Episode 4

Published on:

2nd Nov 2022

(S1E4) Meet the Culturositists: Introducing Nick Sheppard and Open Research

In our weekly Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter? This episode is part of Season 1, where we get to meet the hosts in a bit more detail before they go on to host seasons on their specialist topic. In this episode your host Emma Spary is joined by Nick Sheppard.

Nick Sheppard is an Open Research Advisor at the University of Leeds Library, supporting our researchers with Open Research. He also runs our popular Open Lunch seminar series, discussions with internal and external open research experts. You can connect to Nick via LinkedIn or Twitter (@mrnick).

I ask Nick what he thinks the biggest challenges are for researchers, what we do well at Leeds, where he thinks we can improve and what he hopes to see in the future. His main messages include:

  • How open research is much bigger than open access
  • How data cannot always be open but should always be FAIR - findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable
  • How journal metrics are still seen as the most important driver in research
  • The need for greater investment in skills development to support open research

Be sure to check out the other episodes in this season to find out more about the hosts Emma Spary, Ruth Winden, Ged Hall and Tony Bromley with a few special guest appearances.


Follow us on twitter: @ResDevLeeds, @OpenResLeeds, @ResCultureLeeds

If you would like to contribute to a podcast episode get in touch: academicdev@leeds.ac.uk


Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be. You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.


Hi, it's Emma and for those of you who don't know me yet, I lead the researcher development and culture team at the University of Leeds. And in this role I get to work on all different aspects of research culture. You're joining us in season one of our research culture uncovered podcast, where we're getting to know our co-hosts in a bit more detail before they go on to host seasons of their own.

I'm really pleased today to be joined by Nick Sheppard, our open research advisor at the University of Leeds. He is our expert on open research and also organizes our open lunch series of seminars. Do you wanna say a quick, Hello, Nick? Hello. Thanks, Emma. So, I'm just gonna take Nick back to, uh, a time when we were doing the training for these podcasts.

And yes, believe it or not, we have had some training for this. Um, but Nick posted a picture of himself, I think waist high in water, wearing a t-shirt with a question mark. Would you like to fill in the lister's, Nick, on exactly what was going on in that picture.


It was a little deeper than waist high actually, if you remember, we did have a hot summer, um, and we've got a puppy recently, but he won't go in the river.

Um, he's nine months old now and I didn't wanna lose his ball, so his ball had gone in the river, but the dog refused to get it, so I went after it. Um, and the river's quite shallow, but, so I thought as you sort of venture further out towards the middle, it actually deepens very quickly. But the kids were on the bank watching and taking photos, so, uh, I had to persevere and retrieve the, the ball for the dog.

Um, but ended up sort of, well up to my armpits in, in the water. It was quite refreshing. We had quite a hot summer, uh, obviously, and uh, so it was quite a, a refreshing, cool down, and the dogs still won't go swimming. So that's my next job to get the dog swimming.


Well, the dog's probably learnt from you, but it's not a great idea because it's often deeper than it looks.


Well that was the, the idea I was throwing the ball further, a little bit further and further. See, cuz he will go in the water. He enjoys the water, but he won't go out of his depth. Um, and obviously my legs are a bit longer than his, but, um, I'm trying to get him swimming, so hopefully at some point, um, we'll get him swimming.

He's a labrador, they're supposed to enjoy swimming, but at the moment he, he's not in up for, but I'm sure maybe next summer we'll get him in the water.


So by the time Nick goes on to host a season of his own, he'll be able to update you on whether or not the dog is actually swimming. So it would be great to talk about dogs, I've got some of my own, I could talk about those, um, for eternity. But we're here today to talk about open research, and I think it's probably fair to say that when you started your career, or even when you join the library, it wasn't necessarily open research that had got you interested or got you engaged, but what was it that has led you to what you do now?


