Early Career Researchers Forge New Paths to Advocate for Open

This post is part of a series on highlights and key takeaways from the 2016 SPARC MORE Meeting.

Students and early career researchers have crafted creative ways to push for open access, open science and open educational resources. Three young people, each of whom found support through the Right to Research Coalition’s OpenCon community, shared their efforts on different open fronts.

Karin Purshouse, Academic Clinic Fellow, Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust, United Kingdom: As a Fulbright fellow, Purshouse discovered the organization did not have an open access policy and set out to change that

  • Aim high. She wrote a letter to the CEO of Fulbright proposing the organization, which was established in 1946 to foster cultural exchange, proposing it consider adopting an open access policy. Her advice: Keep it brief, keep it personal, and offer to help.
  • Start the conversation. “You know more than you think,” said Purshouse, adding that the monthly OpenCon calls provided much-needed advice as she wrote the Fulbright OA policy proposal. The board passed the policy, began a pilot in the US-UK network, and started a Fulbright repository.
  • Be realistic. Purshouse says the process of moving toward open may be more of an evolution than a revolution. Being involved in OpenCon has been life changing for Purshouse. “I’m excited for about what future holds for this network and am grateful and excited to move forward.”

Brady Yano, Vice President, University Relations, Simon Frasier Student Society, British Columbia, Canada: College students expect to pay about $1,000 for textbooks each semester. With the cost of higher education rising, along with student debt, student leaders at Simon Frasier University rallied the campus to challenge that expectation and promote open educational resources.

  • Grab attention. Think students would just buy beer if they could save money on textbooks? Think again. Yano helped set up a visual display where students wrote down what they would buy instead of textbooks. The most popular item: food, followed by rent.
  • Work together. Attending OpenCon in 2014 prompted Yano to think more broadly about the open agenda and partner with others on campus. SFU students contacted other resources to help run the textbook campaign—tapping into support from librarians and administrators. “At first, we were not aware of the scope or allies that exist on campus,” said Yano, who encouraged librarians to reach out to students who feel financially pinched, to be advocates for open.
  • Get creative and be flexible. To call students to action, SFU asked students to tweet their receipts from the bookstore at #textbookbrokeBC. When Twitter didn’t take off, the focused shifted to Facebook. Students posted their book receipts and competed for getting the most like and shares. The winner received a check to pay for her textbooks for the semester.
  • Develop incentives. SFU designed three grants of $5,000 each semester for faculty interested in taking an existing open textbook and modifying it for their class. So far, nine professors have taken the grant, saving student in their classes thousands of dollars.

April Clyburne-Sherin, co-founder of OOO Canada. Inspired by other young researchers at OpenCon 2014, Clyburne-Sherin helped start a network to promote leadership in Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data at Canadian institutions.

  • Leveraging together. The group helps connect like-minded open advocates to provide support and get open efforts launched. “We work to add value to existing open initiatives by pooling resources and sharing best practices,” said Clyburne-Sherin, who assumed lack of money and experience would limit the ability to push for change. But at OpenCon, she was motivated to do what she could and pick up advice along the way.
  • Learning lessons. Despite the challenge of time zones, language, and funding, members of OOO Canada have been enthusiastic about their work. It’s been important to be inclusive and bilingual so all resources are in English and French. To enable busy volunteers to make progress, break down big ideas in to small pieces, and have each person take a part, Clyburne-Sherrin invited those interested to join in OOO Canada’s monthly hangout, write for its blog, follow the group on social media and volunteer to help with translation.

Roshan Kumar Karn, founding director, Open Access Nepal. First introduced to the Open Agenda at the Berlin 12 Satellite Event for Students and Early Career Research (the precursor to OpenCon), Karn said he returned to Nepal determined to start something.

  • Harness student support. Karn started an organization called Open Access Nepal with chapters at three universities, and membership has grown every year, now covering 22,000 students. The chapters promote the principal of openness in research and education, and their goal is to come up with open-access policies on campus and beyond.
  • Join and create campaigns. In 2014, Open Access Nepal participated in the International Open Access Week to raise awareness on the issue. After OpenCon 2015, the group launched a campaign, “Open Access: Greater Reach for Research” with events throughout the county. In April, the new campaign will be “Open Access: Starting Out in Research” with nonprofits and government representatives collaborating to offer research training.

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