Enhancing Research Culture: 2021-22 projects

We're committed to investing in our research culture, and last year funded a range of exciting projects to make our environment more open, inclusive and supportive.


About the research culture funding

In 2021-22 we received over £800,000 from Research England's Enhancing Research Culture funding to invest in developing our research culture.

We were delighted to fund 35 projects from across all five faculties, professional services, the National Technician Development Centre and the Centre for Equity and Inclusion.

Projects focused around three key themes (with some overlap):

  • Open research
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Career development and community 

Below you can find an overview of all the projects, as well as contact details of project leads. 


Bringing inclusivity to children’s (oral) health research

The project developed patient- and participant-facing resources (of different formats and languages) aimed at children with different dental diseases and conditions.

Resources were developed with extensive involvement of children and can be used as ‘templates’ for other similar resources developed in the department, faculty, University and NHS Trusts in future.

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Prof Zoe Marshman and Sarab El-Yousfi

Building an enriched co-productive research environment in the South Yorkshire region

The project established a network of community partners with whom the Healthy Lifespan Institute (HELSI) can share its work and engage on specific topics for advice.

The project enabled organisations across South Yorkshire to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from HELSI’s work, and developed a small group of organisations able to conduct closer working relationships with HELSI, and contribute to research agenda setting and insight.

We also developed an external-facing newsletter and additional social media sources through which to promote HELSI’s work. 

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Prof Tony Ryan, Prof Alan Walker, Prof Ilaria Bellantuono, Dr Liz Williams and Dr Sarah Alden

How can we improve inclusion of men of black African-Caribbean ethnicity and men from socio-economically deprived backgrounds in the management of the negative impact of prostate cancer treatments on musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and metabolic health?

This project has provided a great opportunity to build up and strengthen the partnership we have with the Sheffield African Caribbean Mental Health Association.

We provided a platform to develop more inclusive research with black men from the local community. By having community researchers from their community run the project, it encouraged the building of trust.

This has resulted in a great response to the project, for example, a good number of recruitment in a short period of time, and lively and productive discussions during workshops.

Activities from this project are published in the EMRI (Ethnic Minority Research Inclusion) newsletter.

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Prof Janet Brown and Dr Qizhi Huang

Building understanding of gender equality challenges within research

The project has developed a customised database designed so that those new to challenges can quickly look up potential partners, advisors or further information about gender equality (eg relevant journals).

This reduces some barriers for those wishing to access information about sensitive subjects and also includes discipline-based indices. Moreover, researchers who may not have considered gender in the past now have a doorway to learning from those with lots of experience and expertise.

All of the activities highlighted areas that need further exploration and we have the start of a roadmap for further research endeavours where we can make a real-world difference.

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Prof Patricia Cowell and Dr Melanie Knight

Inclusive practice in modern slavery research. A critical network of scholars, practitioners and organisations working with survivors

A network event for the project provided an avenue for impactful discussions among diverse individuals, community organisations, policymakers and funders, which raised a number of barriers and enablers to develop a supportive and positive research culture. All participants agreed that EDI in the modern slavery field should be an ongoing discussion.

For us at ScHARR, the project has provided us with an opportunity to form a strong collaborative team of researchers from different backgrounds and organisations, in which the visibility of our commitment will be highlighted. 

As a result of the project, we have strengthened our affiliation with modern slavery and human trafficking research centres and created a strong research team. Together, we contested in a call for research on EDI in the modern slavery research sector, which was successful.

The project also created a network of diverse researchers from different backgrounds and expertise.

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Dr Liz Such and Habiba Aminu

Equal, diverse, and inclusive primary care research delivery

This project has initiated and deepened collaborations between the University of Sheffield and key external organisations within the research ecosystem. The project has facilitated collaborative work into equal, diverse, and inclusive research delivery using data-driven approaches, to target populations via the 105 primary care sites in the city.

We have created the PRiD3 tool (Primary Care Data, Demographics, Development) using geospatial mapping software, linking to national high-quality databases, to map demographic features of interest in the city such as ethnic group, deprivation and disease prevalence. The tool is available as a service for research design and research delivery projects.

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Dr Jon Dickson

ECR networking events

The project established a network via a series of events with lunch where senior staff present and discuss, as part of the ECR champions’ approach to building a community for their department. The initial event received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both ECR staff and senior staff members. In particular, the approach taken to focus on what more could be done by senior staff to support ECR staff was praised. 

