PART 1 – The week when two buses came along at once….

UKRIO Annual Conference 2019

Here at Responsible Research in Practice we strongly believe in the benefits of life-long learning, for ourselves as much as for our clients. So, when the opportunity arose recently to attend a couple of events discussing topics of interest and offering some potential CPD (continuing professional development) we jumped at the chance.

The first event was the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) Annual Conference at Royal College of Physicians on the 8th May. It will not be a revelation to UKRIO subscribers that the annual meeting is well worth attending, but as an event primarily for the many research organisations that subscribe to UKRIO, the audience is unique. Attendees are primarily those working within the research integrity or research governance offices of their respective research organisation. Without meaning to state the obvious, these individuals are rarely those carrying out research.  They are the people working in the background to build and maintain a healthy culture of responsible research conduct. This is no small task given the variation in size, scale and remit between member organisations. Nikki* shared her thoughts on this – what ‘culture’ is, how everyone contributes whether consciously or subconsciously, and how it requires clear responsive communication, supportive management and access to relevant training, mentoring and other support services that are fit for purpose – following an invite to participate in a panel discussion session at the end of the day.  Alas, there is no magic formula as to how any or all this can be achieved. That said the annual meeting provides UKRIO subscribers and invited guests with an invaluable opportunity to be inspired and network to gather advice and discuss ideas.

One presentation that resonated with me was by Professor Leanne Hodson and a postdoctoral researcher in her lab, Dr Siôn Parry. Leanne’s approach to “building a healthy research culture” draws upon her experience as a rower and was illustrated by Siôn who discussed how the sporting theory can be applied within a research setting. One core skill (for leaders and team members alike) is the ability to recognise your own and individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. Such an ability brings with it the capacity for strengths to be utilised and valued by the whole team.  Get it right and this simple act also encourages a culture of peer support in which individual weaknesses become strengthened over time through shared examples and experience. This caring and sharing culture not only reduces stress levels within the group but can also support individuals to develop resilience. Afterall research is not an exact science and things do not always go according to plan.  By sharing experiences in a culture of peer support all members of the research group can grow more accustomed to the highs and lows that can happen at different points during a research project. This may mean that individuals are less likely to become overwhelmed by personal lows or develop a prohibitive ‘fear of failure’.

The parallel session run by Professor Marcus Munafo on “scientific ecosystems and research reproducibilityalso caught my attention.  His focus was on discussing the vast ‘grey areas’ of research conduct that fall somewhere in between contemporary best practice standards and that which is out and out fraudulent. I think many will agree that it is this grey area that is most tricky to tackle both at a local level, but also within the culture of research generally. It is also the area in which the greatest gains can perhaps be made in terms of improving the reproducibility of research. Marcus beautifully illustrated the complexity of the situation and factors at play using an array of published studies, so if you are interested I would encourage you to view his presentation here. He discusses: an analysis of magnitude errors and sign errors (+/-), a reproducibility project study looking at whether ‘prediction markets’ could reliably predict the reproducibility of findings, cognitive bias and the unforeseen impact that our human ability to identify links or patterns when they may not exist is having on the scientific record, as well as publication bias and social factors normalising or worse incentivising poor research practices. If you are interested in reproducibility issues then Marcus’s presentation makes a compelling case for a focus on ‘quality control’ to improve both research reproducibility and productivity. It also includes an introduction to the UK Reproducibility Network and the latest efforts to incentivise and promote open science to help ‘quality control’ research data.


The week when two buses came along at once – Part Two” discusses Nikki’s thoughts and reflections following “The Emotional Cost of Caring: Impact on animal welfare” workshop that took place on the 10th May.



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