Looking beyond publications for sharing and assessing research

For peer review week 2023 we look beyond publications to shine a spotlight on alternative ways to share and review research outputs.

We want to encourage all our applicants to publish and share their research and knowledge as widely as possible. Publishing is one way of doing this. But the future of publishing is beyond just publications, as highlighted by this year’s peer review week theme. It’s becoming increasingly important to share non-article research outputs, like protocols, data, methods and code. This applies to the assessment of research too.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) appreciates that career progression, skills and experience can also be measured in many ways. Here we share some of the alternatives, including updates to our application processes and guidance, relevant for both applicants and assessors.

Managing and sharing data

MRC has an overarching data sharing policy. Our policy aims to ensure that data sharing is embedded into the research process to maximise the value of research data for human health, society, and the economy. This policy sets out how to share data in a way that is:

  • timely
  • responsible
  • with as few restrictions as possible
  • consistent with the law, regulations and recognised good practice

Applicants input these plans into their data management plan. Make sure you are reading and checking the latest information on the opportunity you are applying to and provide the correct information in the correct way.

The benefits of publishing via preprints

If you are an MRC grant holder you must ensure you publish your results and archive your articles in Europe PubMed Central immediately on publication. This makes your MRC-funded research findings freely available.

If you are applying for an MRC grant or fellowship, you can cite preprints (a complete scientific manuscript that is shared publicly before it is peer reviewed). This can help bring attention to your most recent research findings. We strongly encourage you to share via established preprints servers.

We ask MRC assessors to take preprints into account when considering applications and in interviews. In line with the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, our assessors note the content of the papers, not where they, or subsequent peer reviewed papers, are published.

New questions to help showcase your skills

Through peer review, applications to MRC are assessed by independent experts who consider the following:

  • vision
  • approach
  • capability to deliver
  • resources requested
  • any ethical considerations

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is going through a huge period of change underpinned by the simpler and better programme. All councils, including MRC, are moving onto a new funding service with a new core question set and application interface. These changes more clearly define what assessors are looking for, demystifying the peer review and assessment processes and allowing for a better researcher experience.

Using a narrative CV: the ‘Résumé for Research and Innovation’

Across UKRI, we’ve moved away from traditional CVs which focus on a narrow range of outputs, such as publications and successful funding. Instead we now ask applicants to complete a Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI). The R4RI encourages applicants to share a wider range of skills and experience, evidencing ability and potential to deliver the proposed research.

It’s important to consider, whether you’re applying for an individual fellowship or a grant with a team, how to best use the space available to convey your or your teams’ capability. We advise being selective and using key pertinent publications to show skills, experience, and capabilities.

Creating a positive research culture

We’ve created new guidance to aid reviewers in assessing research culture (PDF, 64KB) for new MRC Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE). This guidance trains assessors to take the spotlight off publications as the only way to assess researchers’ contributions.

It gives a breakdown of the criteria and what we would be looking for if research culture is well, sufficiently or not addressed. The rubric creates a new emphasis on the outputs we want and value. It’s the first time we have asked assessors to consider ‘what good looks like’ in this way.

MRC CoREs will be beacons of excellence in research culture and equality, diversity and inclusion. They will adopt and maintain the highest standards in the way research is conducted and openly communicated. In the lead up to the launch of round two of funding for MRC CoREs, last month we shared tips from our Major Investments Board on how to grow positive research culture.

Improving our processes

We want to work with our communities to ensure we recognise all researcher outputs and contributions and support our assessors in their peer review. Any ideas for how we can further improve our application processes, guidance and peer review are welcome at: rfpd@mrc.ukri.org

Find out more

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Top image:  Credit: Laurence Dutton, E+ via Getty Images

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