Yeah, no, that's very true. And, um, I mean, I've, it open access, um, is more broadly termed, I suppose, well, more narrowly actually. But historically, I, I started working in about 2007 on open access, so this was really focused on, um, access to the journal article, so you know, the final peer reviewed journal article, um, and that there's quite a lot of issues still, still ongoing with that, with open access.

But then as time's gone on, you know, we're still a long way from solving open access to to, to articles, but increasingly, I think the sector and certainly the University of Leeds is recognizing that, you know, it's not just that final article, it's everything that goes into that article. So it's the data and the methodology and the protocols.

Any software and code, um, you know, increasingly things are being put out through pre-prints. Um, so the whole sort of landscape is changing quite rapidly. Open access is still part of open research, but increasingly open research yeah is, is is bigger than, than just open access.


So, Nick, what is it about open research that really interests you?


Well, I mean, first and foremost, I really enjoy working in HE, you know, in, in higher education, in a university. It's a huge privilege and it developed really from an interest in open access and what's, you know, often referred to as democratization of knowledge. You know, this, this, the fact that so much knowledge is locked behind paywalls in terms of journal articles.

So people in the global south, for example, can't access this material. Anybody outside universities, um, haven't been able to access, um, the research that's paid for by their taxes. You know, it's, it, it's, it's ridiculous really, that that's, that that's the nature of things and increasingly as we've moved away from sort of open access to more open research, you know, we live in an age of fake news.

Um, you know, and it's really important that science is transparent and robust and that people trust it. Um, and, you know, universities have a duty, I think, just to really make sure that we're able to communicate the research and to make sure that it's accessible. And that doesn't just mean that you can receive, read the research paper, but it means that it's shared, you know,

plain language, for example. Um, Wikimedia is a really great tool for that. So making sure, you know, if you think, if you Google something, where do you land? You land on a Wikipedia article, you don't land on a research article. So it's really important that we in the ac in the university make sure that Wikipedia's properly cited, for example, with primary sources that kind of thing.

Um, and yeah, there's just such a broad range of issues in in, in open research, you know, whether it's open access, open and fair data. So again, we often talk about open data, but fair data, um, often data can't be open, but it can be fair because it might be restricted due to, you know, ethical reasons or um, contractual reasons, but it can be fair, which is findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. Citizen science, um, responsible metrics, social media, um, you know, blogs plain language. Some or all of this, which can aid sort of collaboration. Um, and really just trying to think of everything as a first class research object. So not just the final research article, but everything that goes into making that article, um, yeah.

Is, is this is just so much to get your teeth stuck into really with this stuff.


So you've mentioned an awful lot there that comes underneath this umbrella term. Um, and I think it's probably fair to say that our researchers may not be as clued up as we need them to be or as they need to be in terms of what open research is. What do you think the main challenges are that researchers are facing?


Well, yeah, I mean, it's a, you know, I sort of, uh, winced a little bit, I suppose at the beginning when you introduced me as a, as an expert in open research. You know, um, there's, there's only so much expertise any one person can have actually in a, in a lot of this.

And I think that applies to a lot of what we do um, and certainly in terms of the challenges that researchers face. Is, as you say, that knowledge. Um, and it's moving quite rapidly as well. And they're also, I think, tied into the status quo very often. So we have this, you know, publish or perish, um, culture in academia, I think where it's the journal impact factor that's very important.

So, you know, this is the perceived kudos of a given journal because it has so many citations et cetra, and it's all, you know, slightly artificial and, um, not necessarily, Well, it certainly isn't nec, you know, measuring the value of the science. It's just a proxy for that, for that science. But inevitably that's where our culture is at the moment, academic culture and I think, um, trying to encourage researchers to think beyond that when that is us, to all their bread and butter. And that's what they're employed for very often in, in terms of, you know, getting those journal articles in, you know, high, high impact journals. So when we are trying to, you know, encourage them to think about the broader picture, you know, getting things out through pre-prints or, or sharing their data in code, um, and all the other things that go with open research, I think just getting them to, first of all, to understand what those issues are.