All of those who gave feedback intend to engage with future events, helping to establish the network and build a supportive research community over time. This will facilitate the sharing of issues which can then be shared with management, as well as opportunities for networking and collaboration, fostering strong, ECR-led research.

The Dean and Deputy Dean have offered to engage with our follow-on programme of networking lunches to ensure both bottom-up and top-down communication of ECR relevant information. We have also begun a process of linking ECR staff with mid-career researchers for mentorship and support.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Jen Lewis, Madeleine Henney, Ellie Holding and Jennifer Read

A survey of research career stability in the UK

The project team constructed an online survey focused on identifying challenges and wastage within the academic career pathway within the UK.

People are lost at critical career transition points, or there is a large amount of time spent training new individuals or finishing other people’s research projects. This is a very inefficient process which inhibits research output. The main barrier is short term research funding. This leads to loss of talent and promotes a negative/competitive culture focused solely on success rather than collaboration.

The team is sharing the data at department and faculty level to identify support needs and developing plans for engaging with research funders.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Dr Chris Toseland and Dr Alison Twelvetrees


Inclusive Speech Analytics (ISA)

The project outcomes (special session, paper, talks) will serve as a small catalyst to bring EDI issues in this area to the forefront.

This will help make the research apply less biased approaches and data but will hopefully also pave the way for more inclusive, general research practices.

The aim is to publish a set of good practices, for example, collecting new data and how to avoid common biases in this area.

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Prof Heidi Christensen

Developing positive research cultures for Engineering PGR students

Following the pandemic, there was concern about the isolation and loneliness PhD students had faced and unwillingness to come back on-site after spending so much time being remote.

A session was developed to provide an opportunity to talk in-depth about the opportunities for change, and what can be done to improve our research culture with a view to collecting ideas and potential actions to move us towards the desired culture. Some of the issues raised at the event will influence the planning of the upcoming PGR Induction programme, such as a structured training programme to support their learning and skills development through the PhD.

The event also helped to launch the Engineering PGR Student Committee which aims to provide events to help build a social environment for PGR students to meet. This will help to provide the opportunity to overcome the feeling of loneliness and isolation PhD study can lead to. 

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Eunice Lawton and Dr Monica Latham

NICS: Network of Inclusive Computing CentreS

Our project initiated the process of developing a network of research-active Computer Science organisations to foster a more inclusive environment within Computer Science departments in the UK.

The project team established visited centres of expertise at universities in the US and established a line of communication with each. We initiated the idea of setting ourselves up as a 'sibling network' in the UK, enabling us to sit in on their quarterly project meetings and explore joint ventures in the future. We are currently exploring opportunities with White Rose members at Leeds and York.

Our department has also recruited an Inclusive Computing Lead to help develop the Sheffield Centre for Inclusive Computing, to directly feed into actions and make our discipline more inclusive.

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Dr Neil Walkinshaw

Equality, diversity, and inclusion in the research environment: a perspective from a global community

The project involved an international conference where staff, students and industry members had the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences and learn from a group of experts the different approaches of EDI.

Another activity involved collaboration with a member of the railway industry and plans for the Creation of a Centre of Excellence based on EDI.

The next stages of the project involve developing and establishing a globally-recognised and collaborative partnership between academia and industry, with a focus on not only improving the research environment but making Materials Science and Engineering a unique place to study, work and plan a professional career. 

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Dr Edgar Barajas Ledemas and Prof Gwen Reilly


Writing retreat for underrepresented groups in Biosciences

This project funded a four-day/three-night ‘research retreat’ for women and other underrepresented minority groups in Biosciences. The retreat provided participants with four days of uninterrupted time and ‘headspace’ to work on a paper, grant application, or other piece of writing or analysis. 

The writing retreat received mostly positive feedback in terms of allowing participants to carve out time for desk-based research activities that would have been completed sporadically. The four participants were able to write a grant, complete a manuscript, and complete outstanding journal papers. 

All participants reported positively on having the opportunity to spend time with research colleagues they would not usually see very often, this led to two of the participants forming a new collaboration and exploring future grant ideas. 

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Claire Mangham, Prof Colin Osborne and Prof Katie Field

Social Sciences

Open research 101: A primer for Social Science PGR students

The project developed a short introductory video about open research, aimed at PhD students in the Faculty of Social Sciences. The video provides a useful and accessible introduction to open research for new and existing PhD students within the Faculty of Social Sciences, and potentially other Faculties.

