Pioneering awards scheme boosts positive research culture

Outstanding contributions towards improving our research culture are being celebrated on the first anniversary of a pioneering awards scheme.

LIDA Data Scientist, Owen Hibbert, enabling students at Carlton Keighley School to code. Picture by Mark Bickerdike

Winners of our inaugural Research Culture and Engaged for Impact Awards were announced during a special ceremony held on campus in July 2022.

The impressive number of applications received by the judging panel highlighted the broad spectrum of world-changing research at Leeds, together with the amazing work undertaken by a wide range of colleagues to support this vibrant community. 

Winners and runners-up were presented with their awards during a campus showcase hosted by our Chancellor, Professor Dame Jane Francis, and Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation.

And the positive impact of the awards is still being felt 12 months on.

Dean for Research Culture, Professor Cat Davies, said: “Through the inaugural Research Culture and Engaged for Impact awards in 2022, we recognised positive contributions to research culture across faculties and roles. 

“We also wanted to boost these good examples by supporting them with modest funding, enabling the nine selected teams to build on their already strong work. It’s wonderful to see the progress last year’s projects have made during the past 12 months, and to hear about the exciting initiatives and events taking place.  

“Following this success, we’re looking forward to hosting the 2024 awards and recognising more of the excellent work inspiring positive change at Leeds.”

Vitally important research

At the heart of the University’s 10-year strategy is the commitment to recognise the value of everyone involved in delivering research, focusing not only on individual academic achievement but also on teamwork. 

All members of our research community have a role to play in developing and promoting a positive and inclusive research culture, as well as contributing to the impact our research makes locally, nationally and internationally. Participants; our collaborators and partners; academic, research and technical staff; colleagues in professional services; students and those in many other diverse roles within the University all make essential contributions. Together, we arrange, enable, conduct and participate in vitally important research.

These values are at the heart of the Research Culture Awards scheme, highlighted through the progress made by the winning projects with the funding they received as part of their prize. 

Here we examine the achievements of three of those projects.

Pioneering awards scheme boosts positive research culture. July 2023

Attendees at the Water Woman event in Nexus

Positive change

Award: Personal Development, Reward and Recognition

Winning project: Instigation of the water@leeds-funded Water Woman Award and associated career development initiatives

Team members: Professor Clare Woulds, Professor Julia Martin-Ortega, Dr Gabriela Lopez Gonzalez, Ann Marie Boyle and Dr Susannah Hopson

Open to any person identifying as a woman involved in water research at the University, the Water Woman Award includes recognition for early career researchers and research support colleagues. It’s based on two equally weighted criteria – the nature of the achievements of nominees and their potential for empowering and inspiring other women.

The team used its prize funds to host an event with the Water Woman Award winners and other participants from across the University. This allowed for a moment of celebration and reflection, but also to expand the network and to collectively think about ways of moving the initiative forward, so that it can lead to positive institutional change.

Ann Marie Boyle, water@leeds administrator, said: “For me, I think the impact of winning the Research Culture Award was providing the Water Woman Award with a wider platform to highlight the contribution of professional support staff to research culture.  

“The award provides recognition for these ‘unseen’ colleagues. We all do great stuff, but getting it institutionally recognised provides extra satisfaction and increases its visibility.” 

Pioneering awards scheme boosts positive research culture. July 2023

Away day participants exploring wellbeing and development opportunities for postgraduate researchers

Unlocking new opportunities

Award: Collegiate and Supportive Environment

Winning project: PhD Discussion Community (‘DISCO’)

Team members: Dr Francis Poitier, Anam Ayaz-Shah, William Goodman, Nichola Jones, Maisie Martland and Dr Rebecca Beeken

The winning project in this category was led by the Leeds Institute of Health Science (LIHS), which created PhD DISCOs – a vibrant and bespoke forum for postgraduate researchers (PGRs). 

A highly valued section of the University community, PGRs lead unique projects, but often find themselves alone when facing the challenges that come with conducting innovative research. DISCOs seek to address this issue by providing space for mutual support, skills development, output opportunities and scholarly conversations in a learning environment.

Following consultation, the team used its prize funds for the wellbeing and development of PGRs through an away day and presentation skills development session ahead of a PGR research showcase. The away day was the first of its kind in LIHS, allowing the project team to demonstrate the value of dedicated spaces specifically for PGRs. 

The funds also provided the means to expand the DISCO programme to incorporate the Leeds Institute of Medical Education (LIME), enabling PGRs to network and build relationships across the two institutes. 

Teaching Fellow Francis Poitier said: “While the Research Culture Awards recognise the hard work dedicated to supporting colleagues, they also provide an opportunity to learn and share best practice. 

“The application process was relatively simple, and allowed us to reflect on our work and how it supports a positive collegiate environment to impact research culture. PGRs lead dynamic research projects and a positive research culture can be a catalyst for further innovation. The award unlocked multiple opportunities to input into the wider research culture within the institute. It’s fantastic to know the PGR community can be central in advancing research culture at Leeds.”

Research Fellow Nichola Jones added: “Winning this award felt like an acknowledgement of the work we’d put into the PGR community as reps, as well as an opportunity to build on our experiences.

“We wanted to use the funds to highlight to current students – who’ve been so isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions – the existing services and facilities within the University, focusing on personal wellbeing, exam preparation and career development. Alongside these, we really wanted to emphasise the power and importance of building community in the PGR space, for wellbeing and potential career/networking opportunities in the future.”

Pioneering awards scheme boosts positive research culture. July 2023

The LIDA Open Data Science for Schools (LODSS) delivery team at the Carlton Keighley School event. Picture by Mark Bickerdike

Enriching and vibrant programme

Award: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Research

Winning project: The Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) Data Scientist Development Programme

Team members: Kylie Norman, Dom Frankis, Dr Michelle Morris and Professor Nick Malleson

The winning project champions recruitment for diversity on this springboard programme, which creates capacity-building opportunities to develop graduates into effective data scientists.

This award gave the project team the timely opportunity to focus on early barriers to equitable data science recruitment for local young people, such as low aspiration, socio-economic drivers and stereotypes of what a data scientist looks like/ought to be. They partnered with Keighley Schools Together to co-produce two events, designed and led by our own LIDA data scientists, for the benefit of 13-15 year olds.

Kylie Norman, Senior Operations Co-ordinator with the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), said: “This award has given our team scope to be ambitious and experiment. We’ve learned that a key route to an inclusive research culture for belonging is providing opportunities to more people at early career stages to lead, for example our own data scientists. 

“We’ve got a proof-of-concept that collaborative data outreach can inspire, engage and enable young people in local communities to think about careers working with data as careers within their reach.”

Elliot Karikari, LIDA Data Scientist and LIDA Open Data Science for Schools (LODSS) Resources Coordinator, said: “This opportunity has been incredible, strengthening my leadership skills and giving me the much-needed confidence boost to take on other similar leadership roles in the future. 

“It’s become crystal clear to me how vital teamwork and diversity are in the realm of data science. Our unique backgrounds and perspectives created an enriching and vibrant programme that made an impression on these students about the importance of data science. I’m proud to have been a part of this project, and I believe it’s just the beginning of a growing movement to make data science education more accessible and inclusive.”

Next steps

Details of how to enter the 2024 awards will be announced later this year. See the For Staff website and the weekly All Staff newsletters for the latest updates.

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