Rigour and Reproducibility in Doctoral Research: Barriers and Solutions by Alex MacLellan

Posted in: Doctoral Exchange, Research culture, Research skills

A student blog as part of the Doctoral Roundtable Series organised by the Doctoral College

Open research is a movement that wants research to be transparent, reproducible and accessible. You might think that this is a movement that arguably should not need to be started in many of our disciplines. And yet this is an agenda largely pushed and embraced by early career researchers, often who are also those least able to effect the organisational change required for these practices to be widely adopted and normalised. When we consider starting a research degree, we might think we are stepping into a world that wishes to make its findings accessible and is transparent about the research process, whether that be the methods used or the decisions made to form a specific line of inquiry. What we often find in the literature however are walls of silence. We find methods inadequately described which makes replication difficult. We might be befuddled as to why certain questions were asked when others were not. We might find ourselves worrying about what we can share of the data we will collect and what we can’t. We might even find ourselves wondering whether the effect we are reading about is actually true, or whether it is dwarfed by an unpublished majority of contradictory and null studies. None of these are solid foundations upon which to build an academic career. This hybrid round table event brought together a group of PhD students from a variety of departments to explore the state of open research as we experience it and what our collective concerns and barriers to implementing open research practices are.

The session began by sharing the state of open research in each of our fields as a whole, and at the university. No matter the discipline, from hard sciences using equipment with high precision, to qualitative disciplines developing procedures and reporting lived experiences, there was a concern and desire for their research to be ‘Open’. Part of the reasoning behind this roundtable was for students from different departments to learn about how other fields view and conduct open research. The most common initial understanding of open research was that papers are published Open Access in journals, with the concern and barrier associated with this being the cost of doing so, and how that might affect a PhD student’s research budget. The second primary concern was about data stewardship, and in those disciplines where sensitive data is collected how much is reasonable to share and still be considered ‘Open’.

The discussion produced some interesting field-specific practices that could benefit all disciplines and could be considered for wider adoption, such as repositories of research methods to allow for more consistent study design, and the adoption of pre-registrations: that is specifying research questions, hypotheses (where appropriate), methods and analysis plans before commencing research and submitting that document to an independent repository. These practices may seem to increase the time burden on the researcher, but can lead to a more robust and rigorous field in the future. However, this time burden was again a concern for many of those in attendance, with PhD students under both a time and funding limit. There were also concerns about the perceived difficulty in amending pre-registered plans, with a sense that specifying questions and methods ahead of time could mean that studies do not develop along with the student.

Sharing these concerns is an important first step if the university is to develop as an institution with open research practices. A PhD and early career researcher open research group has been set up and can be joined for those wanting to develop practical open research skills, and the university is also making steps to provide more support for those wanting to embrace open research. Hopefully this roundtable will have provoked further thought both about how we can reduce the barriers to open research in our fields and what we can learn from other fields to improve our own practice.


About Doctoral Roundtables

This blog was written as part of the Doctoral Roundtable Series, a forum for doctoral researchers to connect with others to share experiences and ideas in a peer-to-peer environment. All topics are student-led. The programme can be found online on the Doctoral Roundtable webpage. If you are interested in facilitating a session then please email doctoralengagement@bath.ac.uk.



Posted in: Doctoral Exchange, Research culture, Research skills


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response