Um, and secondly, you know, to actually have the time given they're so busy with everything else, uh, in their day jobs, you know, and this is extra really. So, yeah, there's lots of challenges in that area.


So what, given, given the role that you have at either university, uh, what do you think we're actually doing well at Leeds?

What are we doing to support our researchers to maybe enable them to have more time to do this or to show them the benefits of doing that?


We're doing, think we're doing a lot of good awareness raising, and I think that's perhaps where we are as a sector at the moment, to be honest, in terms of, of, of open research.

You know, there's lots of great communities at Leeds. Um, lots of great conversations, you know, and I think that's a big part of, of open research and culture generally, you know, research culture generally has been able to discuss the issues. You know, and, and very often, perhaps in the past or even now, you know, big organizations can impose a policy from the top.

You know, this is, open access is perhaps a good example where the research funders sort of said, you know, your research has to be open access without necessarily engaging with the people that, that, that impacts. Um, and what I think we're trying to do now at Leeds and across the sector more generally is talk to people, you know, understand people's concerns about how open research might impact their career options, for example, or, you know, worries that may be unfounded, they may be founded, you know, in, in the culture that they're working in and really trying to take people with them, with you on that, on that journey. So I think that's, you know, the, the main area I'd say that we're really trying to focus at the moment is that dialogue and conversation.

Um, lots of enthusiasm as well that Leeds you know, that's the, you know, it's a privilege often to work in a university and, you know, you'd meet lots of different people working in different disciplines, in different areas and lots of different ideas. And it's that enthusiasm I think that's really, um, pushing to the fore at the, at the moment.

But yeah, awareness raising is perhaps where we are at the moment. Um, but we are trying to lead that discussion, um, both at the university, you know, through the library and in, in the sector as a whole. Um, and yeah, there's lots of great discussions going.


So you mentioned there very briefly about, um, the different disciplines that we have at Leeds.

And we do, we have quite, you know, we have seven different faculties. We have lots of disciplines. Do you think there are, um, any clear differences between the levels of awareness or engagement between those disciplines?


It's difficult to say and I suppose again, uh, I mean I think there are, yes, and it tends to be from a, a STEM perspective, so science, technology, engineering and medicine perspective, that open research has perhaps been mostly discussed.

Um, less so perhaps in the humanities, um, for example, but you know, and, and it returns that, you know, you've introduced me, I suppose as an expert, but obviously I've as often to say, you know, I've got a bachelor's degree in English. You know, I can read, you know, and when we're working in a big research intensive university, you know, with, I dunno, um, electron microscopy or French history or, um, you know, genetics or whatever it may be, um, I'm clearly not an expert in those fields and trying you know, a big part of my job is trying to, um, elicit what those issues may be in a specific discipline and trying to explore those in dis different disciplinary contexts. But more generally, yeah, I think there is perhaps a, a difference in awareness or even how it's applicable, you know? Um, so we, we often talk about reproducible research to the extent to which we research can be reproduced, which is one thing in the STEM disciplines in the sciences, but does that even make sense in the humanities?

You know, can you, um, reproduce or you know, can you even seek to reproduce research results in the same way in the humanities as you would in in the sciences? You know, I think the, the context is so different that it doesn't necessarily make sense to even talk about it in the same context. And, you know, that's part of our challenge is central service is supporting a big research intensive university.

Um, but yeah, by and large I think there is a more, you know, it's come from STEM subjects and trying to extend that through to the social sciences, the humanities, um, can be a challenge.


Nick keeps saying he's not an expert, but trust me, when we need anything to do with open research, Nick is our expert. So he's dis, you know, he's doing himself a disservice here.


Well, I, I, I am, but, but at the same time, you know, I'm just trying to emphasize, just, you know, and I think this is a big part of culture for me, the fact that, you know, the university's full of experts, but without the collaboration between those experts, you can't actually, you, you achieve a lot less. And I think that, I think that's one of the actual driving ethos of open research is that collaboration amongst experts is greater than the sum of its parts. So yeah, I'm try to be less self-deprecating, but there there is a serious point.


