Research Bites is back!



The Research Bites programme returns!

Our programme relaunches in April 2018, beginning with a series of talks on Research grant funding and finance.


April’s programme is featured below

and you can find details of upcoming programmes via our new Moodle site (

I’m an Early Career Researcher – Get me some Funding
Thursday 12th April, 12pm, A064 (Bowland North Computer Lab)
Zoe Bolton, Research Development Officer, Research & Enterprise Services

Research finances – costs to consider in your proposal
Friday 13th April, 12pm, Bowland North SR11
Charlotte Bee, Research Development Officer & Tracy Quilliam, Research Support Administrator, Research & Enterprise Services

ACP basics and approving your research costing
Friday 20th April, 12pm, Bowland North SR11
Verity Williams, Research Support Administrator, Research & Enterprise Services

How to write a good a Justification of Resources (JoR)
Thursday 26th April, 12pm, Bowland North SR03
Andrew Wilkinson, Research Development Officer, Research & Enterprise Services

Research Contracts – an introduction
Friday 27th April, 12pm, Bowland North SR24
Mark Reynolds, Contracts Manager, Research & Enterprise Services

Each Research Bites session starts at 12pm. There will be a talk for approximately 20 minutes, with an opportunity for questions afterwards.

Tea or coffee and a cake provided!

No need to book – just turn up!





What’s the Difference? Ethics at Lancaster University – Common themes and FAQs

Original Image: (Image credit: Nick Youngson – CC BY-SA 3.0)


It was great to welcome back Becky Case, Debbie Knight and Diane Hopkins for more on research ethics following their previous Research Bites session on the Ethics approval process at Lancaster University.

The ethical mindset

When considering ethics the first question researchers ask is: “Can I do X?” .  The short answer is always:  YES – if it is ethical.  Is what you are trying to do morally justifiable for your research goals?

This question should be at the heart of every research proposal; the ethics committee are looking for an ethical mindset.  Consider the following questions:

  • Are you trying to do good and trying to avoid doing harm?
  • How are you dealing with personal data that has been freely given?
  • Are you respecting that data?

Conduct your research with an ethical mindset

Almost all ethical issues have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis but there are some themes which are common to many research projects.

Anonymity vs confidentiality

There is sometimes confusion between what is meant by “anonymised” and “confidential”.


Asserting that data will be anonymised means that individuals cannot be identified from the data.  You will be expected to anonymise data and make it clear to people what it is you are going to do.  Bear in mind however that some data is hard/impossible to anonymise. Also be aware that there are some people do not want their data anonymised.


Confidential is a very difficult concept – people have different ideas about what this means. The lay person is likely to understand this as not sharing the data with anyone.  This would preclude sharing the research in any way.  The academic may understand confidentiality as capable of being shared with an academic audience or that the data can be shared if it is anonymous.

  • There are limits to confidentiality as in some areas there might be a statutory obligation to report information, especially where there is a duty of care.
  • Do not promise things which cannot be honoured.
  • Ensure participants understand what is going to happen to their data – good communication is vital!

Researcher vs counsellor

There is a fundamental difference between being a researcher and being a counsellor.

When conducting interviews with people, ask yourself the question:

What would you do in the event that people become upset?

The natural human response is not always the correct ethical response – your role is as a researchers not a counsellor and this should not be undertaken unless you are qualified to do so.  There is guidance available on safeguarding issues and you should be aware of these when dealing with potentially complex issues.

Informed consent

This is key to a good ethical approach.  It can be written or verbal.

There are several considerations relating to participation/non-participation which need to be made explicit at the outset:

  • What will happens to the and their data at the end of the project?
  • What happens if the participant changes their minds about taking part in the project?
  • What will happen to their data in this scenario?

You need to be able to show that you have considered all of this when planning your project and method of gathering data eg via forms, tick boxes etc.

Paying for participation

Paying people for participation is acceptable depending on the circumstances.  It is reasonable to pay travel expenses or as a thank you but it must not be used coercively. For example if a person decides to withdraw from the project they cannot be “threatened” with non-payment.

Bear in mind:

  • the effect of payment on benefit claimants.
  • working overseas a small amount of money here can be a significant sum.


Assessing vulnerability is not always easy – some people may be vulnerable at certain times and not at others.  Focus on capacity to consent.

Vulnerable vs non-vulnerable

You do not necessarily need parental consent for children to take part but it is vital that no-one, child or adult, is coerced into taking part in research.  Often the context in which the research takes place is key – children in a classroom. a dementia sufferer with their family etc.

Determining capacity to consent

The ethics committee will be looking for a description of how you are going to determine capacity to consent.  Do not make claims involving clinical judgements about people if you are not qualified or able to make them.   Do not assume consent to take part is a one-off process and it must be easy for participants to withdraw if they change their mind.

Widening participation

This should be balanced against the need to widen participation in research. Because of perceptions of vulnerability certain groups eg those with disabilities are often excluded from research.  This negatively affects outcomes and participation.

Consent forms

There are templates for consent forms if you are having trouble getting started on lots of help available on the sorts of things you should be putting on the consent form.
The consent form is vital and protects the researcher as much as the participant.


There were various questions raised after the presentation including around

  • Retrospective ethical approval
  • Research with children as participants
  • The role of researcher vs teacher
  • The use of human tissue samples


Ethics is not about getting in the way of research its about informing and facilitating!

If in doubt – get in touch with the Research Ethics Officers!

Research bites: an introduction to Digital Preservation

On Thursday 12th January I gave a Research Bites session on Digital Preservation. I’ve talked about this topic before and the advice I gave was the same – you can read about it here.  These are the slides I used:

which contains the basics of our approach and advice for researchers to ensure their research is preserved for the long term.

If we are going to value data we need to give it value.

Over the past twelve months I have slightly changed the emphasis of my approach to digital preservation. The secret to successful digital preservation is not about seeking a technical solution – it’s about good practice from the outset. If we are going to value data we need to give it value.  The process of preservation is one of collaboration to achieve the goal of long term access.

This means we should take the time to create useful and rich metadata; which gives context and meaning to the data. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated our technology is, if the data doesn’t make sense, or can’t be interpreted then there isn’t any point in keeping it.

It’s not just a requirement it’s also an opportunity.

Ultimately  the researcher is the one who is best placed to decide what data is of value and how best to keep it usable and accessible. This means preserving not just the raw data but the context as well. It’s not just a requirement it’s also an opportunity to highlight and promote excellent research undertaken by the university.

If you want to know more about managing your research data and making it available, now and into the future please get in touch or look at our website for more.