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Open for Collaboration: Why open access publishing creates more networking opportunities for young scientists

By Farzana Rahman

The theme for Open Access Week 2015 is “Open for Collaboration”. Now in its eight year, #OAWeek2015 celebrates how open access publishing of scientific research and scholarship has equipped students and early career researchers with the tools for enhanced collaboration and connectivity.

Open access publishing and data sharing has created unprecedented opportunity for exploratory scientific research. In the wake of more open science, the existing models for scientific networking and communication have evolved to fit the Internet age. Researchers and scientific communicators have adapted their methods to fit an increasingly open and collaborative online environment.

The sharing of the research results, also known as science communication (or #scicomm on Twitter) is a core component of scientific research. Traditionally, research findings are published in an academic journal and then discussed in depth at an academic conference or in a special journal issue. Today, it is possible for scientists to connect globally, and discuss their research in online forums, publishers’ blogs, personal blogs, and perhaps most importantly, on social media. These new opportunities for connection has introduced researchers to a new age in global networking and collaboration.

Young researchers in particular are leveraging the power of the online science community, Internet platforms and community forums (such as redditscience) and scholarly media (such as ResearchGate) to share the results and build connections in a more open scholarly environment.

Why join the Community?

Today, a young scientist’s opportunities for professional development are not restricted to his/her laboratory. Many specialized networks, such as the ISCB, IET, IEEE, ACM, have emerged in recent years. Recently, many specialized mentorship networks where senior and early career scientists mentor young and budding scientists have launched, indicating the new significance of mentorship in science. Nevertheless, the participation of young scientists in such networks needs to improve.

When a budding researcher takes the initiative to go outside his/her lab to discuss new ideas for research and findings with colleagues, or share open access data, that dialogue can stimulate meaningful debates, spark ideas and thus bring more valuable and significant science to a wider audience. Recognizing that it may be daunting for a budding scientist to approach senior scientists or laboratory heads with a fresh idea or finding, many students and post-doctoral researchers have formed mini-communities to support professional development for early career scientists.

Often, these communities are built under the same roof of a long-standing and established professional scientific body. For example, initiatives taken by the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have facilitated opportunities for the next generation of researchers to develop mirror versions of these professional bodies for student members.

Student wings of different societies and professional organizations often operate differently from their umbrella organization. For example, the ISCB Student Council (ISCBSC) is comprised of students and young researchers striving to promote the professional development of the next generation of computational biologists. The ISCBSC organizes national and international scientific symposia and training workshops to provide networking and soft skill development opportunities.

The ISCBSC also hosts social events, scientific discussions, career sessions and release mini publications both online and offline with help from experts in the field (i.e. SCS Africa, SCS Dublin). These initiatives give young researchers ample opportunity to practice presenting their work among their peers and showcase their findings before going to a broader community of senior scientists. Scientific communities for young researchers often sow the seeds of long-standing partnerships and future collaborations among scientists still early in their career development.

Interestingly, ISCBSC also operates regional nodes of their organization, where students organize a local hub to support their colleagues’ research and professional development. In this way, students can learn and practice skills in local/national stages and then contribute on an international stage.

 Offline Networking session at the ISCB Student Council Symposium 201, Boston ( The image was captured by the author and is re-usable under creative common licence )
Offline Networking session at the ISCB Student Council Symposium 2014, Boston (Photograph by Farzana Rahman, License: Creative Commons)

How Early Career Researchers Use Social Media for Scholarly Pursuits

New platforms for professional networking among scientists mean networking between researchers is no longer limited to just conferences and career events. Online platforms for digital collaboration, such as the previously mentioned ResearchGate, as well as ORCID, Publons, and play an important role in connecting researchers and scientists internationally. These platforms, which are similar to a scholarly version of Facebook or LinkedIn, give researchers the opportunity to share their research with data (in some cases share even negative data), ask questions, discuss, debate, resolve or dig deeper into a scientific problem. As Ijad Madisch, a Berlin-based virologist and co-founder of ResearchGate, said in a 2014 Nature article: “With ResearchGate we are changing science in a way that’s not entirely foreseeable”.

In 2014, a reported 10,000 new users were joining ResearchGate each day, adding about 4.5 million users to its existing userbase. Young researchers can use platforms like ResearchGate to connect with junior and senior peers, share raw data, peer review research, engage in collaborative discussion and suggest solutions to scientific problems, among other functions. ResearchGate is also a platform where researchers can share negative results that might otherwise not be published by major journals; however, PLOS ONE recently released “The Missing Pieces,” a collection intended specifically for negative or inconclusive results.

Blogs and Bloggers

Many leading science publishers, like PLOS, that traditionally publish peer-reviewed journal articles, have a blogging community that often reflects the cutting edge research published in their periodicals. The PLOS Blogs Network launched in 2010 with a mission to enhance scientific communication via scientific blogging and discussion in an open environment.

Scientific publishers are also encouraging researchers to write their independent views on recently published works. The PLOS Field Reports (which include the Neuro, Ecology, SynBio, and Paleo Communities) initiatives give researchers attending a conference or symposium the opportunity to write about their experience. For example, the PLOS Neuro community has been providing in-depth coverage of the Society for Neuroscience Conference  in Chicago, Illinois. Somewhat similar to “citizen journalism,” this initiative can be used by researchers to practice and hone their skills for formal writings in journals.

The PLOS Student Blog nurtures the same purpose by providing a forum for early career researchers to perfect their skills in science writing and share insights on recent PLOS research, science education, student life, science communication and much more.

The power of the science blogs is evident with initiatives like the Young Scientists Journal (YSJournal). YSJournal provides a platform to encourage scientific thinking among students as young as 12 years. In the Young Scientists Journal, scientists ages 12 to 20 years collaborate to advance their careers in science and technology. The YSJournal is formed and maintained by junior researchers across the globe, mentored by a group of senior scientists and is claimed to be the only journal and science blog maintained by youngsters.

The Storm of Microblogging

While blogging requires crafted content covering a topic, idea or story, microblogging is an even shorter version of blogging which does not require as much editorial crafting. Instead, microblogging allows the author to broadcast thoughts, observations, or quotes live, often during events or conferences. Popular microblogging platforms include  Twitter and Tumblr. While community blogging is often monitored by editorial teams, microblogging is not reviewed.

 The challenge lies in summarizing a thought in a fixed number of characters. For example, Twitter allows its users to post a short message of 140 characters. In this way it helps to engage everyone from mature scientists to younger science enthusiasts, to highlight thoughts and articles. Twitter, being an open medium, plays a significant role for a young scientist to communicate and take part in the online collaboration. Dr. Gozde Ozakinci, a health psychologist at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, shared her thoughts about Twitter: “I feel that with Twitter, my academic world expanded to include many colleagues I wouldn’t otherwise meet. The information shared on Twitter is so much more current than you would find on journals or conferences”.

Micro-blogging platforms have very high potentials and equips junior and early career researchers to practice near-real-time Q&As on any topic.

If you’re open for collaboration this Open Access Week, join us for a special PLOS Science Wednesday ‘Ask Me Anything’ on redditscience on October 21 with guests Robert Kaplan and John Ionnadis, who will discuss how more comprehensive reporting in scientific research can improve study replication, statistical methods and scientific standards. PLOS Science Wednesday is live from 1-2pm ET, ask your questions and follow the conversation @PLOS and flex your microblogging muscles.



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