He's linked really well back to, um, collaboration, which is what I talk about in my episode, where, you know, in order for our researchers and our institutions to thrive, we need to move away from that competitive nature, often driven by the research output and more towards that collaboration.

Uh, So Nick, you've mentioned as well about working across the sector, and I know you are engaged with lots of different groups and work that's going on. What changes are you seeing coming from them that might be applicable to what we're trying to do?


Well, again, there's a lot of dialogue, a lot of conversation going on, a lot of different communities, um, that I'm and colleagues, um, are engaged with.

You know, I've, I've got lots of colleagues at other universities in similar roles to my own in libraries, for example. And lots of really interesting grass grassroots, um, activity. So one of the main ones is, uh, an organization called UKRN the UK reproducibility network. Um, which again is a grassroots, um, organization that came out of, um, the University of Bristol initially, I think, but it's got a wide representation across HE now.

Um, they were involved, for example, in submitting evidence to the Science and Technology Committee in Parliament last year, um, where they, they'd canvassed all their members, uh, about, you know, some of the issues around reproducibility and research integrity, which is just part of open research. So that's, you know, really sort of key organization that's happening at the moment.

But again, you know, that is driving from the bottom up. Um, but increasingly we're seeing funders as well, um, focusing on open research practices. Wellcome trust has been sort of at the forefront of open access and now open research for a very long time. For example, um, UKRI, so UK Research and Innovation, which is one of the main public funders, obviously in the uk, they've released a new open access policy, um, in April this year.

They've long been focused on open access, but increasingly they're starting to recognize the value of open research more generally. So they require now, um, a data access statement, for example, in published research, that kind of thing. So he was certainly seeing a ground swell of, um, activity through funders, um, and organizations like UKRN.

You're also seeing, you know, I'll just quickly get in the fact that the University of Leeds just last week actually released, or, well, I say last week as I'm speaking today, obviously that's, by the time this goes out, it'll be, uh, several weeks ago. Well, we've just published our university position statement on open research, um, and we're a little bit late to the, the game there,

there's quite a few universities that have done that before as the first was the University of Reading, I think. Um, and at last count, I think there's about 15, 16 universities with a similar sort of statement, which again illustrates the commitment to open research. Many of those colleagues that are working on that, I'm, you know, I'm, I work with at other universities and again, it's that collaboration aspect I think, so that we're really, you know, we are working together, you know, uh, to try and promote these values and learn from each other and how it works in our different institutional contexts as well.


So you've mentioned the funders and I think we agree they've probably got quite a key role to play in driving some of this.

Do you think they're doing enough at the moment, or what would you like to see them do?


They, I mean, they could always do more. I mean, now the extent to which they can actually change culture on their own is perhaps a bit of a moot point. I mean, one of the things that I would sort of highlight that obviously the, the funders have a role in, and the universities as well, but I think one of the things that we're seeing through this is from conversations here at Leeds, but also with the colleagues elsewhere, is to ma, you know, are there the people out there with the skills to actually either support this agenda, the open research agenda or researchers themselves with the skills to practice open research. And the answer probably at the moment is no. You know, again, someone like me, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm self taught, you know, I've, I've worked in open access for a long time, but I haven't got a qualification in open research.

Um, you know, there is no such thing. There's, there's no easy way of upskilling people, I think in a lot of these areas. Um, I know UKRN have had similar issues, so their model at the moment is based uh, that they're trying to develop is train the trainer. But again, how, you know, have you got the people within a, a given institution with the requisite skills in different disciplines to actually train their colleagues in open research skills?

And again, you know, I think the answer at the moment is perhaps no. Quite how we create that one I'm not sure because it's, you know, there's so many different people involved with so many disparate skills. But I think that is something we need to think about more generally you know, research, uh, computing, library support, people like yourself in, um, organizational development and professional learning as it's called here at Leeds, but that's sort of skills base as well.

