2nd CRUP-CRUE Open Science Seminar

The 2nd CRUP-CRUE Open Science Seminar was fundamentally a meeting between high level representants of the European scientific community discussing several topics that need to be addressed to create a fairer methodology to evaluate researcher careers.

The representants of the Portuguese and Spanish universities rectors took part to the seminar, along with other institutions like the European University Association, the European Research Area and Innovation Committee and ANECA (the Spanish national agency for the quality evaluation and accreditation), as well as several universities rectors.

First part – “Room for everyone’s talent; towards a new balance in the recognition and rewards of academics”, presented by Rianne Letschert.

During the first speech, Rianne Letschert, the Maastricht University Rector, made a presentation titled “Position paper. Room for everyone’s talent; towards a new balance in the recognition and rewards of academics”. During her discourse, the Rector pointed out the necessity to modernize the system of recognition and rewards in the academic area. This modernization aims to promote excellence in each of the following key areas: research, education, impact and leadership (in case of university medical centers, also patient care).

In fact, many academics believe there is too much emphasis on research performance, under evaluating other key areas, which are also important for the society necessities. The assessment system, in accordance with this position paper, must be adapted to maximize the potential of each individual, creating different career paths for each of the previously mentioned areas. For instance, a professor who doesn’t have strong research abilities but is excellent at teaching, and therefore plays an important role in one of the fundamentals goals of the university, can see a way to develop its career and to see its efforts and qualities acknowledged.

One important concept that Rianne Letschert remarked, is that with the proposed assessment system not everybody can become full professor, as this is not the aim of this system of recognition. In this framework, academics who are pivotal for the correct university operation are not underestimated and therefore do not get frustrated, while top of the line researchers would keep maintaining their position.

Secondly, the position paper points out the necessity to not just evaluate the academics individual performance but also their contribution for their department team, institution or organization they are a part of.

Lastly, the Maastricht University Rector talked about the necessity to reduce the emphasis on the number of publication and increase the importance given to the quality of the research, increasing the contribution to science and society. In other words, we have to focus on quality, not on quantity.

Second part – Research Assessment in Europe

Bregt Saenen, Policy and Project Officer, European University Association

A study of the EUA was presented by their Policy and Project Officer, Bregt Saenen. This work showed mainly three aspects, that were outlined by mean of different surveys:

  • Universities feel highly or mostly autonomous to develop and implement research assessment approaches for the researcher careers, the performance of research units and for the internal research funding allocation.
  • The survey indicated that the most important academic activities for research careers are the research publications, attract external funding and the research impact and knowledge transfer, while the Open Science, Open Knowledge and social outreach and knowledge transfer were poorly evaluated.
  • The evaluation of academic activities for research careers showed that the most important factor that are taken into consideration are the number of publications and citations, peer-review assessment and research impact and knowledge transfer indicators. While less importance is given to the uptake based on the number of views and downloads, the societal outreach of journal publications and to Open Science and Open Access indicators.

This study allows to point out that still Open Science and Open Access criteria are not broadly taken into account to determine research careers.

Cecilia Cabello, Chair of the European Research Area and Innovation Committee Standing Working Group on Human Resources

The study presented by Cecilia Cabello, showed that the current mechanism for researchers’ recruitment, career progression and access to research funding mainly lies on the publications in journals with high reputation.

The open science context aims to activate a virtuous cycle in which the research is correctly assessed and recognized, good research in rewarded and therefore promoted. To promote research excellence, a harmonization of recognition and a mechanism to reward excellent investigation is necessary.

An interesting analysis about the metrics used to evaluate the researcher’s prestige was presented, in fact, this can be inferred from the prestige of the journals in which the authors publish. The journal prestige is mainly based on the Journal Impact Factor, which is very often determined from the citations obtained from a small minority of authors, letting most of the authors to benefit from the situation. Actually, the shape of the frequency distribution of the citation number, where few works receive a lot of citations and the rest have very few or even zero citations, does not allow to properly calculate an “average” figure.

Third part – Is Open Science challenging career evaluation in the Iberian universities?

In this last part of the seminar Spanish and Portuguese universities representants talked about the current situation in Spain and Portugal about the Open Science and Open Access indicators implementation. They mainly agreed with the concepts highlighted in the previous two sessions, indicating that although some progresses have been made and the discussion in the scientific community is on the table, there still a long way to go.

Reflections about the seminar

During the seminar, a lot of interesting topics have been discussed.

The careers path described by Rianne Letschert during the first presentation would undoubtedly allow to better exploit the potential of each professor. During the student years, who did not have a professor who taught without passion and did not prepare well the class presentations? Wouldn’t be better if another academic, with more passion and purpose, could take his/her course? This would certainly benefit the students education, it would allow teaching-oriented professors to exploit their potential in what they are good at and would also allow top scientists to focus only/mainly on their research activities, leading to better chances of significant discoveries. I do think that would be in everyone interest to maximize the talent of the professors, and the career path described in the position paper could be a good way to achieve it.

The necessity to focus more on the quality rather than on the quantity, pointed out in all the seminar interventions, is also an interesting point, as some researchers organize their time to maximize the number of publications, sometimes losing sight of what should be the aim of their work: to go beyond the knowledge frontiers of their research field.

Probably the most important aspect, outlined by many commentators, is that the university system needs a mentality change as lot of researchers are accustomed to the current career evaluation methods and there are certainly switching costs. During a debate, emerged that the main skepticism carried by a lot of researchers about the Open Science criteria is its range of application. They are worried to agree to a not broadly accepted evaluation system, that wouldn’t allow them to see their work recognized worldwide. For this reason, a common and wide agreement about this topic needs to be met inside the scientific community.

#IamAnOpenScientistBecause I do agree with the necessity of a free access to the publication and to the investigation data.

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