Following on from December’s webinar entitled PhD students take on openness and academic culture, we asked our speakers to summarise their talks by offering a few key takeaways, which you can find below. This may be useful for those who missed it or wish to share with colleagues. You can also access the full audio recording and slides.
We also asked speakers to respond to the many questions that were posed by attendees via the webinar chat. You can find those questions and answers directly under the takeaways.
OASPA is very grateful to the speakers for all of the work and time they have given to this webinar – in preparation, on the day, and after.
Gareth O’Neill (@gtoneill)
Gareth O’Neill, a doctoral candidate in theoretical linguistics at Leiden University and a consultant on Open Science for the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), began by talking about the PhD perspective on academic culture, and Open Access policies such as Plan S.
- Open Science should enable researchers to easily share and benefit from research
- Openness is a spectrum: not all research outputs must be fully or immediately open
- Researchers should be made more aware of the practices/benefits of Open Science
- Researchers need training/support in key practices like Open Access and FAIR Data
- We should open all of the research life-cyle including publications, data, and software
- We are publishing too many articles and should publish less and also publish data sets
- We should move away from impact factors/journal brands to new encompassing metrics
- Reseachers should be rewarded for Open Science practices in funding/career evaluation
- Early-career researchers need leadership from the senior researchers on Open Science
- Open Science practices like reviews should not negatively affect early-career researchers
Noémie Aubert Bonn (@naubertbonn)
- Current research assessments are seriously problematic and may even threaten the integrity of science
- Research assessments overvalue outputs and ignore processes. They also tend to focus on extraordinary and positive findings, to look at individuals rather than teams, and to be based on competition, thereby discouraging scientists from being realistic, collaborative, and open.
- The disruptive practices which benefit success but threaten integrity often become part of the research culture, while important practices which benefit good science and quality without advancing researchers’ careers rarely survive the academic cycle.
- ECRs are especially vulnerable. They face high pressure and high demands while benefiting from low resources and low employment security.
- Rather than questioning what is asked of them, ECRs tend to feel that leaving academia is a personal failure. Knowing that 80-90% of ECRs will have to leave academia, we must tackle these perspectives and change the way we assess scientists.
- How can we change the research culture without increasing the vulnerability of ECR?
Nadia Soliman (@Nadia_Soliman_)
Nadia Soliman (Imperial College London) has returned to academia having served in both the regular and reserve of the British Army for over ten years. She spoke on Leadership in Academia, and how this relates to publishing.
- ECRs are being pressured into publishing against their ethics because of threats relating to job security
- We are not assessed on research merit but on journal title.
- Experiences of leadership development within the British Army enables recognition that the cultural change required requires robust leadership at every level
- The change required is to move from a culture that incentivises individualism to one that is more team-orientated and outward focused.
- Academics should believe and understand that they are “in service of others”. Unlike the Army, academics do not have a values and leadership code to refer to for guidance
- Academic Leadership Code – a document that articulates our values (the guiding principles) and the types of leadership behaviours to uphold those values:-
- Values; academic freedom, scholarly excellence, mutual respect, collaboration, integrity
- Leadership behaviours; lead by example, develop others, build teams and collaborations, strive for team goals, do the right thing
- Three values pertinent to open access publishing and changing research culture:
– Scholarly excellence Improving the quality of research is a reason for open access publishing. It can increase transparency, reproducibility, academic rigour, and shorten the timeframe of publication and dissemination. The “Natural Selection of Bad Science”, Smaldino and McElreath 2016, shows that selecting for high output leads to poorer method conduction and increasingly high false discovery rates. Need to move to a culture that rewards understanding
– Collaboration Collaborative working is an increasing feature of academic research that allows us to tackle the most ambitious problems by sharing knowledge and resources. Information access is key to global development
– Integrity Academics should be honest, fair, transparent and accountable, stand up for what is right and uphold moral and ethical values. This is necessary if doing so may hinder career progression. Maintaining integrity shows that decisions are based upon the greater good and not for personal gain
- Everyone at every level has a responsibility to drive change
- Everyone has agency and can lead by example regardless of their position – it is in our gift!
- Need funders, institutions, publishers and individual researchers to work together
– Funders: incentivise OA publishing
– Publishers: equitable fees for OA
– Institutions: DORA signatories
– Researchers: publish OA, publish and review on preprint servers, submit to and review for journals working towards improving incentive structures
Questions received via the webinar chat channel
Answers from Gareth O’Neill (GON); Noémie Aubert Bonn (NAB); Nadia Soliman (NS)
Q. Pressure to publish vs pressure to publish in open access: some South African researchers are still very wary of the open access route re quality and peer review quality – some associate open access with predatory publishing. Do you have any comments?
