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Accelerate Open Science training for researchers

The European Commission states “For Open Science to become a reality, researchers need appropriate discipline-dependent skills training and professional development at all stages of their research careers.” (EC 2017) However, the current training situation for early career researchers is often not satisfactory. While some doctoral students have access to dedicated, in-house training, others do not. In addition, “training standards are highly variable between institutions and research groups” (McDowell et al. 2015, p.8).

Access to adequate training that provides knowledge about “the responsible conduct of research and critical thinking skills” (McDowell et al. 2015) is needed to initiate a “reliable change” (Farnham et al. 2017). Accordingly, there is a high demand for quality open science training. The significant number of researchers taking part in FOSTER’s face-to-face training courses illustrates that researchers are eager to take up training opportunities made available to them. This is in contrast with the view expressed by Graduate Schools that curriculum catalogues are already overbooked, or in extreme cases the conviction that Open Science and its relevance to reproducibility is a temporal trend that will pass.

Shaping the future of (Open) Science

Often characterised by the “pressure to publish” and “a culture of hyper-competitiveness”, the current scholarly system hinders collaboration, creativity and the willingness to take risks (McDowell et al. 2015). Recognising these potential consequences, early career researchers see a role for themselves to take action to shape the future of scientific culture and practice (cf. McDowell et al. 2015). Early career researchers have repeatedly emphasised that they are striving to bring about a cultural change in research. Farnham et al. 2017 even pledge “to be the first generation that will pass on the principles and mindset of Open Science to the next generation”.

In contrast, the recent EC report shows that there is still confusion amongst researchers what Open Science means in practical terms (EC 2017, p.4). Bottom up processes initiated by students or researchers, e.g. Green Offices or the March for Science, can instigate awareness and movement in research communities. However, in addition to early career researchers’ dedication to Open Science, all stakeholders need to step up efforts to oppose a lack of transparency and achieve a real and long-lasting shift. In particular, Research Performing Organisations (RPOs) have a key role to play in supporting Open Science and in recognising the efforts of those engaging with Open Science. They can initiate a shift from quantity towards quality by implementing adapted governance settings. How can this look like in practical terms?

Bridging the Open Science training gap

“The ideal time to build these [Open Science] skill sets is early in the research career, when the structured training of young researchers offers the ideal opportunity to incorporate standardised training […] into existing curricula” (Farnham et al. 2017).

The FOSTER Roadmap for Implementing Open Science Training Practices in Research institutions outlines three key ways and practical actions that can taken up by RPOs in order to support the transition towards Open Science (cf. Brinken et al. 2018).

First, RPOs can promote change by advocating skills acquisition and learning. Lobbying for change on all career stages is key to reach senior and junior researchers.

Second, they can guarantee access to training materials and courses that enable learning and change. Researchers need infrastructure, support and time to implement Open Science principles into their day-to-day research practices. To support this development RPOs can integrate Open Science content in researcher training on a regular and standardised basis. Including Open Science topics such as the replication crisis and pre-registration exercises into bachelor curricula, as has been done by the Department of Psychology at the University of Göttingen for example, demonstrates how this can look like in reality (good practice).

Finally, RPOs can motivate change towards Open Science by providing recognition and reward for those putting Open Science, and other “soft skills” into practice. Open Science is an important knowledge transfer method in a knowledge-based economy and society, and the EC is already setting the challenge to RPOs to come up with solutions for better training for next generation researchers’ “research innovation skills” (SWAFS-08-2019).

Researchers and students are more likely to prioritise learning skills that are deemed relevant for their career. Therefore, rewarding Open Science practices in hiring and evaluation processes and awarding trainings with formal certificates, is one important step to foster the practical implementation of Open Science.

In order to address these issues, initiatives such as the FOSTER project[1] and the Open Science MOOC[2] bolster the Open Science training offer and bridge the existing training gap. In addition to providing access to online and face-to-face training, these initiatives also create and strengthen networks and communities of practice. For instance, FOSTER brings an emerging community of Open Science trainers together and supports their activities, e.g., with the Open Science training handbook.

By improving the overall awareness of Open Science and its benefits, and by increasing the capacity of researchers to practice Open Science, there is currently a real opportunity to sow the seeds of a real and lasting change.


Helene Brinken, Joy Davidson, Ivo Grigorov, Birgit Schmidt

[1] “The FOSTER portal is an e-learning platform that brings together quality training resources for those who need to know more about open science, or who need to develop strategies and skills for implementing open science practices in their daily workflows. It brings together a growing collection of training materials to meet the needs of many different users, from early-career researchers, to data managers, librarians, funders, and graduate schools.” (Schmidt et al. 2016)

[2] This MOOC is designed to help equip students and researchers with the skills they need to excel in a modern research environment. It brings together the efforts and resources of hundreds of researchers and practitioners who have all dedicated their time and experience to create a community platform to help propel research forward.” (Open Science MOOC)

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