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Research Dissemination 101: Force11 Scholarly Communication Summer Institute

By John Chodacki

“The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret!”
-Dr. Strangelove

In science, as in Doomsday Machines, the important thing is the communication. Research, unless it is disseminated, is no different from study. It is one thing to define a good problem and develop what you think is a productive answer. But if you don’t tell others what you did and why you did it, you may as well have not bothered. Dissemination, so that others can test and respond to your work, is what makes research research.

These are truisms, of course. But if you look at how science communication is actually taught, you might wonder. It takes years of schooling to become a scientist or scholar. This schooling teaches you the basic techniques and tenets of your field. You learn how to conduct research in a responsible fashion. Your instructors test your knowledge of the core literature and ideas. Once you work in the field, you are expected to stay on top of the most recent trends and developments.

How you communicate this research, however, is something that in many fields you are expected to pick up on your own. You learn by working with your supervisors on joint papers. In others, there may be a professionalisation course (usually taught by one of the research faculty, rather than a specialist in the latest trends in Scholarly Communication) or your supervisor might suggest a journal for you to try.

In contrast to almost everything else about your training, however, the guidance you receive in Scholarly Communication is almost always backwards looking and conservative–you learn by watching and emulating the practices of the generation before you, adapting their methods and adopting their sense of what is most efficient or productive.

In this last thirty years, this traditional, apprentice-style method of learning about Scholarly Communication has become increasingly untenable. The advent of the World Wide Web and (in High- and Mid-Income Economies, at least) ubiquitous or near ubiquitous computing is changing nearly every aspect of how and what we can communicate as researchers. An industry that changed only incrementally in the course of the previous century is now full of new and potentially disruptive initiatives, economic models, standards, and start-ups–many developed and led by recent graduates and students. And of course this makes sense: students are entering a world their supervisors were not trained for; it is not surprising that they are the ones to see the disruptive potential inherent in these new technologies, standards, and models.

The Force 11 Scholarly Communication Summer Institute (FSCI) has been developed to address this gap in how we learn the crucial art of Scholarly Communication. FSCI is modelled on the very successful Digital Humanities Summer Institute (the Digital Humanities are another domain in which networked computing has disrupted the field faster than traditional training can accommodate). In the last 16 years, DHSI has trained thousands of humanities researchers in a very supportive atmosphere in how they can make the most of the latest computation and communication techniques to improve their traditional research practice. FSCI brings the same approach to the latest developments in Scholarly Communication more generally: bring together the leaders in the field and those who want to improve their daily practice; allow the community to set the topics that are taught; emphasise hands on work whenever possible.

The inaugural Institute will take place July 31-August 4 on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. The Institute is built around six week long morning courses that help researchers orient themselves in the latest developments in contemporary Scholarly Communication, data-rich research, and globalisation (here’s the course list).

These morning courses are complemented by 6 hour afternoon courses on most specialised topics, from “Open Humanities” and “Altmetrics” to Data and Software Citation. The courses are taught by leading practitioners and researchers in Scholarly Communication and are based, in many cases, on courses these instructors have given successfully at smaller institutes and workshops. FSCI, however, represents the first attempt to bring these many different topics and experts together in a single location for a single intense week.

For the student, the goal is improving your research dissemination practice. In previous generations, change in how you were expected to communicate research happened quite slowly. It was enough to see what others did and emulate that. Today, how you can communicate science is changing almost as fast as the science you communicate. FSCI provides a structured, low-cost, and friendly way of learning about the latest developments from the experts who are leading the change.

So when you get back to your lab, you can get on with letting others know about your research in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Learn more about the FORCE11 Scholarly Communications Institute at https://www.force11.org/fsci.

Featured Image: Jason-3 Satellite Rendering. Photo credit: CNES. No copyright restrictions, public domain.

John Chodacki is Director of the University of California Curation Center (UC3) at California Digital Library (CDL). As Director of UC3, John works across the UC campuses and the broader community to ensure that CDL’s digital curation services meet the emerging needs of the scholarly community, including digital preservation, data management, and reuse.

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