GON: Many researchers do seem to associate Open Access with predatory publishing but this is simply not correct. Predatory venues can be, but are not necessarily, Open Access. It is instead important that researchers know how to identify non-predatory venues for Open Access. This can be done with the help of ‘white lists’ of journals such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) or journals following peer review guidelines such as the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).
Q. Open access funding for the humanities is problematic, so Plan S needs some adapting perhaps?
GON: The humanities indeed come with their own issues related to Open Access. Many humanities scholars tend to publish monographs or book chapters as opposed to journal articles. Plan S currently does not address Open Access books due to the complexities and costs involved. Plan S has, however, taken the humanities into account by allowing potential exceptions to default CC BY licences on publications in the form of CC BY-ND licences. This allows humanities scholars to greater control translations into foreign languages and interpretations of their written texts.
Q. How can someone be believed to be supportive of something (open access) without knowing what it is or what it means? Is it not possible that, once they understand what it is their level of support would change? Has there been any measurement of a change in open access sentiment before and after understanding what it actually means?
NAB: That’s a very good point. There is a serious educational gap, especially with more senior researchers who hear of Open Access through scandals of predatory publishers but do not fully grasp the concept. I do not know of any measurements or study per se on attitudinal changes after explanations of the true meaning of open access, so I think you raise an important target for education and future research. The issue I have seen however, is that universities are reluctant to mandate training for senior researchers, and university administrators and Integrity Officers repeatedly told me that it is very difficult to involve senior researchers in training (not all of them of course) without making the training mandatory. I think this is something that needs to change. Dynamics and possibilities are changing, and we all need to learn in the process. If we manage to ensure that senior scientists also participate in training, then I think we will be on solid grounds to change.
Q. CC BY requires a reuser to indicate whether changes were made. Is this understood?
GON: This is correct. CC BY allows users to “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format” and “remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially” so long as they “give appropriate credit, provide a link to the licence, and indicate if changes were made” and do this “in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use”. The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms if you follow these terms.
Q. What can healthy competition look like?
NAB: I have been wondering about this too. In my project, when discussing competition, most people start by saying ‘Competition is necessary to advance science, but…’. Yet empirically, I found very little support for this position compared to the damages that competition does to science and scientists. To me, I think the key resides in the scale of the competition. At the moment, especially in the biomedical sciences, competition is on a person-to-person basis. We compete with everyone around for grants, for priority of discovery, for topic ownership, for recognition… So that means that we compete against teams at the international level, but also the sister institution, the department next door, and even within our team, for that position of tenure or that prestigious grant we all want… I think this ‘micro competition’ is the essence of the problem we have at the moment. Conversely, I was talking with some physicists in the OAA conference from the Max Planck Institutes the other day, and I understood that in physics, competition works differently. There, the strong and fierce competition lives between big teams who are trying to resolve the same scientific question. Normally, these teams are built from multiple institutes and countries, and they compete to solve a scientific question as fast and as reliably as they can. This, to me, can be healthy competition. You detach the individual from the equation, and you work together – not unlike the army by the way! – towards a common goal to advance science faster than the other team.
Q. Can any of you point us to research with those who have left /burned out of academia?
NAB: There are some excellent reports out there, some personal experiences shared on Science and Nature News, in newspapers, or in blog posts, and some scientific articles showing the extent of the problem. Unfortunately they’re not all open access…! (and I think it is a real problem since their audience also involves researchers who left academia!).
In any case, here are a few examples:
- Powell, K. (2016). Young, talented and fed-up: scientists tell their stories. Nature, pp. 446-449. → A news feature about the personal experience of three ECRs who are fed up with the pressures of early career life.
- Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2017.02.008 → Reports on PhD students’ mental health in Flanders, Belgium. One of the first to make a big boom, it was covered extensively in the news and media afterwards.
- Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature Biotechnology, 36, 282. DOI: 10.1038/nbt.4089 → Similar to the above through an international survey. The short article also points to university reports on the topic.
- Woolston, C. (2017). Graduate survey: A love–hurt relationship. Nature, 550(7677), 549-552. doi:10.1038/nj7677-549a → Results from a Nature survey which also shows the high prevalence of stress and depression
- And some other resources about the problem more generally:
- Anonymous. (2010, December 18). The disposable academic. The Economist.
- Maher, B., & Sureda Anfres, M. (2016, 26 October). Young scientists under pressure: what the data show. Nature, pp. 444-445.
- Woolston, C. (2019). PhDs: the tortuous truth. Nature, pp. 403-407. R
- The mental health of PhD researchers demands urgent attention. (2019, 13 November). Nature, pp. 257-258.
- Anonymous Academic. (2018, 22 June). I just got a permanent academic job – but I’m not celebrating. The Guardian.
Q. What are the key drivers that will make academic institution leadership effect a sea change in research culture? Must they be internal and external, or just external (e.g. Plan S etc.)?
