NERC, Young Researchers and the Buildup to OKFest: Panton in August


Firstly, how on earth did the end of August come around so quickly? With OKFest only a couple of weeks away, I think it’s fair to say that everyone within the open science community has had a busy month…and things are likely to continue this way as we head into September. My Panton counterpart in Bath, Ross Mounce, has also had a mightily busy month from the sound of things, so there’s also plenty of #pantonscience news available on his blog.

But before we get to talking about OKFest, I should really provide an update on what’s been going on in recent weeks. It certainly feels like a great deal has happened: news from me this month ranges from significant progress with my open science training initiative, to discussion with NERC regarding their provision for OS training in their forthcoming Doctoral Training Partnerships, to designing some promo literature for the Panton Principles. All exciting stuff!

The second week of August saw Jenny Molloy and me meet with Kirsty Grainger, who is Head of Skills and Careers for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NERC are in the process of establishing Doctoral Training Partnerships nationally – for those of you unfamiliar with the DTP/DTC model, these centres typically offer four-year doctorates, in which the three year research phase is preceded by a year of interdisciplinary and skills training. After I had explained the aims and structure of my OSTI scheme, Kirsty suggested that we attend the DTP Town Meetings in November/December of this year, where we’ll be able to meet the leaders of each NERC DTP application and discuss the possibility of them incorporating some or all of my open science training initiative into their own programmes. A massive thumbs-up to NERC for taking the lead with this! I’m hoping to convince many of the Natural Environment bidders later this year, and from there we can try to persuade other research councils to follow suit. The demands on DTPs/DTCs to include specific aspects of training in their skills provision can be high, but often it is entirely possible to enhance the content without overloading the existing syllabus and teaching burden, if one changes how a subject is taught. Let’s hope that this will translate into Open Science becoming an integral part of doctoral training over the next couple of years! And let’s not forget the JISC/British Library Researchers Of Tomorrow report from June of this year, which highlighted the tendency of young research students to adopt the existing practices of their group as regards attitudes to open science and coherent release of data. If we want open science to propagate through the system, we can’t ignore the need to train our researchers before they reach the research environment.

August has also seen significant progress with my Open Science Training Initiative (OSTI), the central focus of my Panton work. As a result of meetings with the DTC directors, we’ve now finalised the dates for the three-week course. Some rearrangement of the schedule from previous years has occurred, so my course will now be running over the penultimate week of December and the first two weeks of January. What better way to see out 2012 and welcome in 2013 than with lots of open science? The early phase of the course will involve training the students in programming skills, before progressing to some interesting applications at the start of the second week. Thursday of Week 2 will see the start of the ‘rotation‘ phase, where the students work in teams on a mini research problem and have to thoroughly document their code, provide a coherent written appraisal of the methods and outcomes, and release their code and data online for a successive group to work on. We also discussed the specifics of this and of how we’ll be assessing the students, but I’ll hold back for now to avoid this post getting too long. Plenty more details of this to come in the near future…

One of the main events of the past month for me was of course the Oxford Open Science session on the 22nd. We welcomed a fantastic line-up of speakers for the evening to discuss the current state of graduate training in data management and open science and to debate how we can take this forward in the future, so many thanks to Juliet Ralph, Oliver Bridle, Jez Cope, Anna Collins and Laura Newman for joining us. The evening saw a good turnout and some interesting outcomes in the discussion. There was a great deal of support for peer-led learning, and there was also the suggestion of establishing graduate-led “open science” advocates within academic departments: these advocates would act as the universal point of contact for open science matters. I don’t know of any universities in the UK already operating such a system – if you know of somewhere that is, let me know! One of the other key points that arose was the issue of students’ confusion as to what constitutes Open Access-this mirrors some of the concerns raised in the Researchers Of Tomorrow report and will require attention over the coming years until all our grads are well-informed as to the publishing options open to them. Those of you who weren’t able to attend will be pleased to hear that the talks and discussion were filmed: I’m currently waiting to receive the transferred movie files back from our tech managers so, all being well, you can expect to view the videos online later on next week. Another favourable outcome was that one of our attendees expressed an interest in establishing similar data and open science initiatives at her university in Saudi Arabia. Hopefully I’ll be meeting with her later this week to see how we might be of assistance in making this happen…

Exciting month ahead: OKFest in Finland! This week I’m planning, filming and cutting together a promo video for the Panton Principles, which I’ll be using to open my Helsinki talk on the 19th September. Expect to see some mock-up story boards and content online in the next few days – I’d love to hear your comments on those ahead of filming. I’ve also been busy designing some promotional postcards for the Principles over the last week. The OKFN team have already seen the provisional designs and I’ll be posting some images very soon once they’re a little further along! This is all part of a wider effort by other members of OKFN to develop promotional materials for open science and the Principles ahead of OKFest. Judging by progress over the last week, we’ll soon have some nice promo pieces at the ready to spread the word about Open Science.

Next week will also get off to a busy start as the Digital Research 2012 conference gets underway at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. Tuesday 11th in particular will see a programme of talks and debate on open access and data publication, featuring keynotes from Steven Harnad, Peter Murray-Rust and Neil Chue Hong, concluding with a panel discussion at the end of the morning. I’ll try to tweet updates as the morning progresses, although there’s still time to register for the conference if you haven’t yet had chance to do so.

Well, I think that’s enough from me this time: I daresay there’ll be plenty of news over the coming weeks before, during and after OKFest. Watch out for the OxOpenSci video and slides being released in the next fortnight, and as always, feel free to comment or get in touch with me if you have any questions, suggestions, thoughts or advice on the work I’m doing.

See you in Helsinki!

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One thought on “NERC, Young Researchers and the Buildup to OKFest: Panton in August

  1. Pingback: Promotion, Preparation and Productivity: Open Science Sabbatical, December 2012 | The Stilettoed Mathematician

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