NINDS Rigor Champions Prize

The NINDS Office of Research Quality seeks to promote research rigor and transparent reporting and to foster a culture of research quality within the scientific ecosystem. As part of this mission, NINDS launched the NINDS Rigor Champions Prize in 2023.

An image with dark blue and turquoise brushstrokes with 3 yellow arrows on the left and an image of The Thinker on the right. In the top left is the text: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. In the center is the text, which increases in size as it descends: Rigor Champions Prize. In the top right is the text: 2023.

The goal of this prize is to help recognize and reward those individuals and small teams who have championed rigor and transparency practices above and beyond their normal job duties and who have helped cultivate a culture that promotes robust, high-quality neuroscience research.

NINDS Rigor Champions Prize submissions included short essays describing activities performed to improve culture and practice related to scientific rigor and transparency and evidence of their implementation and success. Submissions were judged based on their championship of and commitment to the described activity, the significance of the activity as it pertains to rigor and transparency, and the impact the activity has had. The winners will receive a $10,000 cash prize.

Five Prize winners and three honorable mentions were selected in March 2024. NINDS congratulates all of the winners and honorable mentions for their important contributions to enhancing rigor and transparency in neuroscience research. NINDS also thanks all of the rigor champions who submitted an entry and are helping to change the culture of science!

2023 Winners

Michael Dougherty – Individual

Dr. Michael Dougherty, Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland, catalyzed the development of new departmental tenure and promotion guidelines that reward rigorous research activities, openness, and transparency; created a repository for information on advancing open science through incentives; and held workshops to guide departmental leaders and others across the nation on tenure and promotion policy reform. Dr. Dougherty has sought to reform the academic incentive system by shifting it away from a focus on “volume and reputation-based metrics” to instead focus on behaviors that more directly promote rigor and transparency. His efforts have culminated in a toolkit that other departments can use to better align their values and the behaviors that they incentivize.

Kevin Knudtson, Katia Sol-Church, Frances Weis-Garcia, and Sheenah Mische – Team

This team, consisting of faculty and shared research resource (core) facility directors from various institutions, were catalysts in creating the Committee on Core Rigor and Reproducibility (CCoRRe) within the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (ABRF). Members of this team founded CCoRRe in 2016 to “raise the awareness of the ABRF members and the core community at large on the importance of adopting rigorous and transparent practices by providing platforms/forums during the society’s annual meeting, regional chapter meetings, and virtual Town Halls.” These individuals continue to serve on CCoRRe and support its efforts to encourage the use of Research Resource Identifiers (RRIDs), facilitate data management plans, address cognitive biases during experimentation, and provide other training and tools to help core facilities enhance rigor, transparency, and reproducibility both within their facilities and in the broader scientific community. 

Dana Lapato, Nina Exner, and Timothy York – Team 

This team, consisting of a Data Librarian, Assistant Professor, and Professor, led the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Data Science Lab in providing university-wide courses, consultations, open educational materials, workshops, seminars, and a ReproducibiliTea journal club that collectively addressed topics of open science, study preregistration, data science, and reproducible computer programming. This team has championed these efforts and continually sought additional support despite changing team membership and time-limited resources that have threatened the longevity of the program. Through their efforts, over a thousand university trainees and staff have started using new tools to improve the transparency and reproducibility of their scientific workflows, and new rigor-related course requirements have been integrated into VCU graduate programs.

Michela (Micky) Marinelli – Individual

Dr. Michela (Micky) Marinelli, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin, developed a comprehensive elective undergraduate and graduate course titled “Analytical Skepticism” focused on “improving the ability to judge and ‘do’ science well.” She has additionally presented key aspects of this course, such as the influence of cognitive biases and human error on experiments (topics that are often overlooked) to the lay public. Former students have praised her course for changing how they approach science even after they have moved into the scientific workforce.   

Melissa Rethlefsen– Individual

As the Deputy Director/Associate Librarian at the University of Utah, Melissa Rethlefsen spearheaded efforts to change institutional culture related to research rigor by organizing two conferences separated by a weekly, multidisciplinary "Grand Rounds Research Reproducibility" seminar series; a campus-wide Research Reproducibility Coalition; and a course that collectively served to enhance awareness and seek ways to improve rigor and transparency. After moving to the University of Florida, her efforts to increase awareness continued with a third widely attended virtual conference. These meetings were some of the earliest efforts to create a national conference on scientific rigor, transparency, and reproducibility, and they directly led to updated journal reporting guidelines as well as multiple scientists planning to change their research practices.

2023 Honorable Mentions

Chantelle Ferland-Beckham and Magali Haas – Team

Drs. Chantelle Ferland-Beckham and Magali Haas at the nonprofit Cohens Veterans Bioscience helped conceptualize and catalyze the development of the Best Negative Data Prize in Preclinical Neuroscience, which rewards researchers who have published rigorously obtained null results. This prize is awarded to one research paper every other year, with a similar prize for clinical neuroscience awarded in the intervening year, and the winner is publicized at the annual European College for Pharmacology Congress to increase awareness and celebrate rigorous null results. This initiative was developed to combat publication bias against null studies by incentivizing publication and signaling to researchers that null results are valuable.

Megan Hagenauer– Individual

Dr. Megan Hagenauer, an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of Michigan, has hosted events associated with the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting that provide a space to discuss scientific “failures” and experimental mistakes. These events have thus far included a storytelling session and two sponsored socials, and their aim has been to reduce stigma around reporting errors or weaknesses in one’s experiments. Especially popular with trainees, these well-attended events have allowed scientists to share how their science has gone wrong and to learn that this is a common experience.

William Ngiam – Individual

While a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago, Dr. William Ngiam founded a local chapter of the ReproducibiliTea journal club, started a podcast on related topics, and joined the steering committee of the global ReproducibiliTea network. ReproducibiliTea aims to stimulate discussions amongst early career researchers and empower them to practice research rigor and open science. Dr. Ngiam’s efforts have led to increased discussions about and implementation of open and reproducible research practices amongst early career researchers in the University of Chicago Department of Psychology.