So I think, yeah, I would say that's something that's perhaps lacking at the moment is that skill base and, and how best to equip people with the skills they need to encourage better open research practices in different disciplines.


Brilliant. So I'm now gonna put you on the spot and, uh, and, and refer to you as the driving force behind a lot of what we do at Leeds to support open research. So Nick, what would you like to see happen in the next five years?


One of the big issues for us at least, and again across the sector, I think that a lot of people are talking about is reward and recognition. Um, or the lack of, you know, as I said early, you know, people are expected at the moment to do this stuff on top of their day job and it's time consuming.

You know, whether that's preparing a data set or trying to think even pre-registration, I mean, that's another term we haven't gone into detail, but there's all sorts of different things we can do as part of the open research agenda, but it's not necessarily rewarded, um, or recognized in the same way as say, publishing in a high impact journal.

So, you know, that is what's going to drive behavior and the fact that people still, um, we, you know, rewarded and recognized for that big journal article in nature and not necessarily for sharing their data and code and making sure that data can be reproduced or sharing it on Wikimedia or through plain language summaries or all the, you know, the different things that you can do through open research.

So that's a crucial aspect I think the other thing that I think is, Interesting at the moment, um, and that we have actually got a talk this week, although by the time this goes out, it'll be on the blog so do check the library blog, the blog, at Leeds for an event we're running on this Wednesday, which is about embedding open research practices in the curriculum, so, you know, not just post-graduate researchers and staff, um, the types of audience that you and I, Emma, you know, speak to, but also undergraduates, you know, they are the researchers of, of tomorrow. And if we can sort of normalize these types of practices through, um, Educating, you know, right from the outset with undergraduates, then that's gonna feed through further down the line and that's ultimately how culture change is gonna, is gonna occur. Um, the other thing I'd sort of highlight, I think that's, um, that's of concern I think to people like myself working in this field is the commercial ownership of a lot of infrastructure now that relates to journals and, you know, the, the models of open access that have grown up through commercial ownership of, of the journal process.

But increasingly, I think we need to think about supporting open infrastructure, so there's initiatives like the open library of the humanities, for example, which is funded by different libraries or consortium of libraries rather than the APC or the article processing charge model of open access. Then there's lots of things like the open science framework, which is a, again, a non-profit, um, organization that we as a library are looking at sort of supporting because again, we, you know, we pay so much money to commercial publishers to make stuff open and really I think we should be trying to move away from that and actually contribute to the global commons through shared open infrastructure. But again, there's, there's all sorts of challenges with that. So yeah, they're, they're perhaps the three, three things I would focus on.


Brilliant. Lots for us to think about there and as quickly as we started, we are at the end, Nick.

So thank you very much for joining me today, um, for telling us a bit more about, um, why, why you enjoy doing what you do and what people can expect. I'm going to leave the rest of this episode for you to give a bit of a pitch to tell our listeners what they can expect in the season that you are gonna be hosting.


Well, thank you. Thanks for having me Emma, that was, uh, has that been 20 minutes already? That was, uh, it goes, it doesn't time fly. Um, so yeah, while the season on open research, I mean, to be honest, there's so much to talk about and so many people I would like to speak to both here at Leeds and, and in the wider community.

So it's, you know, it, it's trying to, to to, to pull it together into something that's, uh, Not too big and, and rambling. I think let's start with some definitions. So I want to talk to, um, I'm hoping to speak to, um, professor Hugh Shanahan. He's professor of Open Science at the Royal Holloway, where, actually I did my degree, not that that's relevant, he certainly wasn't there when I was there and we were operated in quite different circles. As I said, I did English, but he's professor of open science, um, which is obviously open research as well. We tend to use the term open research to be more inclusive for the humanities. Um, so we've had a talk from him in the past and so, you know, thinking about what o is open research, perhaps considering what it means in different disciplines. We've been undertaking some case studies recently here at Leeds in, um, different disciplines. So yeah, we'll certainly want to explore what open research means in the STEM subjects versus the humanities versus the social sciences. Um, I'm hoping to speak to colleagues involved in the reproducibility journal club.

