Open Research and Culture Event 2023: Perspectives from Undergraduate Students

By Holly Snellgrove and Emily Clark

Several members of the CoGDeV lab attended this year’s Open Research and Culture Event at the University of Surrey. Two of our placement students have written about their experiences here:

My experience of the Open Research and Culture Event 2023: By Holly Snellgrove

On Thursday 2nd February, I was fortunate to be involved in the Open Research and Culture Event at the University of Surrey. I began the day with little prior knowledge of open research and left feeling educated and informed about its importance in the world of psychological research.

The part of the day that I found most interesting and thought-provoking was the panel discussion. Professor Katrina Whittaker, joined the two guest speakers, Professor Andrew George and Dr Tanita Tasci, in debunking common open research myths, sparking questions and debate from the audience.

Professor George opened the discussion by addressing the idea that research processes are not a series of hurdles, but instead something that makes research better. Working as a research assistant in both the CoGDeV and NDevR labs at the University of Surrey, I have experienced first-hand how studies must develop through numerous stages, and this being a lengthy process, can often feel demotivating. Professor George accredits this myth to how victories in the world of research have been marginalised to publications, when in fact what should be celebrated is the contribution and impact work has made whether this be to scholarly knowledge, society or policy. He raised the issue of the term ‘author’ and explained how this reduces work to what has been written rather than what has been achieved and the process this involved. He stressed that researchers should be focusing on ‘what we have done instead of what we have published’. This allowed me to reflect on my time on placement and the various projects I have been involved with. I have participated in many activities including picture coding, recruitment, data collection, analysis and writing, and reminded myself that each part will contribute towards meaningful research. This helped me to take a sense of pride in my accomplishments so far, whether the work be published or not.

Dr Tasci then proceeded to argue that research culture is not an alternative to research quality, despite common belief amongst researchers. She discussed how incorporating open research practices into work actually drives excellent research, meaning it is crucial to consider. She particularly stressed the need for collaboration. During my time on placement, I have had the opportunity to work with numerous researchers at different levels and stages of their career and I’ve noticed how listening to multiple voices and insights has been important in establishing how best to conduct and proceed with research. I have also observed through lab meetings, how much everyone values feedback from their colleagues and peers, and I realised that this collaborative element really helps to improve research.

Finally, Professor Whittaker addressed how making qualitative data open access does not have to be a strenuous process by using the right ethics. Whilst on placement, from discussions with lab members, I have begun to understand that obtaining ethical approval is often a difficult process, particularly when using open data. However, Professor Whittaker presented an alternative, suggesting that by recognising the time and planning needed for open data and building this into grants, this can ease the process of ethical applications. This sparked discussion into how open research practices should not be avoided over fears of timely procedures.

Overall, the panel discussion successfully counter-argued criticisms of open research through debunking research myths and responding to audience questions and queries. This left me with a new understanding of how useful and important open research practices can be.  From now on, I will be keeping these practices in mind whilst on placement to ensure the research I am conducting is of high quality.

University of Surrey Open Research and Research Culture Event- Perspectives of an Undergraduate psychology student: By Emily Clark

I am a undergraduate psychology student currently in my placement year working at the University of Surrey as a research assistant. I was delighted to take part and attend the University of Surrey Open Research and Research Culture event; the whole day was an enjoyable and insightful experience including short lightning talks and guest speakers. Throughout the lightning talks I was intrigued, as an undergraduate student I have never been to an event with this format. Therefore, watching a lightning talk was new to me and really gave me a diverse range of thought-provoking topics in a short period of time. Even though these presentations were brief they were well informed, and I was inspired to want to read more about the presenters’ work.

 I was particularly interested by a talk titled “Keeping Research Culture simple” by Dr Tanita Casci (Director of Research Strategy and Policy Unit at the University of Oxford). This talk outlined the problems in research that stem from a gap between what is good for researcher’s careers and what is good for research. The speaker discussed the importance of collaboration compared to individualism for research culture, highlighting that although many researchers have good intentions for their research, problems are faced due to sector requirements to get results over being open, rigorous and inclusive.

Tanita discussed five key steps towards positive research culture starting with defining what culture is within the workplace through identifying practice, contribution and careers. From this step they discussed the importance of aligning actions through understanding what can be done to give rewards and support, and the importance of celebration. Step 3 related to the long-term actions needed to support research culture. They explained that these priorities can be set by aligning ideas from policies, surveys, council meetings and by overall placing a spotlight on committing to the set priorities. The fourth step emphasised the importance of over communicating, and finally the fifth step was about knowing your team through understanding what others find important, working together, and sticking to team priorities.

The talks ended with a panel discussion titled Debunking myths in Open research and Research Culture. One argument that really stood out to me from the panel was Tanita’s statement “my key myth is that research culture is an alternative to research quality” they then de-bunked this myth by saying that research culture can improve research quality. Research culture in fact supports / is supplementary to research culture and should not been seen at an expense of the other.

Before the event I didn’t know much about research culture at all. The talk and panel discussion helped increase my knowledge of the importance of having a positive research culture. This has had a positive impact on me as a research assistant as my awareness has significantly increased around what open research and research culture is. I now not only value what research has been conducted but how the research has been conducted. Furthermore, I have more insight into how to achieve positive research culture. In terms of my role, I ensure I communicate, create effective and professional relationships with my peers, and voice my opinion when I believe a change can be made. In doing so, I believe this creates a research culture where everyone feels that their voice will be heard, and their opinions considered. Additionally, I further value the importance of rewards and support, and how this can produce excellence in research. It has also adjusted my view on research in that it’s not all about getting results, but the steps you take in order to get these results and how research culture can make research better.