On 22 September, we heard from post-doctoral researcher Dorka Tamás and PhD candidate Christopher Cox about a project to explore open practice across different academic disciplines.    

Funded by Research England, Dorka and Chris conducted interviews with colleagues from different faculties, schools and services across the University of Leeds to raise awareness of open practice across disciplines and career stages. Dorka and Chris described their methodology and presented some of the case studies they developed over the summer.    

One output of our project at Leeds might be a guide and resources to help others develop their case studies; model interview questions and methodology, or consent forms to enable case studies to be openly shared. For example, in some cases, anonymity may be appropriate if academic colleagues are unsure about discussing their professional practice.   

The interviewees were invited to the event, and several were present who provided informal feedback on the case studies, giving their input on how to develop further the project. Colleagues from other universities around the UK who are also interested in or working on open research benefited from the presentation of open research case studies.   

You can view a full recording of the event on YouTube or read on for a summary of the key finding and links to some of the case studies:   

NOTE: The UK Reproducibility Network are interested in collaborating across the sector, get in touch if you have case studies to share or are interested in developing some at your university.

Starting at the beginning

Chris talked about his experience with the project, acknowledging that coming into the role, his knowledge of open research was limited, mainly related to open access and FAIR data. He has always been in favour of making research more transparent.   

“This role offered a great opportunity to enhance my own knowledge and experiences with it and learn. Throughout the course of my PhD at the University of Exeter, there was very limited exposure and awareness or training around open research, but it was always there lingering in the background of my knowledge.”   

From the very beginning, Chris and Dorka attended research workshops, seminars, open lunches, and conferences to learn about open research across the UK, the different practices, implications, ideas, and debates. They split the Faculties between them to explore what open research means and how it is practised in different disciplines.  

As a starting point they looked at research projects to identify potential case studies and drew up an extensive list of questions about the general concept of open research and specific practices identified.   

They also developed an information sheet and consent form for participants, and arranged one-hour slots for interviews, which were conducted remotely via MS Teams, recorded and stored securely on OneDrive along with edited interview transcripts. Case studies were written up and presented on MS Sway before sending to interviewees for approval.   

It was not a case of one size fits all and specific questions depended on the researcher and the project or service they were talking about. Naturally, different disciplines would vary vis-à-vis open research.

Interview data was supplemented by additional information such as links to project sites, project descriptions from the University website, or links to Tweets, YouTube videos, etc 

Example case studies

Chris highlighted the PEATMAP project with Jiren Xu from the School of Geography:   

“This is an example which was particularly interesting because it’s something I’ve no familiarity with whatsoever in terms of the subject. Another aspect that has been enjoyable about this whole project is immersing yourself in different research practices and how different people perceive and conduct research. I started by asking quite a general question like ‘What does open research mean to you?’. For Jiren, it meant more transparency and making data and papers available, so open access and then usually jump into the main project that had been identified for open research.”   

The second case study Chris presented was an interview with Kelly Lloyd, a PhD candidate, from the School of Medicine, whom you might be familiar with from the ReproducibiliTea journal club at Leeds. Kelly’s experience of open research included preprints, open access, and pre-registration, and she said that preprints, for example, were a major benefit for her PhD research. Kelly talked about open access and FAIR data, and how these issues around open research are also discussed in the monthly ReproducibiliTea club.   

“One of the key findings we came across was – predictably – that open research means different things to different people, disciplines, or in terms of methodological approaches, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative research.    

“It does seem to be a great present and engagement with numerous research practices in STEM over Social Sciences. There is a variety of engagement among individual researchers from open software to preprints and pre-registration.”    

In terms of what concepts people associated with open research, key terms included ‘transparency’, ‘openness’, ‘public engagement’, and working with external stakeholders, a common aim being to shake off the traditional Ivory Tower stereotype of academia. While many said their awareness of open research had increased significantly over the last 3-4 years, through attending Library workshops for example, some said they could do with more training, on how specific open practices could relate to their own research context.


