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Meeting the community - learning and discussing the future of Open Science for students

We have presented Berlin Exchange Medicine and our work on Open Science at four events during the last months. Here is what we learned

Published onNov 15, 2022
Meeting the community - learning and discussing the future of Open Science for students
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We as scientists see ourselves as the smartest community, why were we so dumb to have this publication system?

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Theoretical Physicist
Minister for Education, Science and Technology, Netherlands​
Open Science Festival Netherlands, 2022​

When Berlin Exchange Medicine took shape in late 2020, it was at the height of Germany’s second Covid19 wave. Therefore, our processes have been (and still are) heavily focused on working virtually. This brought enormous advantages: It allowed to quickly grow the team across multiple cities, enabled us to organize panel discussions with speakers from different countries or to provide courses for students from all over Germany.

And yet, going out there and meeting people is essential to the advancement of the project and towards achieving our goal of “engaging students in research”. At BEM, we have a very clear vision of how this research (and in fact every research) should look like. We believe, that future researchers should - from their very first steps in the scientific world - experience not how science works currently, but how science should (and hopefully will) work eventually. You can read all about this in our Position Paper “Open Research by Default”, where we describe our demand that every student should experience the open publication workflow at least once in their academic life.

With this idea - and the practical work we have been doing for its implementation - we have gone to four events in Fall 2022 to discuss with both the scientific and student community, to receive feedback and develop completely new ideas.

Each student should – at least once during their studies – write, review, receive feedback on and publish an academic thesis

These events were the first German Open Science Festival in Hannover, the Z2X Festival organized by Zeit Online, the Oxford|Berlin Summer School on Open and Responsible Research and the Student Research Conference of the Berlin University Alliance. We owe a great Thank You to the organizers of these events for giving us the space to present and discuss our ideas. In Hannover, Amelya Keles from the executive board of BEM joined the opening panel “Open Science - just science done right!” and we had the chance to co-organize a workshop together with the amazing Ludo Waltman from Leiden university. At the Z2X Festival we hosted a feedback session and at the summer school we gave a 15 minute presentation. We have made many invaluable new connections, received great feedback, renewed our motivation and got new takes on our ideas. For that, we are immensily greatful to all participants who have contributed to these experiences. In the following, we want to share some repeating motifs and food for thoughs that we think could also be helpful for others.

1 Peer-Review for Students

In science, we consider the Peer-Review process essential for safeguarding the quality and integrity of research. But for this process to work, it requires a) Peer-Reviewers who know what they are doing and b) a public that understands and trusts this process. So far, both of these requirements are not nearly fulfilled as much as we would hope. No researcher we have met has had a structured introduction to Peer-Review. At BEM, we identified that challenge early on. Up to date, our Peer-Review Crash Course has been conducted two times and will soon be held in its third iteration. Conversations with other science administrators, educators and university officials have confirmed the identified lack of propper resources for this. We are more than excited that many other institutions and organizations are now also looking at making Peer-Review a more prominent part of academic and scientific education and to ensure that future researchers learn to give constructive criticism and the wider public understands how academic discussions are performed. We will be doubling down on our efforts in our Peer-Review crash courses and are happy to reach out, share resources and work together with everyone who is doing similar work!

2 Communication is key

Researchers form a special bubble in modern societies (more on this below). Therefore, it is crucial to take every chance possible to leave purely academic events and meet people outside the science community. The Z2X festival, organized by German online newspaper Zeit Online, was exactly the right venue to do this! And the attendees there - all between 20 and 29 years of age - raised another important perspectives on our idea of Open Science publications for everyone: A fundamental piece of infrastructure to enable student led peer education is missing in Germany.

Researchers around the world have been one of the earliest adopters of the internet. They have built a whole network of different websites and organizations to stay in touch. From the pages of publishers, through preprint servers, review platforms or even social networks specifically dedicated to researchers all the way to extensive twitter (or mastodon) networks - many scientists understand that staying connected helps them create better results. Of course students can access all of this infrastructure aswell. But it does not cater to the needs of people who are just making their first steps into the research world, who do not yet have these networks and might not know how to reach out to established researchers.

Trying to find a student who is working on a similar topic at another university; self organize a peer learning or reading group on a topic beyond local boundaries; sharing material and resources that might help students all around and beyond Germany - these examples show where our current fractured academic education infrastructure reaches their limits. Many students we spoke to mentioned that they would find a possibility to connect with students in other univerities and fields immensely helpful. At Z2X, many students asked, why no such network was available. So the question that we are asking ourselves now is: Do we need an Open Student Research Network?

