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Open science practices in different disciplines (6) - An interview with Prof Hanny Elzinga (Dean University College Groningen) and Dr. Naomi de Ruiter (Open Science Ambassador)

Date:27 January 2023
Author:Vera Heininga & Marjan van Ittersum
©UG, photo: Marcel Spanjer
©UG, photo: Marcel Spanjer

The University of Groningen (UG) sees the development of open science as one of its priorities for the next 5 years. In this series of interviews, we explore the status of open science at the different UG faculties. In this edition: University College Groningen (UCG).

Professor Hanny Elzinga (HE) is Dean of UCG. Her research revolves around criminal law and criminal procedure law; and development and differentiation in university education. 

Naomi de Ruiter (NdR) is Assistant Professor in the field of developmental psychology. Her research focuses on understanding self and identity as situated in time and context. She is also a member of the Young Academy Groningen and the Open Science ambassador at UCG.

Why is open science important at UCG?

NdR: First of all, I believe that open science contributes to a more collaborative academia. Ultimately, OS is about sharing what we are learning and doing with each other, rather than keeping innovations or successes to ourselves and working in isolation. This collaborative mindset is one way that open science can help to advance knowledge, simply by encouraging people and institutions to join forces. This general approach - one of collaboration - is very important to us at UCG. For example, academic staff members often co-teach courses, and we actively share our best practices with each other to help lift the collective standards of our work. In addition, academic staff members and students often collaborate to co-create knowledge in the contexts of both research and education. So I think that open science corresponds to how we already work, and it helps to encourage this collaborative mindset and norm even more.

Another reason is societal impact. One of the pillars of open science is having more impact on society - creating knowledge with and for society, and this is a value that we hold at UCG as well. Within UCG, we have seen some great examples of staff members that achieved societal impact with their research. For example, Bettina van Hoven collaborated with ‘s Heeren Loo to investigate wheelchair accessibility in Groningen, and Julia Doornbos and her team won an Open Research Award 2022 for a study called ‘The Postcolonial Present: co-creating, sharing and remembering life stories of the Indo-European diaspora’!

Finally, the UCG is contributing to education innovation through open education and open educational resources. Our colleague Oksana Kavatsyuk’s for example received a Comenius grant and pioneers in creating open educational resources with students, such as open textbooks. Another great example of open education and co-creation is Chris May’s work on an open textbook that he created together with his students called “Interdisciplinary Explorations in Neuroscience: A Project-Based Course Guide”

To sum up, I think that open science is important at UCG because it helps nurture some of our core values, like collaboration, co-construction of knowledge, societal involvement, and an interest in advancing and innovating research and education for reasons beyond our own personal gain as individual academics. 

What is the current state of affairs in terms of open science at the UCG?

HE: We are a young faculty and have a lot of people who would like to pioneer. With open science on the table, the attitude and culture is very much oriented on innovation. Many of our staff are enthusiastic about it. They are willing to learn and to share what they accomplished and what they found challenging. The latter is important, as sharing what does not work also helps others move forward.

NdR: Yes, I think - like so many others - we are keen to continue learning about the ways we can contribute to open science. As it currently stands, the majority of our staff publishes open access, and if that is not possible, they make preprints available. This is very much the norm within the UCG. Furthermore, some staff members are contributing to open-source software. 

HE: An example of this is WeBWork, which is an open education software programme that is being used by Oksana Kavatsyuk. It is an open-source online homework system for STEM courses, which Oksana wants to broaden to other fields as well. 

Which objectives do you want to achieve in the upcoming two years with regard to the implementation (or further implementation) of open science?

NdR: Right now we are thriving in the open education aspect of open science and that is something we want to further implement. People like Chris and Oksana made a really great start in applying open education in their courses, and we aim to make open educational resources and open textbooks a widespread norm. In the upcoming years, I think that UCG can contribute to other areas of open science that have to do with research, such as pre-registration and data sharing. These are aspects of open science that are not always so straightforward. For example, for qualitative projects these aspects of open science are tricky, as data cannot be easily anonymized in its raw form. At UCG, we have quite a few researchers - qualitative researchers, for example - who will be able to contribute to these wider discussions and innovate in the implementation of open science in the research process.  

HE: In the 8-9 years of our existence, a lot has been done. We started with true pioneers: people who liked to do new things and got involved in topics such as open science. It is the mindset of our pioneers to embrace this. We want to further implement this positive aspect of our faculty. The attitude and culture at UCG is best seen in the staff's approach to innovation and challenge. You will often hear them say - “Interesting, what can we do with it? Can we implement it in our teaching?” Another aspect that I would like to see carried forward, is sharing the accomplishments and challenges of open science practices.

