Collaboration across institutes can train students in open, team science, which better prepares them for challenges to come, says Katherine Button.
Three years ago, as I prepared to start as a lecturer in the University of Bath’s psychology department, I reflected on my own undergraduate training. What should I emulate? What would I like to improve? The ‘reproducibility crisis’ was in full swing. Many of the standard research practices I had been taught were now shown to be flawed, from P-value hacking to ‘HARKing’ — hypothesizing after the results are known — and an over-reliance on underpowered studies (that is, drawing oversized conclusions from undersized samples).
It struck me that the research dissertation students do in their final year is almost a bootcamp for instilling these bad habits. Vast numbers of projects, limited time and resources, small sample sizes, the potential for undisclosed analytic flexibility (P-hacking) and a premium on novelty: together, a recipe for irreproducible results.
Most undergraduate dissertations turn into exercises tallying the limitations of the research design — frustrating for both student and supervisor. However, each year a few students get lucky and publish, securing a huge CV advantage. I wondered what lesson this was teaching. Were we embedding a culture that rewards chance results over robust methods?