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Centre for Doctoral Education



Going a Step Further with Research Data: Open Scholarship at UCL

By Nazlin Bhimani, on 17 July 2020

Open Science, Open Research and Open Scholarship are synonyms of a new cross-domain approach to creating, sharing, evaluating, rewarding and curating research and education outputs.  ‘Open Scholarship’, the preferred term used at UCL, is underpinned by eight pillars and UCL is seen as a leader in Europe in Open Scholarship undertaking activity in all 8 areas. Its work is formulated in line with the recommendations of the League of European Research Universities or LERU’s  Roadmap for Open Science, produced in 2018.  The roadmap promised to bring exciting new opportunities for scholars and this blog post is an example of how one researcher has been able to embrace the LERU principle of FAIR data in UCL’s open research environment.

In this post,  Dr Constanza Gonzalez Parrao  writes about her experience of making her research data openly available in UCL’s Research Data Repository, and how she goes a step further in submitting a ‘data article’ in a peer-reviewed, open access journal.

As PhD students, it is sometimes difficult to increase our publications output and at least for me, the idea of publishing my work was centred on writing research papers only. However, in the last months, I have discovered that the publication road includes a variety of academic “products”, all of which can help to extend our research impact. For me, this process started with an email from Nazlin Bhimani, the IOE’s Research Support & Special Collections Librarian, inviting doctoral students to publish their research data and explore the option of producing an associated “data article”. At that time, I knew little about data articles but I had vaguely discussed with my supervisor the idea of making my data publicly available. I found out that data articles are shorter manuscripts that describe the data used in a research study so that other researchers can become aware of its existence and the potential use and re-use of the data. Data articles also enable us to publish parts of the thesis that would not normally be published in a research article, either due to the word-length limit or because the focus of the article is often not the methodology.

One of the chapters of my thesis is a systematic review of more than a hundred pages long, including the appendices. To conduct a meta-analysis, I created a dataset with information from a group of the primary studies included in the review. This constituted my data, which would have been “forgotten” if I had not taken the opportunity to look at ways to make this part of my research project more visible. After some guidance from Nazlin on the different stages and requirements of the publication process, I was able to structure this long research chapter into three complementary outputs to maximise its visibility: an open access dataset in UCL’s data repository, a data article and a research article in peer-reviewed journals.

My Data on UCL's Research Data Repository

           My Data on UCL’s Research Data Repository

UCL promotes Open Science or Open Scholarship and UCL’s research repository was set up to promote open data based on the FAIR principles so that data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. I decided to publish my data to adhere to these principles, but also because in systematic reviews transparency and reproducibility are required standards. Preparing the dataset was straightforward but I had to make sure that I was explicit about its sources and because I wanted to make it readable for any potential user. This meant creating clear “meta-data” to describe the variables and values included in the dataset and a reference list of the primary studies used in the review. Once the dataset was ready, getting it published was simple and fast as UCL’s data repository web pages provide all the instructions.

One of the advantages of publishing our data is that it gets its own DOI, so there is a permanent address for others to find our data and if it is used, we obtain an additional citation! Getting a DOI is also important as peer-reviewed journals are increasingly asking for the DOIs for data discussed in a submitted article. Once the upload is approved, searchers can both view and download the data, share it via email, export its citation (in a BibTeX, Endnote, or other types of files), and even copy/paste a customised citation style. To see how a research data publication looks like, see my dataset here or search for it on UCL’s Research Data Repository

The preparation of the articles required a little more effort as the data article needed to complement the dataset and it could not overlap with the main research article. While the data article highlighted the main features of the dataset and its value for further research, the research article focused on the results and implications of the systematic review. This required some strategic planning, yet the idea that these outputs are directly and explicitly linked to each other is key, as it helps to make visible aspects of our research that often remain behind the scenes because, as mentioned above, we do not include them in traditional research papers.

Since I had published the data in an open access research repository, it was important for me to find an open access peer-reviewed journal that would publish my data article. This was a bit of a challenge and my first attempt resulted in the journal wanting a hefty amount of money upfront an article processing fee to make it open access. After some searching, I decided to submit my data article to the Research Data Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is an open access, peer-reviewed journal. I came across other options which are listed, here. Based on my experience, I recommend that you identify a suitable journal first before preparing the manuscript for submission.

