Exploring the role of AI in Research

by Gary McNally (Research Training Manger, RIIS) and Prof Jon Fairburn (Business School)

This is the first in a series of blogs where we will look at the use of Artificial Intelligence in universities, businesses and society.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has advanced significantly in recent years, offering both opportunities and challenges for the research community. We would like to kickstart a conversation about how AI tools like ChatGPT are affecting the landscape of academic research, and how Staffordshire University researchers can avoid being left behind. It is very likely that within a couple of years the use of tools like ChatGPT will be as common to academics as the use of word processors and email.

The Promise and Pitfalls of AI in Research

While AI platforms like ChatGPT have sparked a range of reactions from excitement to skepticism, their application in research has been problematic. Early iterations of these tools have been criticized for the unreliability of their sources and their tendency to “hallucinate” facts.

However, recent improvements in AI technology have begun to mitigate these issues. Some AI models and sites are now capable of identifying research funding opportunities, drafting project briefs, assisting in grant application writing, and even conducting literature reviews with credible sources.

The Competitive Edge in Adoption

Researchers adopting these AI-assisted methodologies are potentially at an advantage, poised to outperform their peers in terms of productivity and efficiency. We know that researchers at other institutions are already incorporating AI tools into their research workflows. We can only assume the same is happening at Staffordshire, but we simply don’t know who, or how.

Next steps at Staffordshire University

The potential for AI in research is huge, but its effective implementation raises important questions for our academic community. To explore these issues, you can join the MS Team – Artificial Intelligence at Staffordshire University (open to all staff and PGRs) with which we will co-ordinate meetings, discussion, resources etc.

We’re sure these conversations are already happening across the University. For those interested in developing this further, or who would like to join the conversation, please contact Professor Jon Fairburn (jon.fairburn@staffs.ac.uk) or Gary McNally (gary.mcnally@staffs.ac.uk)


General resources

On LinkedIn By Learning there is an excellent and very practical course – How to Research and Write Using Generative AI Tools by Dave Birss – don’t be misled by the title this course is of use to anyone who wants to learn to use ChatGPT

Dave Birss has his own website including a free spreadsheet of prompts you can download

A you tube film of signing up and then 10 common prompts to use in ChatGPT to get started

Fifty different uses for ChatGPT


Youtube – 6 AI tools you’ll actually use for research (excellent quick guide to 6 ai’s) and this by the same author is also good AI-Enhanced Academic Writing: A Step-By-Step Guide for Writing in Half the Time


Guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence in University contexts – on a Creative Commons licence so easy to adapt and share

Student uses cases for AI – guidelines for academics using it in teaching

Mollick, Ethan & Mollick, Lilach (2023) Using AI to Implement Effective Teaching Strategies in Classrooms: Give Strategies, including. Prompts University of Pennsylvania

Ethan Mollick’s main blog – lots of articles on here

How to Use AI to Do Stuff: An Opinionated Guide – a good review of the different AI tools (summer 2023) , just note things are moving fast in the field

Examples from business and society

Case Study: Enhanced Customer Service Through AI at Octopus Energy including this key quote “Octopus Energy reported that customer emails answered by the AI achieved an 80% satisfaction rate, significantly higher than the 65% achieved by human workers. Additionally, the AI system greatly improved productivity by handling a considerable portion of customer email inquiries.” Note The Times (8/5/23) reported that the AI was now doing the job of 250 employees.

Software company uses ChatGPT to cut coding down from weeks to day

This is a government case study of an SME that used Defence and Security Accelerator funding to develop what it calls an “ethical” AI application that analyses human behaviour, ostensibly to help spot and safeguard victims of human trafficking.

This is a government case study on a Proof of Concept in the NHS, that uses AI to identify patients at risk of a long stay at hospital, helping to improve interventions and patient outcomes.

Using AI to speed up diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease

For gamers – this demonstrates how the wider games modding community are implementing Chat GPT and AI Voice generation to transform Skyrim (one of the most popular role playing games of the past 20 years)