This will support the University’s goal of achieving research excellence, and aligns well with the University position statement about open research. It is important to include open research training material early in a researcher’s career in order to develop key principles related to research integrity and ethics. 

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Dr Jim Uttley


Open Research primer video
Open scholarship in qualitative and humanities research

The project has led to the establishment of a network of leading academics who have an interest in and relevant expertise related to the application of open research for qualitative research methods.

The project has also produced a number of discussions that have highlighted key issues that will be summarised in a position statement on open science principles within qualitative and humanities research.

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Dr Jim Uttley

Promoting a sex worker-inclusive research culture at the University of Sheffield

The project has resulted in the University now being the institutional home of the Sex Work Research Hub, a well-established international research network that connects academics from the UK and beyond with sex workers, support projects, and other key stakeholders.

The project produced a good practice resource for researchers at the national and international level in the form of a report, which adheres to the FAIR principles and promotes research integrity, open research, and ethical practices around academic engagement and knowledge exchange.

A sex worker inclusive policy is in draft and aims to foster a university-wide culture that supports the inclusion and enabling of an underrepresented group, with a ‘sister’ policy passed by the Student Union in May 2022.

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Dr Laura Connelly

Enablers and barriers to developing an inclusive research culture across the social sciences for Early Career Researchers (ECRs)

Through a series of focus groups, the project has increased awareness of the experiences and the thoughts that ECRs in the Faculty of Social Sciences have on the enablers and barriers to fostering inclusive and diverse research practices

Issues identified included precarity of contracts, the role of the PI in supporting an inclusive research culture, top-down approaches and ECR career development and progression. Focus groups also identified a number of enablers to an inclusive and diverse research culture, including Departmental and Faculty support for ECRs enabling them to take the initiative, the provision of ECR mentorship in departments and research centres, and institutional support and funding.

One proposition discussed was the creation of an ECR mentor within departments who were assigned to and could help guide ECRs. These mentors would be (permanent) members of staff who had fresh experiences of what it was like being an ECR and so could readily relate to the difficulties and challenges of being an ECR.   

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Dr Sarah Torsner and Dr Tom Buckley

How do research collaboration networks promote research excellence culture: benchmarking, outreach and research support

Our findings show the configuration of publications networks (in terms of seniority, institutional background and interdisciplinarity) and locates existing research excellence and disciplinary leadership within the Faculty.

Primarily the project provides initial data on research networks and inclusion in these networks across the Faculty. For staff, the benefits of having this data stem from a greater transparency of our current research collaborations and the ability to visualise their place in a wider research community and network.

Looking at how our research clusters, centres and units interconnect with each other within the department and across the Faculty and university, there is a real sense of how interdisciplinary we are as an institution. This visualisation helps to provide tangible evidence of such a claim.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Dr Sabrina Thornton, Dr Chay Brooks and Dr Nerea Okong'o

Post-Covid research culture revitalisation in the Department of Politics and International Relations

The project's Research Group events and the staff-PGR event have helped to develop a greater sense of research community, and in particular to provide colleagues with opportunities to get to know and learn about the research of those who joined the department (both staff and PGR) during the pandemic.

The activities also led to concrete plans for all five Research Groups, tailored to the needs and wishes of the members of each of those groups, including the development of new formats for Research Group meetings in 2022-23, new and more regular informal sessions for some groups, a decision to focus strategically on work-in-progress sessions and strategically-chosen invitations to external speakers.

Given the pluralism of the Department, sub-disciplinary Research Groups are central to departmental research culture and the fostering of a productive and supportive intellectual environment.

We anticipate that the new connections and decisions made by Research Groups through the funded activities will have a significant impact on improving buy-in for Research Group activities, and on the effectiveness of the sessions they run in the new academic year.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Prof Simon Rushton, Prof Ruth Blakeley and Prof Kate Dommett 

Excellence in inclusive research on care through international collaboration

We held a two-day event in Sheffield at the end of June, attended by Centre for Care (CfC) team members, international CfC collaborators from four European universities and University of Sheffield staff interested in the work of the CfC. The focus was on inclusion, equality and diversity, and on enabling under-represented groups to benefit from and participate in research.

The CfC team learnt about work done by our international collaborators, learnt from TUoS colleagues and non academic partners about co-production, participatory research and policy engagement. Early Career Researchers made new connections, locally, nationally and internationally.

This project has formed a culture of openness and engagement where academics and non-academic partners are working together to share knowledge and resources to deliver impact. The event facilitated sharing of research methods, datasets, toolkits and expertise which are being embedded into research plans. 