Overall, this has been a rewarding experience because I discovered an area in the publication system that was unfamiliar to me, and I am sure that is the case for many students. Preparing these different academic “products” required some dedication and time but I now have one additional publication that is open access and two more underway from the same thesis chapter. More importantly, the process showed me a new way to maximise my research output and therefore, my research outreach. Further, it has made me aware of the importance of open access data. So, I invite you to think beyond the traditional research paper and plan how you could diversify your publications list and I invite you to join the world of Open Scholarship to make our research, including our research data, freely and openly available so that it can be interrogated and re-used.

A question that has no easy answers – or perhaps it does?

By Nazlin Bhimani, on 3 April 2019

Congratulations! You have completed your thesis, gone through the viva and have passed with flying colours (with or without corrections). At this stage, you are expected to upload the digital copy of the thesis into UCL’s Research Publications System (RPS) together with the ‘Thesis Deposit Agreement Form’. And it is also at this stage when you have to decide on whether the thesis will be open access, which of the various open access licenses is appropriate for your work, and whether you want to impose an embargo on the thesis for 6-12 months. Your supervisor(s) may advise but many will leave the decision to you.

It is reasonable to put an embargo on your thesis if you are planning on converting the thesis into a book. Some publishers will ask you to take down your thesis before they will publish your work. You may consider an embargo if your thesis contains material that will be patented or is confidential in nature. However, before you put an embargo on your work, check your funder’s terms and conditions. Most funders want the research they have funded to be open access.

If I am asked for advice on whether to put an embargo or not, I usually list the advantages of making the thesis openly accessible. I may be biased in my response but I do believe the advantages far outweigh the disadvances. Quite apart from the ethical issue of making information freely and openly available, there are advantages to society too. Aside from independent scholars, who don’t have access to large libraries or cannot travel to a country where a source is held, the policymaker and the taxpayer will have access  – and, consequently, you will have more readers, and perhaps even more citations. Further, the thesis will not gather dust on your shelves or languish in a vault in the Library. There are other advantages too:

  • Your work will have greater visibility with the UCL brand as the URL will be yourthesis.discovery.ucl.ac.uk.
  • The UCL brand offers credibility to your work as a researcher.
  • Your thesis will be discoverable via Google Scholar, eThOS and on DART (European theses portal).
  • You will be providing scholars in your area with a service by promoting and flagging your research so that they are aware of it but also do not waste time duplicating the research.
  • This means you will get cited more quickly.
  • A publisher may find your thesis and offer to publish it as a book – saving you the time to look for one.
  • It is not likely that all the content in your thesis will be published in book or article format. For instance, your methodology chapter will be read more widely and this is the chapter that is not likely to be published fully in a book unless the basis for the thesis is a new methodology.
  • Future employers, co-authors and your network can have evidence of the quality of your research.
  • The law will protect against misuse of your intellectual property and the University will ensure that any misappropriation is actioned.
  • You will be adhering to the UCL Publications Policy which favours open access. See: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/open-access/ucl-publications-policy-2012

The disadvantages are as follows:

  • Your work may be plagiarised – but this is a risk for all online content.
  • Your work is sold on Amazon or eBay without your knowledge – and again, this is a risk with all online content.
  • You will get harassed by predatory publishers to publish with them. Use your information literacy skills and investigate them and please, don’t give your intellectual property away.
  • You won’t get known for the great researcher you are if your work stays hidden!

As you can see from the list there are more advantages to making your thesis openly available than there are disadvantages. Given the rate at which scholarship is produced and available on the internet, you may want to re-consider an embargo  – at least a lengthy embargo.  Fundamentally, UCL is committed to open access and we have the first open-access university press here in the UK – see UCL Press. Once your thesis and the form are uploaded and available on UCL’s research repository, UCL Discovery, it is considered to be published. Double congratulations, for you have now contributed new knowledge and, it is available for the rest of the world to read!