As with all things there have been some challenges along the way. The first being, by his own admission, Chris’ own limited knowledge of open research. The project has been a very beneficial learning process for him. 

Another challenge has been developing a clear narrative for each case study. As someone from a qualitative, social science background, at times Chris found it hard to identify key areas and information in fields like Geography and Psychology, or those with quantitative research methods. This was exacerbated by the original 4-month timeframe for the project, when both Chris and Dorka would have benefitted from more time to learn the basics themselves! However, an extension has now been secured.

Whilst subject coverage has generally been good, some areas have been lacking. For Chris, he has struggled with specific disciplines including Business and Law. He is working to rectify this and contacting more researchers from those fields. 

Last, but not least, there have also been technical challenges. Neither Dorka or Chris are based in Leeds and the entire project has been conducted remotely. Problems have included internet connectivity and even powercuts that have impacted interviews with some needing to be rescheduled.

Overall, Chris has found the open research project fascinating . There has been a positive reception from across the university, across most faculties, where they have gained valuable knowledge and insight into how open research is being practised at Leeds. The project has allowed him to not only acquire greater knowledge of what open research is and also how ‘research’ is conducted across different disciplines. 

Dorka echoed some of Chris’s experiences and highlighted that going into the project she had looked at some other universities in the UK that have developed similar case studies.   

“One of the things that we try to do is to make the language of the case studies accessible for everyone, no matter what field you are coming from.”   

Another challenge highlighted by Dorka was that not everyone approached was necessarily interested, and some felt it did not apply to their research.   

“There is a general knowledge of open research across disciplines, although this is also bias point of view, because the people who participated in this project usually were already interested in or knowledgeable of open research. There was a quite clear STEM and Humanities divide in terms of what is relevant in the field and what people do, and what is the level of knowledge of the different aspects of open research practices.”   

How does Open Education relate to Open Research?

Dorka presented her first case study on Open Education with Antonio Martínez-Arboleda from the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies. She asked him how open education relates to open research?

I see a connection between research and open education, whether the research is open or not. Research is an activity, a process that leads the researcher to new insights. Once you have reached that stage in your research activity, in which you have new knowledge to share, even if it is with a small community, in my view, everything else falls within the realms of education one way or another, whether it is formal, non-formal or informal education, which includes facilitating the learning of your research peers, and other communities.

Antonio also highlighted digital education and Open Educational Resources (OER) and talked about how Leeds is embracing openness at an institutional level, which sends a very important message to the research community at Leeds.

Apples and oranges? Case studies in English and Maths   

Dorka compared two of her case studies, one from the School of English with Bridget Bennett and one from the School of Mathematics with Mauro Mobilia.   

“Bridget focused on open access since that is relevant to the field of English: making publication available without charge. Mauro highlighted that open research for him means a broader access to research. He is currently working on a collaborative project with American colleagues, which has many challenges in terms of openness since the American collaborators are not subject to the same rules as they are in the UK, which poses several questions.”   

Due to their different disciplines, Bridget and Mauro had different views on preprints. For Mauro, preprints are useful in his field. He doesn’t have concerns about them, but he is also aware that for some disciplines, preprints can be problematic.   

Bridget could see how some of her colleagues find preprints useful, but she doesn’t publish preprints. While she also has a more positive attitude towards preprints, it may not be as widespread in the field of English.   

In terms of disseminating the research outputs openly, Bridget worked with Nick Sheppard, who developed a Wikipedia article on an abolitionist and author from Leeds Wilson Armistead.  

After the presentations, participants could give feedback and ask questions from Dorka and Chris. Some of the interviewees at the event highlighted the importance of this project. There was a general interest in the Open Research Case Studies from colleagues attending from different universities and we hope to publish more soon. In the meantime here are quick links to a selection:

Open Research Case Studies: School of English

Open Research Case Studies: School of Mathematics

Open Research Case Studies: Open Education

Open Research in the Health Sciences and ReproducibiliTea

Open Research and the PEATMAP project