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VCU Data Science Lab Wins First Prize from National Institutes of Health for Promoting Trust in Research – VCU News

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Data Science Lab has won a first-place award from the National Institutes of Health for cultivating a culture of robust, high-quality research in neuroscience.

Founded in 2016, the laboratory supports what the NIH identifies as two cornerstones of scientific progress: rigor in research design and conduct, and the ability to reproduce biomedical research results. The lab strives to make accuracy and reproducibility an approachable process, and more than 1,000 VCU researchers and trainees have used its tools, methods and training programs to improve the transparency and reproducibility of their work on campus.

“Transparent, reproducible, well-documented methods are not just for big data or high-performance computers,” says Nina Exner, Ph.D., research data librarian at VCU Libraries and associate professor of scholarly communication and publishing. “Every researcher can benefit from good data management throughout design and analysis. Data science is for everyone.”

In March, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a unit of the NIH, awarded the VCU Data Science Lab an inaugural Rigor Champions Prize. The new program recognizes individuals and small teams who have committed to rigorous and transparent practices that serve neuroscience research, and the lab was one of five honorees.

The laboratory is led by Timothy York, Ph.D., professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. York, Exner and Dana Lapato, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department, make up the VCU team honored by the NIH.

“Right now, public trust in research has probably never been more important,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., VCU vice president for research and innovation. “Thanks to the efforts of the VCU Data Science Lab, there are numerous resources to ensure that research at VCU is both rigorous and transparent. Congratulations to the team for this honor, and I hope this award serves as a catalyst to further support the effectiveness of our research. “

In the award announcement, the NIH praised the laboratory for “offering university courses, consultations, open educational materials, workshops, seminars, and a ReproducibiliTea journal club that collectively covered topics such as open science, preregistration for studies, data science, and reproducible computer programming.”

The Data Science Lab was founded by then-junior faculty members York and Aaron Wolen, Ph.D., who received funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation to implement the Open Science Framework. The OSF allows researchers to pre-register, organize and disseminate their research, and following the success of the interactive OSF workshops, York and Wolen have created a graduate-level data science course.

“Graduate students must learn the equivalent of basic laboratory skills for research computing,” York said. “We teach a modern computing workflow that follows best practices from open science, which encourages the sharing of research products. We believe that every researcher can adopt these recommendations to create more efficient data science workflows.”

Once the course was established, Lapato joined the Data Science Lab and co-founded a ReproducibiliTea journal club with Exner. The success of the RTea club led to the creation of a formal journal club course dedicated to scientific accuracy.

Thanks to the efforts of the Data Science Lab team, rigorous data science courses are now a requirement in three master’s and two Ph.D. programs at VCU. The courses are full every semester, even by students who do not have to take the courses in their course.