NS: All stakeholders: publishers, institutions, funders and researchers alike have a role to play in the improvement of research culture and we need all stakeholders to be involved and work collectively. However, the cynic in me believes that the greatest change will largely be dependent on funders. Money talks. It is my opinion that funders have the most power to make these changes and hold research groups and more broadly institutions accountable.
Q. I think it would be interesting to hear from attendees and speakers’ examples of academic institutions they know are making a change and demonstrating leadership.
NS: There are many examples of academic institutions signing up to policies to instigate positive change e.g. DORA, UK Reproducibility Network, however what I am not aware of is how well these policies are implemented and adhered to and whether institutional leaders have structures in place to hold researchers accountable. Academics operate in small silos and it’s a concern of mine that it is perhaps easy for individual researchers to not comply and there are no ramifications for not.
Q. We’ve heard a lot about open access articles today, but what can publishers do to help encourage researchers to publish an open access book? Thank you!
GON: Publishing books in Open Access is more complicated due to a typical focus on print copies and the higher costs involved compared to journal articles. Publishers should develop transparent business models that keep book prices reasonable and offer print-on-demand services. Publishers should also allow authors/institutions to retain copyright and publish books under an open licence as well as provide transparent information on their Open Access policies. PhD candidates should especially be encouraged and supported to publish theses in Open Access.
Q. Do Early Career Researchers feel they are encouraged and supported to join editorial boards? I ask because that is one channel to bring change into the culture of a journal and ultimately the publisher. But the same barriers may apply here for ECRs as they face in career progression and other areas of work.
NS: This is not something I am aware of ECRs being invited to do. I have been invited to the Editorial Board for BMJ Open Science however, this is a progressive, new journal that shares the values that we have discussed. I agree that it would be a good opportunity to drive cultural change and it is a shame that it does not seem to be common place as ECRs will have a lot to offer and perhaps that is underestimated.
Q: Along the same lines, do ECRs feel that they have any opportunities to contribute to university library discussions and decisions about contract negotiations with publishers?
GON: Early-career researchers are typically not involved or consulted by their university libraries in discussions about contract negotiations with publishers. This is usually left to experienced librarians and senior researchers at the university and may not be surprising given the closed (and often secret) nature of such discussions and contracts. Early-career researchers should be timely informed about such discussions and be consulted for their opinions on the terms of the contracts including copyright/licensing, journal article pricing, and the selection of journals.
Q. What is your sense of how seriously universities are taking research culture? Many in the UK have now signed DORA, which is great. But are they actually backing it up with concrete action?
NAB: I think that’s an important point, and although I don’t have an answer, I have a few personal opinions. The first thing I can say is that the term ‘Universities’ involves a LOT of people, some of whom are aware of current issues in the culture while others are not. As a general rule, when we talk about ‘Universities’ I think we mean the leaders and directors of the institution (At least in the interviews I conducted for my PhD, that is what I aimed for, placing deans, director of research, and directors of doctoral schools as representatives of the ‘university’).
But what I noticed in my interviews is that even within these groups, some are fervent supporters of open science, integrity, and FAIR metrics, while others thought open access journals were all predatory publishers and believed impact factors were the most reliable indicator of individual paper quality. Adding to this complexity, ‘Universities’ are not only guided by these leaders. In many cases, these institution leaders mentioned that even if they wanted things to change for the better, researchers (who are also part of the institution) were not always willing to embrace the change. As a result, I really cannot say what ‘universities’ think, nor what they take seriously.
What I can say is my personal view of the changes that are currently happening. Initially, when I started seeing universities sign DORA, I was doubtful, even a bit worried sometimes because it seemed like it may be just for show with no concrete actions planned. But I am starting to believe that standing up publically forces universities to rethink their actions. For example, in the Netherlands, all universities signed DORA and the research organisations and associations have now decided to change the way they evaluate research careers and profiles (I especially like their consideration of ‘team science’). In the case of the Netherlands, the actions were planned in advance and signing DORA was only part of the process, but I think it sets a strong and positive precedent. Only time will tell how these changes will move things forward worldwide. Still — although it may be the ‘wishful thinking’ of a PhD student talking — I feel confident that there are now enough activists to ensure that universities who signed DORA take actions towards it.
Q. How aware/concerned are your ECR colleagues about these issues? Are they optimistic about genuine change or do they seem resigned to the current system?
NS: My ECR colleagues are aware and concerned. We are optimistic though pragmatic about the timelines for change. Cultural change takes time. We are not resigned to the current system but understand that it exists and are trying to operate responsibly around it/within it while maintaining our values, advocating for change (including challenging our superiors) and changing our own behaviours too.