So that's something out of UKRN mentioned earlier so the UK reproducibility network, we've got a thriving community here, with the, through the reproducibility journal club. So that's just a journal club talking about different, um, articles around different aspects of, uh, open and reproducible research.

We'll talk to colleagues from research computing, um, and how that relates to reproducibility. Uh, we'll talk about open research and infrastructure, so it's just alluding to that a moment and tools. Um, hoping to speak to Dr. Alexandra Freeman from Octopus. So that's a new open research platform that's got lots of potential, I think, to disrupt some of the things we've been talking about in terms of commercial ownership of, uh, of, um, infrastructures.

I'll talk to a colleague about open research in the curriculum. Again, I've just referred to open education we haven't even talked about. So open education is another big aspect that I'm keen to talk to colleagues about and we're doing a lot of work there and trying to join up open education with open research and open science, and you just, you know, really promoting an open approach. Responsible research, research assessment, so things like DORA, so the declaration of research assessment, we'll talk about and Wiki media, uh, and open research. So there's absolutely loads to talk about as I say, um, Very looking forward to speaking to different colleagues and, uh, yeah, hope to speak to you soon. Thank you.


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Email us at academicdev@leeds.ac.uk. Thanks for listening, and here's to you and your research culture.

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About the Podcast

Research Culture Uncovered
Changing Research Culture through conversations
At the University of Leeds, we believe that all members of our research community play a crucial role in developing and promoting a positive and inclusive research culture. Across the globe, the urgent need for a better Research Culture in Higher Education is widely accepted – but how do you make it happen? This weekly podcast focuses on our ideas, approaches and learning as we contribute to the University's attempt to create a Research Culture in which everyone can thrive. Whether you undertake, lead, fund or benefit from research - these are the conversations to listen to if you want to explore what a positive Research Culture is and why it matters.

About your hosts

Emma Spary

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I moved into development after several years as an independent researcher and now lead the team providing professional and career development for all researchers and those supporting research. I am passionate about research culture and supporting people. I lead our Concordat implementation work and was part of the national Concordat writing group. I represent Leeds as a member of Researchers14, the N8PDRA group and UKRI’s Alternative Uses Group.

Tony Bromley

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I've worked in the area of the development of researchers for 20 years, including at the national and international level. I was lead author of the UK sector researcher development impact framework charged with evaluating the over £20M per year investment of UK research councils in researcher development. I have convened the international Researcher Education and Development Scholarship (REDS) conference for a number of years and have published on researcher development evaluation and pedagogy. All the details are on www.tonybromley.com !! Also why not take a look at https://conferences.leeds.ac.uk/reds/

Ged Hall

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I've worked for almost 20 years in researcher development, careers guidance and academic skills development. For the last decade I've focused on the area of research impact. This has included organisational development projects and professional development for individual researchers and groups. I co-authored the Engaged for Impact Strategy and am heavily involved in its implementation, across the University of Leeds, to build a healthy impact culture. For 10 years after my PhD, I was a consultant in the utility sector, which included being broker between academia and my clients.

Ruth Winden

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After many years running my own careers consultancy business I made the transition to researcher development leading our careers provision. My background is in career coaching, facilitation and group-based coaching, and I have a special interest in cohort-based coaching programmes which help researchers manage their careers proactively and transition into any sector and role of their choice.

Nick Sheppard

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I have worked in scholarly communications for over 15 years, currently as Open Research Advisor at the University of Leeds. I am interested in effective dissemination of research through sustainable models of open access, including underlying data, and potential synergies with open education and Open Educational Resources (OER), particularly underlying technology, software and interoperability of systems.