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The importance of being an open researcher

27 October 2015

Open research may be a familiar topic to many academics, but unfamiliar territory to some researchers, especially new postgraduate students. Therefore in response to the launch of Vitae’s open research theme, we talk to two open research advocates who are helping academics connect and access research, to find out more about the importance and benefits of being an open researcher.

Fiona Collgian, the head of Piirus, a service managed by the University of Warwick that helps you to connect with other researchers, explains the importance of being open from the beginning of the research cycle:

“Open research allows others to benefit from and participate in research at the earliest possible stages. Researchers who are open with their ideas and interests may attract advice or opportunities from other researchers or even outside of academia, making connections or collaboration partners who can bring relevant expertise, equipment, skills, data, further good ideas, access to funding and all that it takes to get a research project off the ground.”

Fiona also provides insight into how being open can help you to refine your ideas, and make yourself attractive for collaboration:

“By sharing your own research interests and skills in the beginning, you may make yourself attractive to others who are also seeking a collaboration partner. Sometimes your early idea may need testing or refining, and being open about the idea allows you to test the waters: is there interest in it from elsewhere? Through being open yourself, you may begin useful networking conversations and encourage others to open opportunities to you.”

In addition to being open about your interests and ideas, open research is also associated with the accessibility of journal and conference publications so that we may learn from existing research. However, Joseph Mcarthur, the co-founder of Open Access Button and member of the Right to Research Coalition informs us that many students still struggle to access these resources - a problem which extends beyond socio-economic barriers:

“Students from the richest university, to the poorest, often struggle to access research they need to learn and research.”

Having experienced this problem while studying at UCL, Joseph started to take an active role in making research more open, and feels that we should be transparent about our work at every stage:

“Open should be the default in every part of the research cycle. A huge amount of knowledge is found in research proposals, experimental design and data collection - as well as the final publication. If we keep any part of that locked away, we're doing ourselves a disservice.”

Joseph, who currently spends a lot of time working with authors to make research more accessible, says:

“Students and academics can show their support for open research in a number of ways. Most importantly, they can perform and publish their work openly!”

In-between sharing your ideas for research with other academics and publishing your findings, you will often need to open your research to the general public. At Call For Participants we are more than familiar with the challenge of engaging the public in research. Therefore, we created our service to bring academic surveys, interviews, experiments and other research studies to the publics attention. This is often a hugely important part of many research projects, as the resulting findings, technologies and solutions become more useful in a real-world context, after the public have been successfully engaged.

Over the past 12 months more than 15,000 people from over 170 countries have clicked to take part in academic research advertised on Call For Participants. The numbers demonstrate the public's interest in engaging with open research, and the impact of making research studies more accessible to the public through alternative channels, as opposed to social media or university mailing list which will often only reach your friends, family or work colleagues. However, as Fiona explains, there is more to being open than just sharing your research - understanding the researcher behind the work can be just as important:

“At a later stage in your research, you may need participants for your study or avenues to spread your findings and you can motivate people by openly explaining what you are researching or have found, and how they can contribute to and/or benefit from your research, building a profile that enables others to put their trust in you and your research. It’s not easy and there are risks inherent in being open. Researchers need to learn the skills of what and how to share.”

So, whether you are just starting a research project, collecting data, or publishing your findings, you can benefit from being open.



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