Q. Are the speakers aware of other means of assessing researchers’ work, besides getting published in journals? Are they for example aware of Rescognito?
NS: This looks great, thanks for sharing. I had not heard of it. The Graduate School at Imperial is offering a webinar, “Alternative Ways to Measure your Research Impact”. It is really important and useful for researchers to consider other means of assessing research work and being more broad in what we consider success to be and how we measure it.
GON: The report on the ‘Evaluation of Research Careers Fully Acknowledging Open Science Practices’ (2017) at the European Commission offers an innovative Open Science Career Assessment Matrix (OS-CAM) with a range of options for rewarding researchers doing Open Science.
Q. What should we be publishing? Are we not already publishing too much?
NAB: It makes me think of Doug Altman’s well known quote: “We need less research, better research, and research done for the right reasons”. Indeed a relevant question, which I think opens the question on whether we are mixing up our objective of ‘sharing knowledge’ with the objective of ‘publishing’. Is publishing still the right way to share knowledge? Sorry, that is not an answer at all. Just a few out-loud thoughts for an interesting question.
GON: The objective to publish sadly outweighs the objective to share knowledge as researchers are currently rewarded for the number of articles they publish in branded and high impact factor journals whereby their future careers relies directly upon their publishing activities. We need to move away from this perverse focus on one aspect of the research lifecycle and publish our methodologies, data sets, and software code. We also need to move away from branding and impact factor and instead reward researchers for other research and Open Science activities.
Q. How can we change the research culture without increasing the vulnerability of ECR?
NAB: I think Nadia’s response in the webinar was truly relevant: teach leadership to young researchers. Although I am not so familiar with leadership training, I also believe that we need to change ECR training. For instance, I have noticed that we generally teach ECRs what the rules are (research integrity training) and how to succeed in science (training on networking, publishing in high impact journals, writing compelling abstracts, writing convincing grant applications, etc.). I have myself followed both types of training many times, and I realise that they tend to create a conflict. On the one hand, there is a part of academia telling us what we should do to be ‘good researchers’ and to conduct research with integrity (report all findings, avoid spinning abstracts, pre-define hypotheses, be transparent and thorough, target open journals, etc.). On the other hand, there is a part of academia telling us on how to strategically make our way up to the top (build a strong network of important people, place positive findings in evidence, target journals with high impact factors, etc.). That leaves us with a conflicting view of how science works (and it is conflicting indeed). This conflicting view then tends to discourage those who are adamant about integrity, and can encourage them to leave academia.
So, back to Nadia and to leadership training. I also think that training needs to be re-thought and to play a role into it. I think that we need to teach not only how to be a ‘good’ and a ‘successful’ scientist, but that we actively need to discuss this conflict with young researchers, and provide them with tools, the strength, and the resilience to become activists in making science better.
That being said… I also think that training should not be our focus. Telling ECRs that impact factors are inadequate and preprints are important is not going to go far with a supervisor who thinks the opposite. Similarly, telling independent ECRs to ignore impact factors but continuing to fund research on impact factors is not going to help them move ahead and survive to be able to change the future scientific culture… In this regard, training can add to the burden of ECRs — a burden which is already high enough with the precariousness and pressures of their position. Consequently, I believe that the first thing that needs to happen is a change in research assessments. If assessments change, practices will change, and if practices change, cultures will change.
NS: I absolutely agree with Noemie’s sentiment. While I believe that ECRs require leadership training to better equip them for the rigours of academic life there is a training gap amongst more senior researchers that needs to be addressed too. Leadership development is a process and should be instigated at the early career stage and revisited throughout an individuals’ career progression and woven into the fabric of everything that we do. This should empower and equip more researchers (ECRs and senior academics alike) to make the changes necessary to improve academic research culture. And of course, leadership development is just one intervention required to bring about change; funding, infrastructure, policies and direction are also needed…
Q. What would encourage young researchers to build resilience and become activists of open science?
NS: I don’t believe it’s a lack of resilience that discourages ECRs from becoming activists of open science. We are all products of our environment and many ECRs won’t have been introduced to open science concepts through their teaching or research programmes. Many ECRs who have, are avid activists and are leading the way. This educational/information gap and ability to follow open science practises needs to be addressed. Perhaps one of the most effective ways for this to be achieved is for funders to include open science practices as conditions of grants and for institutions to provide training in their undergraduate and graduate programmes.
GON: There is a serious lack of training and support for early-career researchers on Open Science from both their supervisors and institutions. Most early-career researchers I have talked to are overall positive about Open Science but do not understand enough to engage fully in the debate and practise the different aspects of Open Science. For this very reason, we developed a free online training course on Open Science for representatives of our national associations of early-career researchers at the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc). We are now seeing these representatives get actively involved in discussions on Open Science both online and in their respective countries and engaging other early-career researchers.