Oct 10, 2013

Opportunities for Collaborative Research


Photo of Jon Grahe

As a research methods instructor, I encourage my students to conduct “authentic” research projects. For now, consider authentic undergraduate research experiences as student projects at any level where the findings might result in a conference presentation or a publishable paper. This included getting IRB approval and attempts to present our findings at regional conferences, maybe including a journal submission. Eventually, I participated in opportunities for my students to contribute to big science by joining in two crowd-sourcing projects organized by Alan Reifman. The first was published in Teaching of Psychology (School Spirit Study Group, 2004) as an example for others to follow. The data included samples from 22 research methods classes who measured indices representative of the group name. Classes evaluated the data from their own school and the researchers collapsed the data to look at generalization across institutions. The second collaborative project included surveys collected by students in 10 research methods classes. The topic was primarily focused on emerging adulthood and political attitudes, but included many other psychological constructs. Later, I note the current opportunities for Emerging Adulthood theorists to use these data for a special issue of the journal, Emerging Adulthood. These two projects notwithstanding, there have been few open calls for instructors to participate in big science. Instructors who want to include authentic research experiences do so by completing all their own legwork as characterized by Frank and Saxe (2012) or as displayed by many of the poster presentations that you see at Regional Conferences.

However, that state of affairs has changed. Though instructors are likely to continue engaging in authentic research in their classrooms, they don’t have to develop the projects on their own anymore. I am very excited about the recent opportunities that allow students to contribute to “big science” by acting as crowd-sourcing experimenters. In full disclosure, I acknowledge my direct involvement in developing three of the following projects. However, I will save you a description of my own pilot test called the Collective Undergraduate Research Project (Grahe, 2010). Instead, I will briefly review recent “open invitation projects”, those where any qualified researcher can contribute. The first to emerge (Psych File Drawer, Reproducibility Project) were focused on PhD level researchers. However, since August 2012 there have been three research projects that specifically invite students to help generate data either as experimenters or as coders. More are likely to emerge soon as theorists grasp the idea that others can help them collect data.

This is a great time to be a research psychologist. These projects provide real opportunities for students or other researchers at any expertise level to get involved in not only authentic, but transformative research opportunities. The Council of Undergraduate Research recently published an edited volume (Karukstis & Hensel, 2010) dedicated to fostering transformative research for undergraduates. According to Wikipedia, “Transformative research is a term that became increasingly common within the science policy community in the 2000s for research that shifts or breaks existing scientific paradigms.” I consider open invitation projects transformative because they change the way that we view minimally acceptable standards for research. Each one is intended to change the basic premise of collaboration by bridging not only institutions, but also the chasm of acquaintance. Any qualified researcher can participate in data collection and authorship. Now, when I introduce research opportunities to my students, the ideas are grand. Here are research projects with grand ideas that invite contributions.

Many Labs Project - The Many Labs Team’s original invitation to contributors, sent out in February 2013 asked contributors to join their “wide-scale replication project {that was} conditionally accepted for publication in the special issue of Social Psychology.” They made a follow-up invitation in July reminding us of their Oct. 1st, 2013 deadline for data collection. This deadline limits future contributors, but it is a great example of a crowd-sourcing project. Their goal is to replicate 12 effects using the Project Implicit infrastructure. As is typical of these projects, contributors meeting a minimum goal (N > 80 cases in this instance) will be listed as coauthors in future publications. As they stated in their July post, “The project and accepted proposal has been registered on the Open Science Framework and can be found at this link: http://www.openscienceframework.org/project/WX7Ck/.” Richard Klein (project coordinator) reported that their project includes 18 different researchers at 15 distinct labs, with a plan for 38 labs contributing data before the deadline. This project is nearing the completion deadline and so new contributions are limited, but the project represents an important exemplar of potential projects.

Reproducibility Project – As stated on their invitation to new contributors on the Open Science Framework page, "Our primary goal is to conduct high quality replications of studies from three 2008 psychology journals and then compare our results to the original studies." As of right now, Johanna Cohoon from the Center for Open Science states, “We have 136 replication authors who come from 59 different institutions, with an additional 19 acknowledged replication researchers (155 replication researchers total). We also have an additional 40 researchers who are not involved in a replication that have earned authorship through coding/vetting 10 or more articles.” In short, this is a large collaboration and is welcoming more committed researchers. Though this project needs advanced researchers, it is possible for faculty to work closely with students who might wish to contribute.

PsychFileDrawer Project – This is less a collaborative effort between researchers than a compendium of replications, as stated by the project organizers: “PsychFileDrawer.org is a tool designed to address the File Drawer Problem as it pertains to psychological research: the distortion in the scientific literature that results from the failure to publish non-replications." It is collaborative in the sense that they host a “top 20” list of studies that the viewers want to see replicated. However, any researcher with a replication is invited to contribute the data. Further, although this was not initially targeted toward students, there is a new feature that allows contributors to identify a sample as a class project and the FAQ page asks instructors to comment on, “…the level and type of instructor supervision, and instructor’s degree of confidence in the fidelity with which the experimental protocol was implemented.”

