Reflections on the Open Science conferences of 2017

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I’ve been lucky to represent the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics (JBCA) and the University of Manchester (UoM) at a number of open science conferences and events over the past few months — the first Open Science Fair in Athens, the first Open Research Forum here by the UoM Library, the 8th Mozilla Festival in London and the 4th OpenCon in Berlin. This post includes brief reflections on each of these experiences.

Open Science Fair (#OSFair2017)

Athens, Greece — September 6–8, 2017

At the start of September, funders, policy makers, publishers, content providers, creators, researchers, librarians, advocates and innovators descended on the new premises of the National Library of Greece (NLG) at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC) in Athens for the very first Open Science Fair. “Open Science is about democracy, and what better place to talk about it than in the cradle of democracy?” Prof. Yannis Ioannidis welcomed us.

Photo of the NLG by Rachael Ainsworth, License: CC-BY

A session relevant to many researchers was the keynote on “Open access and data integrity: The European Research Council (ERC) initiative” by Prof. Nektarios Tavernarakis. He discussed the current progress of the Scientific Council for ERC: in addition to requiring open access of research publications, ERC grantees are now by default enrolled in the Open Research Data Pilot, involving mandatory data management plans and open access to data products. He further discussed the importance of supporting open access publishing even after the ERC funding period ends, as researchers will often continue to publish results after their award is spent. Researchers can apply for such funds through OpenAIRE’s post-grant Open Access Pilot.

Astronomers are already superstars when it comes to open access (looking at you, arXiv 🤩), but open access to our data products is not as widespread as our publications. To help early career researchers prepare for and comply with open data policies, and to nurture a more open culture in research in general, I’ve teamed up with Rosie Higman of the UoM Library to deliver Research Data Management training as part of the JBCA Autumn Computing Sessions (JACS) on 11 December. In this session, postgraduate students will learn about data best practices such as how to write a data management plan, how to organize their data, licensing, sharing and storing data products in order to build their research reputation and gain more citations.

Want to learn more about open access and open data or facilitate training at your local university? Talk to your University Library! They are knowledgeable about these topics and very likely already provide training and resources related to opening up your research workflow and complying with funding mandates.

Photo of the Acropolis from the NLG by Rachael Ainsworth, License: CC-BY

Another highlight of my Open Science Fair experience was the Introduction to Responsible Research and Innovation — the Citizen Science Aspect session. You can listen to a summary of the workshop and my thoughts on it in the video below:

Finally, you can hear about how I practice open science in astronomy in my interview with FOSTER Open Science here:

You can view the livestreams from Open Science Fair day 1, day 2, day 3 and all presentation slides here.

Open Research Forum (#UoMOpenResearch)

Manchester, UK — October 26, 2017

The UoM Library hosted the Open Research Forum as part of Open Access Week 2017 following the “Open in order to…” theme. Researchers, students and staff came together from across the University to discuss why they practice open research and to debate the issues, challenges and benefits of openness.

Photo by @UomLib_Lucy

Prof. Matthew Cobb, School of Biological Sciences, presented on the history of pre-prints. Physicists were called out for being smug 😏 about the arXiv, as apparently biologists have been sharing their research for much longer! This was followed by Lisa Heaney, School of Health Sciences, who spoke about her passion for science communication regarding exercise, mental health and animal research. Her presentation really resonated with me, as I view open science as a gateway to a more inclusive, diverse and supportive culture in research.

Photo by @uomlib_gemma

I was invited to demonstrate the many uses of GitHub, specifically a friendly introduction to it as an online portfolio for open and collaborative research. I talked about how I am “open in order to…” cultivate change in the culture of the astronomy (and wider research) community to be more collaborative, iterative and open. I demonstrated how I practice open science with GitHub, by depositing all the scripts and data associated with my publications into repositories. I then walked through the website’s features, attempted to do a bit of jargon-busting and talked about all the different uses for GitHub such as project management, personal webpages, as an online portfolio for your work and for open data — GitHub is not just for code documentation! You can view my talking points here on my GitHub 😉

We then heard from Dr. Lamiece Hassan and Dr. Sarah Fox, School of Health Sciences, about their approaches to publishing and blogging in a way which makes their research accessible to the general public. Blogging is a method of dissemination and engagement that I am eager to grow and improve in, but definitely does not come naturally to me — I struggle with getting the tone and content right. Hopefully through more posts like this I can find my blogging voice!

