Authors: Heather Andrews, Maria Cruz, Angus Whyte, Yasemin Turkyilmaz-van der Velden, Shalini Kurapati

To read Part 1 of the blog post follow this link.


 

Researchers at all levels should be equipped with skills relevant to open science and FAIR data, and the practice of these skills should be effectively rewarded and recognised. This much is clear and has been recently highlighted in the “Turning FAIR into reality” Report of the European Commission FAIR Data Expert Group. Indeed, that report states “there is an urgent need to develop skills in relation to FAIR data” and “metrics and indicators for research contributions need to be reconsidered and enriched to ensure they act as compelling incentives for Open Science and FAIR.”  

To change the academic rewards system, it is necessary to define and agree upon the skills researchers need to have at different stages of their careers. This was the goal of the workshop “It’s time for open science skills to count in academic careers” held at TU Delft on 26 September 2018. This post forms the second part of the report of the the workshop. Here we present the outcomes of workshop, based on the interactive group work described below. The results of this work will be applied in EOSCpilot, which is laying the groundwork for skills development in the European Commission’s European Open Science Cloud.

Overview of the hands-on workshop

The participants were divided into four groups. Each group focused on a specific career level according to the European Commission’s framework for research careers:

  1. R1: First Stage Researcher (up to the point of PhD)
  2. R2: Recognized Researcher (PhD holders or equivalent who are not yet fully independent)
  3. R3: Established Researcher (researchers who have developed a level of independence.)
  4. R4: Researchers – Leading Researcher (researchers leading their research area or field)

The above mentioned groups were led by Yasemin Turkyilmaz, Ellen Verbakel, Maria Cruz and Alastair Dunning, respectively. The registered participants of the one day event included researchers from all career levels, librarians, data stewards, and policymakers. However R4 researchers were unavailable for the hands-on workshop.

Each group received a  list of nine pre-defined open science skills together with a detailed explanation for each skill. The group activity for each of the groups was divided into two parts. In the first part, the groups were asked  to shortlist a maximum of 4 skills most relevant to their respective career level (R1-R4). Subsequently, for each skill, they wrote  down on post-it notes: 1. Why is this skill relevant to researchers at this career level? 2. What would be the evidence that researchers at this career level have these skills and can apply it in practice? (in other words: what does a person applying the skill do?) 3. What support (from support staff, service providers) will researchers need  to apply this skill?

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After displaying their ideas on whiteboards, the groups were given 5 minutes each to present a summary of their main findings to the other groups. This was followed by a short discussion followed with questions from all the groups. Below is the summary of the findings of each of the four groups.

R1 group activity summary:

The group focused on early career researchers. This group of researchers is dependant on the researchers at higher positions in the academic ladder. At the same time, often this group of researchers is perceived as being the ‘bold’ ones able to take initiatives and amenable to change. It was also recognised that R1 researchers can benefit greatly from more training and more information on open science possibilities. The four skills shortlisted by this group were:

1) Adherence to the FAIR data and code principles during and after research. The group added the term ‘code’ to this skill as well. The group reasoned that the FAIR principles represent what is necessary to have sustainable sharing and archiving of both data and code, which is important for verifiability of research. The group recognised that in order to adhere to the FAIR principles, early career researchers have to receive training as an inherent part of the curriculum. They also stressed that good supervision and getting good examples would facilitate this skill.

2) Securing funding for open science/support. The group reasoned that receiving specific training on awareness of  funding opportunities for Open Science (e.g. funding for Open Access publishing) as well as preparation to secure such grants would support early career researchers to be  more independent from their respective supervisors and practise open science more freely. They proposed that this could be achieved in collaboration with grant support offices and graduate schools.

3) Awareness and adherence to relevant ethical and legal policies. This skill was found to be important to overcome fear and uncertainties about ethical and legal requirements. This can make early career researchers more confident when discussing with senior colleagues  the parameters these requirements set around sharing their research outputs. The group proposed Q&A catalogues which could help early career researchers better understand complex terms such as codes of conduct, legal terms, informed consent etc.

4) Recognizing and acknowledging the contribution of others. The group found it important for early career researchers to know how to properly cite data, code and methods; and how to  acknowledge collaborators, technicians in the lab, etc. The group argued that if people are properly acknowledged, then they are more willing to contribute again, which is a great source of motivation for early career researchers. They expect University and Faculty policies and training to be instrumental for this skill. These should also promote the standards for using persistent identifiers, and the CRediT taxonomy for acknowledging who has contributed what to a publication.

                                                              

R2 group activity summary

This group saw R2 researchers as typically those at the postdoctoral level. The group thought that postdocs were seen as researchers who are not in charge of funding nor leading projects like type 3 and type 4 researchers. Postdocs were seen as researchers focused on making effective collaborations,  and working on building up their reputation. The four skills proposed were:

1) Recognising and acknowledging the contribution of others. Recognition was perceived as the main driver for postdoctoral researchers, as well as for researchers working with postdocs. The group thought that researchers need a policy framework that enforces proper recognition and receive training on how to get recognition (e.g. setting up and using ORCID).

2) Making use of open data from others. The group considered this skill as important for verifiability, and as an effective way to start collaborations with other researchers. However, to put this skill into practice, researchers need to know how to search for datasets and assess their quality. Support staff should define the standards for high quality open data, provide support in data curation and give training to researchers on best open data practices.

3) Adherence to good code management practices. This skill was also considered important for verifiability purposes and to stimulate others to reuse the code. It is seen as a quality stamp for the respective code creator, which improves the researcher’s reputation. In order to get this skill, researchers would benefit from training on version control and on writing proper code documentation. It was also suggested that researchers could learn more about these matters from research software engineers.