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Prof Sue Yeandle, Dr Kelly Davidge and Becky Driscoll

Inclusive research culture principles, matrix and network of networks

The project has included a wide range of stakeholders who have been invited to join a network and be informed of ongoing work and opportunities.

In addition to the technological considerations associated with hydrogen, the project has reached out to other Faculties to promote cross-disciplinary engagement and reduce/remove barriers to participation.

The project drafted an overview of inclusive research principles at different stages in the research proposal development process.

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Prof Lenny Koh and Dr Melanie Knight

Ecosystem enablers: supporting individuals and communities of researchers

The project team conducted a survey of research cultural factors that enable or constrain research, and specifically whether factors relate to different levels of the university structure and/or the internal and external academic social hierarchy.

A number of recommendations were listed,  such as the need for more informal meeting places, physical spaces/events for networking, better support for interdisciplinary research, ensuring research centres and leaders are inclusive and supportive, and broadening from a too-narrow REF focus of what research counts and gets support.

The University of Sheffield is recognised as being a 'good brand' that provides support in a human-centred way and holds research as part of the culture of the institution, which led some to state that they are proud to say that they work for the University. 

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Prof Don Webber and Dr Steven Pattinson

Arts and Humanities

Global socio-economic rights: Sheffield in global historical perspective

The project fostered stronger bonds between Sheffield and external partners in the public sector, including a branch of Sheffield City Council and the archives at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

We developed a review of relevant sources at the ILO Archives, ethics clearance and questions for oral history interviews on our subject, interviews and transcripts, a review of relevant digitised sources for our research, a series of posters for an event to disseminate the findings of our project, and a large grant proposal that will feed into a number of significant outputs that have drawn on this research.

Project theme: Open research 

Contact: Dr Julia Moses

Healthy people, healthy research: Improving research productivity via well-being

The main aim of this project was to increase research productivity and improve well-being by working with colleagues to reimagine the research environment and change how individuals feel about and undertake their research activities.

We have established a new weekly ‘lunch’ series to provide opportunities to discuss current research with colleagues, monthly peer-support groups to help set and achieve research goals, and increased engagement in research support meetings. More generally, the project has improved the sense of collegiality in the department. 

We found that many of the factors affecting research culture are not linked to research at all – they concern general workload, time management, emailing, marking practices, the unequal demands of pastoral care and opportunities to socialise with colleagues in a relaxed environment.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Prof Emma Moore and Prof Jane Hodson

Deepening the culture of interdisciplinary collaboration on issues with societal relevance

The project activities included a workshop which increased networking and connectivity between researchers in Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences.

The project improved insight into working with underrepresented groups, promoting their voice, stories and needs, and challenges and opportunities associated with it.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Prof Renee Timmers and Bronwen Ray

Building a research agenda in a context of stress and time pressure

The project involved one-to-one coaching of targeted mid-career academics. 

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Prof Lauren Rea

Regenerating the research culture of research centres after Covid-19 and supporting longer-term (5-year) strategic planning

The project developed activities to support research centres and groups within the Faculty of Arts and Humanities: 

  • Music, Mind, Machine and SPARC (Music): A joint away day with researchers from different career stages and sub-disciplinary areas to discuss themes related to the enhancing research culture agenda. 
  • MARCUS (History, English, Archeology): A workshop for postgraduate students to increase engagement with the research centre and the research area of pre-modern history, including exploration of how the postgraduate community can get more involved. 
  • SEAS: Hosting of an external speaker and delivery of a workshop on visual ethnography with the goal of enhancing our skills, reaching new audiences and developing more participatory and inclusive research practices.

After the pandemic, these activities have contributed to boosting the vibrancy of the research centres, promoting the integration of ECRs in the centres, and planning ahead for the coming years of research centres.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Prof Renee TimmersBronwen Ray, Prof Stephanie Pitts, Dr Charlotte Steenbrugge, Dr Danica Summerlin, Dr Jane Rempel and Dr Jamie Coates

Research Services and Library

Open research practice

The project activities included an Open Research Roadshow, the inaugural OpenFest, open innovation and permissive licences report, an established open research working group and coordination with national projects.

The work has highlighted that open research requires adaptation across different disciplinary contexts, but the principles (and support available) are in common.

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Dr Tom Stafford, Dr Adam Partridge and the Library Scholarly Communications team.

Discipline-specific guidance on FAIR data

The project developed checklists explaining how to make data and software FAIR in pilot departments, and created a series of FAIR case study videos.

