Ensuring good research practice at Sheffield

As a research-intensive university, we strive to support robust, reliable and reproducible research. A new academic leadership position will help us to provide good research practice across our research services.

Dr Tom Stafford, University Research Practice Lead We are pleased to announce that Dr Tom Stafford from the Department of Psychology has been appointed as the University’s Research Practice Lead - a new academic leadership role that aims to raise awareness for good research practice and links in to the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN).

The University of Sheffield is one of 10 universities that make up the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) - a peer-led consortium announced in December last year, which sees UK universities collaborate to improve the quality of UK academic research output.

The Research Practice Lead role at Sheffield will scrutinise the processes and platforms used across the whole lifecycle of research - study design and planning, data collection, storage and sharing, analysis, interpretation and integration of research findings across studies, to publishing and dissemination and broader impacts (including how we evaluate what counts as successful research).

This new position further demonstrates our commitment to research integrity and rigour. Tom began his new role on 1 May 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic and has been sharing his thoughts and experiences from over the last four weeks.

What interested you the most about your role?

The chance to find out what people do around the University in different research areas, to meet people who are leading in developing best practice in their area of expertise, and to help them get connected.

For me the idea of “Research Practice” is about platforms and processes which support robust, reliable, reproducible research. The covid-19 crisis has made clear that some research can be rapid and impactful, and in many respects excellent as research, without being built on a platform which allows proper scrutiny, sharing or extension of that work.

Research is inherently slow and error-prone, but there are lots of tools and strategies which can minimise the chance of error and I want to help everyone access them.

What is the UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) and how will your contributions make a difference?

The UK Reproducibility Network is a peer-led consortium that aims to ensure the UK retains its place as a centre for world-leading research.

What does your role mean for research at Sheffield?

The University of Sheffield is a founder member of the UKRN, and the University has committed by creating (and funding) the Research Practice Lead role, funding a studentship (doing research on research practices), and taking part in national bids to lead training opportunities for researchers.

What do you hope to have achieved this time next year in this role?

The two things I hope to achieve by next year are

Firstly, get a good idea of the different challenges for excellent research practice in the different faculties (and who in those faculties and professional services can support excellent research practice).

Secondly, I would like to coordinate with national efforts on policy which supports reproducibility. This includes policies around the responsible use of metrics (Sheffield led the way here, signing DORA in November 2018), and things like more tightly incorporating elements of best practice in institutional guidelines (for example recognising in promotion criteria a commitment to practices such as sharing data and code, sharing materials, sharing digital outputs openly).

Having been in the role for one month, how have you found remote working due to coronavirus?

Remote working is not without its stressors, but I feel lucky to have a steady job which is quite robust to the changes required by remote working. I miss cycling around the campus to meet people for coffee, but other than that I’ve nothing to complain about.

What are the key messages and take home’s you want people to know about the work that you are doing?

1. For each of us, there are many new ways to help make sure our next piece of research is better archived, documented, open to scrutiny, ready for future extension, collaboration and review and/or quicker to publish and more impactful.

2. There’s no need to change how you do things all at once, but it's good to try out a new element of best practice with each project.

3. If you can help, get in touch.

How can staff and students follow this work or get involved?

You can find resources on the Sheffield Reproducibility Network pages. There’s a mailing list, and a calendar of events. Obviously normal University work is disrupted right now, but there should be lots of things coming up to get involved in.

Where can I find out more?

If you’d like to talk one to one, or if you’d like me to give a talk on Research Reproducibility for your department or research group, get in touch: T.Stafford@sheffield.ac.uk.