Emerging Adulthood, Political Decisions, and More (2004) project – Alan Reifman is an early proponent of collaborative undergraduate research projects. After successfully guiding the School Spirit Study Group, he called again to research methods instructors to collectively conduct a survey that included two emerging adulthood scales, some political attitudes and intentions, and other scales that contributors wanted to add to the paper and pencil survey. By the time the survey was finalized, it was over 10 pages long and included hundreds of individual items measuring dozens of distinct psychological constructs on 12 scales. In retrospect, the survey was too long and the invitation to add on measures might have caused of the attrition of committed contributors that occurred. However, the final sample included over 1300 cases from 11 distinct institutions across the US. A list of contributors and initial findings can be found at Alan Reifman’s Emerging Adulthood Page. This project suffered from the amorphous structure of the collaboration. In short, no one instructor was interested in all the constructs. To resolve this situation where wonderfully rich data sit unanalyzed, the contributors are inviting emerging adulthood theorists to analyze the data and submit their work for a special issue of Emerging Adulthood. Details for how to request the data are available on the project’s OSF page. The deadline for a submission is July, 2014.

International Situations Project (ISP) – David Funder and Esther Guillaume-Hanes from the University of California—Riverside have organized a coalition of international researchers (19 and counting) to complete an internet protocol. As they describe on their about page, “Participants will describe situations by writing a brief description of the situation they experienced the previous day at 7 pm. They will identify situational characteristics uing the Riverside Situation Q-sort (RSQ) which includes 89 items that participants place into one of nine categories ranging from not at all characteristic to very characteristics. They then identify the behaviors they displayed using the Riverside Behavioral Q-Sort (RBQ) which includes 68 items using the same sorting procedure. The UC-Riverside researchers are taking primary responsibility for writing research reports. They have papers in print and others in preparation where all contributors who provide more than 80 cases are listed as authors. In Fall 2012, Psi Chi and Psi Beta encouraged their members to replicate the ISP in the US to create a series of local samples yielding 11 samples with 5 more committed contributors (Grahe, Guillaume-Hanes, & Rudmann, 2014). Currently, contributors are invited to complete either this project or their subsequent Personality project which includes completing this protocol, then completing the California Adult Q-Sort two weeks later. Interested researchers should contact Esther Guillaume directly at eguil002@ucr.edu.

Collaborative Replications and Education Project (CREP)This project has recently started inviting contributions and is explicitly designed for undergraduates. Instructors who guide student research projects are encouraged to share the available studies list with their students. Hans IJzerman and Mark Brandt reviewed the top three cited empirical articles in the top journals in nine sub disciplines and rated them for feasibility to be completed by undergraduates selecting nine studies that were the most feasible. The project provides small ($200-$500) CREP research awards for completed projects (sponsored by Psi Chi and the Center for Open Science). Contributors will be encouraged/supported in writing and submitting reports for publication by the project coordinators. Anyone interested in participating should contact Jon Grahe (graheje@plu.edu).

Archival Project – This Center for Open Science project is also specifically designed as a crowd-sourcing opportunity for students. When it completes the beta-testing phase, the Archival Project will be publicly advertised. Unlike all the projects reviewed thus far, this project asks contributors to serve as coders rather than act as experimenters. It is a companion project to the OSC Reproducibility Project in that the target articles are from the same three Journals from the first three months of 2008. This project has a low bar for entry as training can take little time (particularly with the now available online tutorial) and coders can code as few as a single article and still make a real contribution. However, this project also has a system of honors as they state on their “getting involved” page: “Contributors who provide five or more accurate codings will be listed as part of the collective authorship.” This project was designed with the expectation that instructors will find the opportunity pedagogically useful and that they will employ it as a course exercise. Alternatively, students in organized clubs (such as Psi Chi) are invited to participate to increase their own methodological competence while simultaneously accumulating evidence of their contributions to an authentic research project. Finally, graduate students are invited to participate without faculty supervision. Interested parties should contact Johanna Cohoon (johannacohoon@gmail.com) for more information.

Future Opportunities – While this is intended to be an exhaustive list of open invitation projects, the field is not static and this list is likely to grow. What is exciting is that we now have ample opportunities to participate in “big science” with relatively small contributions. When developed with care, these projects follow Grahe et al. (2012)’s recommendation to take advantage of the magnitude of research being conducted each year by psychology students. The bar for entry varies in these projects from relatively intensive (e.g. Reproducibility Project, CREP) to relatively easy (e.g. Archival Project, ISP), providing opportunities for individuals with varying resources, from graduate students and PhD level researchers capable of completing high quality replications to students and instructors who seek opportunities in the classroom. Beyond the basic opportunity to participate in transformative research, these projects provide exemplars for how future collaborative projects should be designed and managed.

This is surely an incomplete list of current or potential examples of crowd-sourcing research. Please share other examples as comments below. Further consider pointing out strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats that could emerge from collaborative research. Finally, any public statements about intentions to participate in this type of open science initiative are welcome.


Frank, M. C., & Saxe, R. (2012). Teaching replication. Perspectives On Psychological Science, 7(6), 600-604. doi:10.1177/1745691612460686

Grahe. J. E., Gullaume-Hanes, E., & Rudmann, J. (2014). Students collaborate to advance science: The International Situations Project. Council for Undergraduate Research Quarterly

Grahe, J. E., Reifman, A., Hermann, A. D., Walker, M., Oleson, K. C., Nario-Redmond, M., & Wiebe, R. P. (2012). Harnessing the undiscovered resource of student research projects. Perspectives On Psychological Science, 7(6), 605-607. doi:10.1177/1745691612459057

Karukstis, K. K., & Hensel, N. (2010) Transformative research at predominately undergraduate institutions.” Council of Undergraduate Research. Washington DC., USA.

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