredibly supportive but other students don’t necessarily have that experience. Joost thinks that Bethan is the odd one out, in a very positive way(!) If all PhD students were initially shown how to share data, particularly FAIR data sharing, they could set up their folder structures and use code in a way that makes data sharing very straightforward – literally drag and drop. This initial commitment on how to organise work makes it much easier later on, and students can upload data in parallel to their other work.

Open research in teaching versus research

Interestingly, academics are usually happy to implement teaching practices driven by the Education Committee but there can be reluctance when it affects their research practices – ‘no-one can tell me how to do research, it’s my research’. This seems to affect engagement with open research.

From Bethan’s perspective there appears to be inertia in embedding open science practices into teaching. Her fellow students want to see evidence that open science makes a difference before implementing it themselves. She is only aware of one review of the outcomes of teaching reproducible science, a paper by Madeleine Pownall et al. that Bethan is an author on, which concluded that there is currently not much evidence. Bethan believes that universities and funders need to do more pedagogical research on teaching open and reproducible science. ‘The lack of evidence is really painful at the minute’. She asks if UKRN could pull together educators to do pre-post studies across a few universities that could then be scaled up.

Joost thinks that if we agree that we need to do open research because it results in better quality, more robust research, then we don’t need to wait for an evidence-based reason to deliver open research-based teaching. Bethan agrees but believes that this is not the way most education researchers think, they want to see evidence that teaching open research leads to increased awareness and uptake of open research practices.

Grassroots Local Network

Joost believes it’s important for students to see fellow students driving open research activities such as ReproducibiliTea, that is, it researcher-led rather than institution-led. The grassroots nature of events is very important in creating a good rapport with students and young researchers. So although Queen’s will in future offer central support to promote open research events and initiatives, Joost is keen to ensure that the LNLs and the Local Network remain grassroot led.

The grassroot nature of local networks is also their weakness. The culture change required to embed open research takes time and there can be inertia at all levels. LNLs are not senior management people, and perhaps if VCs for Research of all institutions had the same mindset as LNLs, then open research would advance much more rapidly!

LNL regional groups and meeting up in person

Queen’s is part of the NINE DTP which links Northern Irish PhD students with those in North East England for online activities. However for in-personal regional meetings with fellow LNLs, it would be simpler for Joost and Bethan to link up with LNLs in North West England, a ferry ride away. Hopefully the various Community Project activities planned for 2024 will make this a reality.