4) Using or developing research tools open for reuse by others. The group felt that standardisation is crucial to enable effective collaborations. Thus, researchers should receive training on the use of platforms such as github and training on metadata standards.

R3 group activity summary

This group proposed 3 skills, unlike the other groups that considered the maximum number of 4 skills (proposed by the workshop organizing committee). Largely because it was felt that the skill ‘being a role model in practicing open science’ would by definition cover most of the practical skills on the list. The group considered this to be the most important skill for R3 researchers.  These researchers are already established in their careers and their fields (already developing and leading some projects), but are still very much involved in the day-to-day practice of research (e.g. they still acquire data or write software). As such, they can lead by example and influence not only earlier career researchers, particularly those they directly supervise, but also more senior colleagues. R3 researchers are very aware of the obstacles which researchers encounter when trying to change how research groups work. The proposed skills were the following:

1)  Being a role model in practising open science. Stage 3 researchers were seen as researchers who are still very active in research, and but who also have a close relation with senior colleagues, the researchers in higher positions. This gives them the opportunity to establish how researchers are evaluated within their team. Stage 3 researchers have an influential role within their team, e.g. in the hiring and promotion decisions within the team. In order to do this, it was acknowledged that stage 3 researchers need support from the R4 researchers. This was a key point of discussion, because even though stage 3 researchers are seen as big influencers in the academic ladder, they still depend on the stage 4 researchers and funding committees. In relation to this skill, it was also felt that R3 researchers should not only lead by example in the way they practice open science, but should also directly influence others by speaking about it. In short, practice what they preach, and preach what they practice.

2) Securing funding for open science/support. Stage 3 researchers are involved in hiring people and applying for funding. When applying for funding for example, they should be explicit about how open science will be carried out throughout the project. When hiring, they should include open science requirements in the hiring criteria. The group also recognised that for this to happen effectively, funders need to be willing to provide funding to pay for the costs of open science activities associated with projects, and research grant offices need to advise researchers on how to include these costs in their grant applications.

3) Recognizing and acknowledging the contribution of others. The group felt this is an important area where R3 researchers can lead by example. In addition, R3 researchers are usually still building up a network and collaborations, and to do this effectively, recognition is always necessary.

R4 group activity summary

The group considered project leaders as researchers who are usually less involved in the day-to-day research practices of research. As project leaders they may be in charge of project management and involved in designing research projects, policies and regulations, vision and strategy.  Nevertheless, it was acknowledged that researchers at this senior career stage still needed substantial support from their institution in order to put their vision into practice. Having this in mind, the group shortlisted the following skills:


1) Being a role model in practising open science. As project leaders, stage 4 researchers can influence a broader community (not only the researchers in their project, but also funding committees, other project leaders, executive boards, etc.). They can promote change in daily practices, but also in research policies. Stage 4 researchers could become open science role models by promoting and discussing it  with their network. Advocating for open science during meetings and conferences; participating in policy development, and changing the practices within their respective groups. In order to do this, they need platforms and tools at their institutions, they also need recognition for advocating for open science, and they need support from their team members.

2) Recognising and acknowledging the contribution of others. Just like in the other groups, this group found it relevant for researchers to recognise everyone’s contribution in a project; recognising not only the scientific staff but also the support staff (laboratory technicians, data managers, etc.). In order to do it, the careers of the support staff should also be recognised for example, by creating new job profiles for data managers, data stewards, etc.

3) Developing a vision and strategy on how to integrate OS practices in the normal practice of doing research. This skill was found to help create the link between principles and actual practice. Stage 4 researchers usually work on the ‘big pictures’ of research, and thus, they have to have a vision and strategy to steer their research and project members. In doing so, they should have the advice of support staff, to ensure the feasibility of their vision. They should also have clear information about who does/can-do what within their institution, and about financial possibilities for them to turn their vision into reality.

4) Awareness and adherence to relevant ethical and legal policies. This skill was seen as relevant because senior researchers are accountable for their project team’s behaviour. Any risk of ethical and/or legal infringement will jeopardise the reputation not only of the project leader, but also of their entire group and, quite likely, the institution they belong to. Thus, it is important for stage 4 researchers to establish procedures dealing with ethical and legal issues. In order to properly do this, the institution should provide researchers with integrated support. The role of each support staff member should be well-defined (and well-informed to the researcher), there should be effective communication within the support staff, and the workflows through which the researchers can receive support need to be clearly stated.

Overall workshop summary

Overall, all groups stressed the importance of peer to peer learning: everyone can contribute to changing cultures and daily practices. All groups also agreed that proper infrastructure and policy support from institutions is required for researchers to truly implement open science practices.

Finally, recognition was seen as one of  the main drivers for both scientific and non-scientific staff participating in a research project and all groups stressed the importance of proper recognition of open science practices.

Next steps

The ideas and discussion generated during the workshop have given us a rich corpus of information to reflect on the workshop objectives and to envision a road map for the future to implement these ideas and discussions. The workshop outputs will be applied in EOSCpilot to help focus its Skills Framework on the key skills identified, the rationale for these, and the mapping of skills to researcher career stages together with the support requirements.  Watch this space for progress and updates.

And finally a motto for everyone: change is in your hands! Everyone can contribute to change of practice in their own spheres of influence.

Additional resources

  • Part 1 of the the blog post can be viewed here.
  • All presentations of the speakers can be viewed and downloaded here.