What obstacles and challenges do you expect in achieving these objectives, and how will you overcome them? 

NdR: I think an important obstacle is time. As a faculty, we are primarily focused on teaching and teaching innovation, but as individual staff members we are also passionate researchers and we need to find ways to dedicate enough time to do our research and invest in learning about and implementing open science practices. Many staff members try to connect their research, very efficiently and wisely, with their teaching. This is partly possible due to our project-based curriculum we have at UCG, where students engage in experiential learning via projects that correspond with staff’s research lines. This can be a great context for doing explorative research work, while also contributing to the collaborative nature of co-constructed knowledge I referred to earlier. This, however, is not possible for everyone. 

HE: The faculty board tries to facilitate our staff members and acknowledges that one cannot do everything at once. We need to give structure and vision to what we reward, and we try to do that for instance via our promotion policy. A promotion policy can be very beneficial and empowering. When staff members know how they are being rewarded, it gives them tools to choose their personal path so that they don’t need to be superstars in all areas in which one can excel in academia. It is, however, a challenge to apply this in practice. In recent years UCG has improved its promotion policy, and we are now facilitating more tailor-made career paths. Being a multi- and interdisciplinary oriented faculty, each staff member has made agreements with the director of academic staff. It is an approach that we are developing and we are looking into its feasibility. 

Recognizing and rewarding open science practices is an important part of the culture shift towards open science. How do you want to change the reward and recognition of open science practices at UCG?

HE: We have roughly a 70-20-10% rule for respectively teaching & education, research & societal impact and ‘service time’. Staff may invest their research/impact and service time into what is important to them and the faculty, for example open science. Another important step forward is that we now offer this division of education, research/impact and service time to all UCG academic staff with an appointment larger than 0.4 fte, which allows them to invest more in research to focus on societal impact, or to do more educational innovation. At UCG, this is implemented in our promotion policy in terms of recognition and rewards. Last year we officially started with a new promotion policy, which rewards - among many other achievements - efforts to engage in and advance open science. In the upcoming years we will keep a close eye on the impact and whether or not it is beneficial for our staff. 

In crafting the new policy, we looked at other faculties where educational tenure tracks were created (e.g., the Faculty of Economics and Business, and the Faculty of Science and Engineering). They were certainly an inspiration to us, but their educational tracks are education tenure tracks and that is a little different from the set up we have at the UCG. 

NdR: Indeed, while the educational tenure tracks at the other faculties mainly focus on education, at UCG staff members can still combine education and research. When you are rewarded for innovating education and the use of open science, the ‘innovation’ element becomes important for professional careers, and innovation and research obviously go hand-in-hand. With this, the boundaries between education innovation and research becomes a little bit fussier - as I think it should be. In that respect, I think the UCG can set an example for other faculties.

To what extent do UCG students learn about open science (research) practices, and how is it ensured that they apply them in their bachelor thesis?

NdR: Many students are working in collaboration with their lecturers to actively create open educational resources. In addition, our project-based curriculum works with principles from open science, such as a data management plan and dealing with personal data in an ethical way and in accordance with the GDPR. We explicitly teach these principles and practices in our core course ‘Introduction to Academic Research’, where students are introduced to empirical research using both qualitative and quantitative methods. For example, we teach and require students to incorporate a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA). Students learn how to think about the empirical cycle with an eye for how to treat and manage data in a responsible and ethical way. In this way, open science principles form part of our learning line from the beginning. In the project-based curriculum, students are often guided in how to work with society to collect data and to disseminate results. They learn how to involve members and groups from society and how to tackle questions that are relevant to those groups. 

HE: Regarding principles of ethical research, we work together with the ethics committee of Campus Fryslân, because, like us, they are a small faculty, with an ethics committee (which we did not previously have). We started collaborating a few months ago and would like to move forward together. We try to solve questions together. Our wish (or aim) to collaborate with other faculties is underlying to this partnership with Campus Fryslân. Fostering a culture of collaboration and learning from each other is what makes us UCG, and open science is just another way of doing this. So, our staff is not only collaborating on a faculty-level, but also with other faculties and others in our university. As Dean of UCG I am very proud of our staff and the way that they are incorporating the open science principles in their daily work.

About the author

Vera Heininga & Marjan van Ittersum

Vera Heininga is Open Science programme leader of the UG/UMCG and postdoctoral researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre Psychopathology and Emotion regulation (ICPE) of the UMCG.

Marjan van Ittersum is assistant programme leader of the Open Science Programme of the UG/UMCG.