You can view all the tweets from the Open Research Forum here on Storify.

Mozilla Festival (#MozFest)

London, UK — October 27–29, 2017

Photo by Mozilla Festival, License: CC BY-NC 2.0, Edited by: Rachael Ainsworth

Mozilla Festival is a diverse, highly interactive annual festival where 1500+ leaders of the open Web — artists, activists, educators, scientists, journalists, policy-makers and technologists — gather to teach and learn in order to promote a healthy internet.

Photo by Mozilla Festival, License: CC BY-NC 2.0, Edited by: Rachael Ainsworth

As part of my application for the Mozilla Open Leaders program, I submitted a session proposal for MozFest based on my project, Resources for Open Science in Astronomy (ROSA) ✨ 🔭. The session was ultimately titled, “What resources do we need to break down barriers to open science?” and during it, participants discussed the barriers to and benefits of open science based on their own experiences. Despite coming from various backgrounds (researchers from different fields, librarians, open enthusiasts), we identified common themes associated with our experiences (e.g. culture, skills, money). We worked together to brainstorm ways to overcome these barriers to open science and compiled tools for an open science how-to kit. A nice succinct conclusion from the session was that we need a “Hello, world!” example for open science, which could potentially be ROSA. You can read the recap of my MozFest session here, and learn more about ROSA in this Open Project Spotlight.

Photo by Mozilla Festival, License: CC BY-NC 2.0, Edited by: Rachael Ainsworth

My favourite part about MozFest was meeting fellow members of my Mozilla Open Leaders #RebelFoxes🦊 cohort in person. We demonstrated and contributed to each other’s projects in the Open Leadership Zone, and strategized ways of promoting openness in our communities without putting people off. If you (or your team) are running or starting an open project and want to grow as an open leader, consider applying for the next round of Mozilla Open Leaders, where you will receive mentorship and training from Mozilla through a 14 week online course. This program has absolutely changed my life and my approach to research, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Alternatively, you can view my application to the program here.

OpenCon (#OpenCon)

Berlin, Germany — November 11–13, 2017

Photo by: Rachael Ainsworth, License: CC-BY
Photo by: R2RC, License: CC0, Edited by: Rachael Ainsworth

I arrived at OpenCon ready to dive into the challenges still facing Open, collaborate and brainstorm actionable solutions — big and small. I gained a lot through the European regional workshop “How might we help individuals shape the culture around them in a university?” In this session, we broke into groups to establish personas/stakeholders associated with our workshop topic, we considered their pains and gains, and brainstormed potential solutions to the challenges they face. I worked in a group focusing on the persona of a 30-something year old researcher, discouraged by closed practices in academia and seeking allies to make it a more open and inclusive environment. You could say her challenges resonated with me 🙃

Photo by: Rachael Ainsworth, License: CC-BY

As a larger group, we voted on which problems/challenges we wanted to discuss further in the second half of the workshop. We then broke into new groups based on the topics we wanted to work on, and I chose the group addressing “How might we tackle time issues?” as many researchers perceive that open science practices will involve extra time and effort without much reward. It turns out that a how-to kit and templates could be a good solution to this problem. As a result, I have met enthusiastic people to collaborate with on my Mozilla Open Leaders project, ROSA.

The most impactful session of OpenCon 2017 was hands down the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion panel. You absolutely need to watch and listen to it for yourself:

Photo by: R2RC, License: CC0, Edited by: Rachael Ainsworth

Through their stories, the panelists reminded us to stay critical, pay careful attention to who is missing from the room, to who is writing policy/history, and to deliberately collaborate with members from underrepresented communities. I was moved to tears and after three standing ovations for this session, I was eager to return to Manchester to turn these insights gained into action.

You can read more about my OpenCon 2017 experience here, and watch all panels and presentations on the Right to Research Coalition Youtube Channel.

If you have any comments, questions or want to chat about anything in this post, feel free to contact me on twitter (@rachaelevelyn) or email me at rachael dot ainsworth at manchester dot ac dot uk!

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