3 Let’s connect beyond disciplines

The great thing about events focused around Open Science (or innovative ideas such as Z2X) is that they bring together people from a wide variety of disciplines. Despite all the talk about inter- or transdisciplinarity, science is still largely conducted and shared in silos. But extensive dialogue with colleagues from other fields is incredibly important, not just for how we conduct research, but also how we publish it. Whether it is preprinting, open reviews, code and data sharing, research attribution and evaluation or the creation of scientific consensus. For all of these questions, there are one or several disciplines who have figured out how to deal with them. Learning from each other and adapting successful approaches from other disciplines should be the way forward.

At Berlin Exchange Medicine, we are also actively reaching out to connect to other disciplines. Through our umbrella organization Berlin Exchange we are already closely cooperating with our two partner journals, Anwesenheitsnotiz and Polis reflects. We are looking for further student-lead journals to cooperate with and are also happy to support every initiative that aims to establish a new student publication platform. At some point, a fourth partner journal should join under the Berlin Exchange roof, which will focus on Engineering, Computer and Natural Sciences. While individual approaches to publishing might differ between the disciplines for good reasons, there are many things we have in common. Cooperating both in research questions as well as research and communication organization will only strengthen the impact that science can make.

4 Open Science means transparency and inclusion

To solve the great challenges that our world is facing - from pandemics to the climate crisis - it is imperative that we can rely on sound scientific evidence. Trust in the scientific system is essential for this evidence to make an impact in the real world. Too much of todays scientific discourse happens behind closed doors. Closed review processes, skyhigh article processing charges, expensive conferences or established structures are excluding many voices from the scientific discourse. This means that, for example, perspectives from the global south or from senior female researchers are often missing in debates. This problem can not be solved by Open Science alone, but making not just research results but all resources publicly available can reduce the entry hurdle into science. It also enables us to do meta-research in order to better understand how the current scientific and publishing systems might generate a biased conscencus. Our answer to these questions is that future research generations should grow up with Open Science as the backbone of their work. But we will also discuss in our team how we can strengthen the diversity in our project, among team-members, authors and reviewers.

5 Let’s try things out

There is no lack of ideas about how to change the scientific system. After countless inspiring discussion we can see many amazing opportunities to improve how we perform and publish research. Continuously putting new hypotheses, methods, data and findings out in the open instead of waiting for one big publication; new incentive approaches such as the narrative CVs to replace the notorious impact factor for hiring new professors; bringing students together to do reproductions of major studies: Those were only few ideas that could make a real impact.

Research methods are changing at a rapid pace and require researchers to constantly stay up to date with the latest techniques. Despite that, the scientific system is innately conservative and things are done the same way they have always been done. Even though scientists have been early adopters when it comes to the internet, many processes still look like they were ment to be performed with physical papers. As a scientific community, we need a renewed joy in experimentation - not just in scientific, but also in publishing experiments. Professors, who have made a name for themselves should not publish in the highest ranking journals, but support publication methods that actually advance scientific communication. Students should experiment with different forms of publishing and reviewing in order to find the best way to support their research. Berlin Exchange Medicine wants to be a platform for those kinds of experiments. We will be looking out for new approaches to publishing and quality control and are actively looking for partners on that way.

6 The community is amazing - but needs to bust the bubble

When you are doing Open Science then you are on the cool side of the research community. Everybody is easy going, approachable and just nice. That is how science should be!

This is a quote from one of the participants at the Open Science Festival in Hannover. As the BEM Open Science working group, we can definitiely second that sentiment. The opening panel of the festival - which was joined by Amelya Keles from the BEM executive board - reminded us that this should be true for the entire scientific community. Its title “Open Science - just science done right!” stresses that there should not be “open” and “closed” science side by side, but that openness needs to become the default state for the whole scientific system.

For this - and this is also a reminder from these events - the Open Science “movements” needs to become mainstream. Too many researchers still don’t know about the opportunities outside of the established publication system. Elements, that might be considered no-brainers within our bubble, might be controversial or unknown within large parts of the scientific community. Digital tools to improve the reproducibility of research are not nearly as widely used as they should be. These experiences are another stark reminder of why it is urgently necessary to include Open Science and Publishing into the curriculum of every university student!

What are your thoughts on these six topics - or any other related ideas about Open Science for students? Do you want to work together with us to solve them?
Use the comment section that PubPub provides, write us an E-Mail, follow us on twitter or just stay in touch!

[email protected]

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

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