Improving training in scientific rigor: Announcing a new educational platform

Funding the highest quality science is a critically important element in advancing the mission of NINDS. Our Office of Research Quality leads NINDS’s efforts through workshop and meeting presentations, publications, and dissemination of research design and transparent reporting guidance and comprehensive educational tools. In May of this year, we brought together a group of de facto “Rigor Champions” for a two-day workshop to discuss how best to promote the principles of scientific rigor and transparency at research institutions. You can learn more about the workshop and view the recordings of both days on the event webpage. We are now very excited to launch a brand-new educational platform to develop, validate and disseminate training materials to improve the quality of the research we fund. The new platform will provide training materials in different aspects of scientific rigor. Through our experimental rigor initiative, the first round of awards has been funded, and we are officially underway in the creation of this first-of-its-kind resource.

Scientific rigor, the strict application of the scientific method to ensure robust, unbiased research, comes with training and deliberate, quality improvement efforts. As I wrote last year, “Good Science is Rigorous Science," and NINDS continually strives  to promote the importance of rigor and transparency in science. The new initiative will help fill a much-needed gap in science training—one that was, in part, revealed by a survey conducted a few years ago.

A pie chart using shades of blue to indicate institutions with NINDS training grants that offered rigor courses or modules.

In that survey, we looked at a total of 41 institutions that received training grant funding in 2018. Of these institutions, only five offered a full course on or related to the principles of rigorous research. These data indicated to us the important role for NINDS in helping to improve the educational landscape as it pertains to scientific rigor.

Because every institution’s and individual’s needs are different, our approach is to create a set of modular educational units that can be tailored to build a custom training course based on the unique needs of the user. The task of building a platform to host, harmonize, and disseminate this content, free of charge to all, belongs to the recipient of the “Creating an Educational Nexus for Training in Experimental Rigor (CENTER)” grant: a team led by Konrad Kording at the University of Pennsylvania. The content itself will be created in collaboration with CENTER by institutions receiving Materials to Enhance Training in Experimental Rigor (METER) awards, the first four of which were awarded recently.

Each METER educational unit will cover a specific topic relating to scientific rigor, and you can learn more about each of the grant recipients and their projects in our recent press release or on the initiative’s webpage. This is just the first of three METER award cycles: for more information, please read the Notice, and we are currently accepting applications for the next round of funding through October 11, 2022. If you have an idea for an educational unit or multiple educational units for our growing rigor training resource, please consider applying to this funding opportunity! Letters of Intent, which are helpful for planning, are due September 11, 2022.

It is our hope that, by providing these and future educational content, current and future researchers can become more familiar with the important principles that are the foundation of rigorous and successful science. This in turn will lead to higher quality research projects, improved public trust, and more reliable discoveries that can ultimately be turned into better treatments for neurological disorders.

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