Project theme: Open research

Contact: Rosie Higman, Library Scholarly Communications team


Published article: Supporting FAIR Data Management Planning Across Different Disciplines at the University of Sheffield

Researcher Development Team piloting programme

The project has allowed a number of programmes/sessions to be piloted that we have previously wished to develop/run but didn’t have the resources.

The sessions were in the areas of developing women’s research careers, research leadership development and supporting careers of researchers.

A series of videos have been produced of researchers/research support staff discussing their hopes for the implementation of the Researcher Concordat.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Dr Lucy Lee, Research Services

Teambuilding day to develop leadership and management skills

The project piloted two sessions on team development and leadership into a one day off-site course. The pilot demonstrated the usefulness of a team building day for staff that provides the opportunity to develop team and leadership skills to improve the research culture and support their career development.

It was suggested that it would be a good idea to provide this on a research group basis to help them bond together. This would also provide the opportunity to clarify the team's goals and how they contribute to these, increase collaboration for the future and develop healthier behaviours.

The session will be offered as part of The Researcher as Manager programme

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Eunice Lawton, Research Services

National Technician Development Centre

Technician Survey

The NTDC has collaborated with the Technician Commitment Survey Team to develop and launch a bespoke Technician Survey aimed at all technical staff at the University of Sheffield who are supported by the Technician Commitment.

The survey will help to identify upcoming skills gaps amongst the technical workforce at the University of Sheffield. This will benefit not just the university, but also technical staff, for example, when identifying staff requirements for upcoming research projects.

It will also help to identify staff currently working within the university who have skillsets which may be applicable to future projects too - offering potential career development for individual staff too.

The data from the survey will feed into the University’s Technician Commitment, which will in turn help to develop and nurture visible and effective career pathways to help support technical staff.

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Sara Bacon, Jared Carnie and Jake Green

Technician Perception Project

This project looks to diversify the recruitment into technical careers by highlighting the barriers to technical careers perceived by young people. In helping fill the gap in the technical sector currently being experienced within HE, this project will contribute to a bettering of research culture by helping to reduce overworking.

Activities included designing and building a survey for University students on their perception of technical careers. Alongside that, focus groups were designed and are being run with pupils in schools and colleges from the local area. 

The project has found that young people have extremely little knowledge of technical careers, HE institutions are not viewed as employers, and instances of negative treatment in the workplace have impacted university students perception of technical careers

This knowledge can be used to evidence the need for outreach and recruitment programme for technical careers. 

Project theme: Career development and community

Contact: Jake Green

Centre for Equity and Inclusion 

Review of racially equitable partnerships between the University of Sheffield and local community organisations

In this project we reviewed existing research that examines university partnership work with racially marginalised organisations in the UK. We also conducted interviews with the Centre's partners to discuss their experiences of university partnership work - the challenges, the successes, and possible solutions- and compiled resulting information into an accessible report that will inform the Centre's policy and practice. 

Over the next three years, the Centre for Equity and Inclusion will be funding knowledge exchange projects co-designed by PGR students and local external partners to address issues of racial justice within and beyond the University. The project report will inform the approach that the Centre takes to engaging partner organisations in this work, as well as feeding into KR training for PGR students.

The Centre will also disseminate the findings to staff involved with KE across the University, resulting in more equitable practices being implemented by staff and students when engaging in collaborative and KE work with external partners, and provideing training in this area to approximately 30 PGR students per year.

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Dr Nicola Hemmings and Dr Alex Mason

Appraisal of institutional challenges for supporting and supervising students from racially marginalised backgrounds

In this project we undertook an appraisal of institutional challenges for supporting and supervising students from racially marginalised backgrounds across the University, including planning and conducting interviews with PGR students across the faculties, and analysing data from these interviews).

We used the findings to create a report which fed into the development of an evidence-based supervisor training package as part of Think Ahead and the Supervisionaries programme, which will be compulsory for all PGR supervisors. The researcher development team have identified this as a gap in their provision and expertise, and together we planned the delivery of the new programme for the coming academic year.

As a result of this project, PGR supervisors will benefit from enhanced knowledge and understanding of the challenges faced by PGR students from racially marginalised backgrounds and increased racial literacy. In turn, PGR students from racially marginalised backgrounds will benefit from a more informed and supportive community of academics.

Project theme: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Contact: Dr Nicola Hemmings and Dr Nadena Doharty

Centres of excellence

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