PhD on track – part 2

In my first post from the conference “PhD on track”, I wrote about what the website is and I wrote up my notes from the first speaker.

Curt Rice: Beyond Open Access

The second speaker of the day was Curt Rice, the vice president of research and development at the University of Tromsø. The title of his talk was “Beyond Open Access”. The libraries should be policy-makers, Rice said. To be able to do that, we need more, broader and better knowledge and use it to make changes. We have to be in the lead and see developments in the field, and then recommend neccesary changes (report to the leadership of the institution – our opinions should be heard). Expertise is crucial, and we need to use it to create changes, first on a local level and then on a national level. Administration of Open Access (OA) publishing funds is one example of how libraries can be important collaborators in the institution. Rice told the story of a researcher who had published a number of articles, but then decided to start blogging about them. She blogged about the results in her research, but also about the mistakes she had made, goofs in the labs etc. = the human interest story. Her blog became very popular, and then she also started tweeting. Her articles are now the most downloaded and cited articles of her department. The researchers had approx. 15 times more downloads on the articles she blogged about vs. the ones she didn`t blog about. Access matters, and awareness matters, Rice said. In “Forskningsmeldingen” (a parlimentary report on research) there is much emphasis on OA publishing, and researchers are generally interested in it, but not if it compromises their academic freedom. Some see it  as a problem, and although it may be a “philosophical” problem more than an actual problem, it should be discussed. Can we really ban certain journals because of their poor self-archiving or OA publishing systems? Researchers look for Impact Factor(IF).. There are  major problems with the IF system, e.g.: 1.) retraction rates are on the rise, 2.) publication bias (only studies that show positive results get published..) When librarians say to the PhD student: How can we help you?, we can often position ourselves between the student and his/her tutor, and that requires great diplomatic skills, Rice said. Librarians need to work with the tutors.

There is no principal difference between OA publishing and traditional publishing when it comes to peer-review, Rice said, but the peer-review system is not working in its current state. The “closed” system makes it possible for reviewers to deliver shoddy and “unfinished” reviews. Transparancy is an issue that cannot be overlooked any longer. In one biomed journal (Rice couldn`t remember the name) there is now an open review process where all reviews are published openly, and other researchers can add comments. This is an important process-oriented change in this rather old-fashioned system.

We (meaning librarians and others) have to teach the PhD students how to use social media in a professional manner so that they can enhance their research and get it out to the market faster. Traditional publication takes a long time, and this makes the use of social media even more important. Librarians need more competence and knowledge on these issues. Only that way we can make research better so that we can make society better.

I think Curt Rice gave a good and inspiring talk, and I think he had some very good points. I wouldn`t have minded even more practical approaches and more stories from “real life”, but still.. a good presentation (and kudos for not using a Powerpoint presentation, and instead just walking around with his tablet. Much easier to keep the attention to what he was saying. Note to self..)

The launch of the website:

“PhD on track” was a collaboration between the University of Oslo (NO), the University of Bergen (NO), Aalborg University (DK), the National Library (NO), Bergen University College (NO) and the Norwegian School of Economics (NO). Representatives from the project group talked about their methods in planning and executing the website. Goals for the projects included: acquiring new knowledge about PhD students` information needs and habits, making a website of freely available modules (in English) and creating an awareness on the libraries` role in PhD training. The report that forms the basis of the website can be found here: (in English) and here: (in Norwegian).

The website consists of three modules: “Review and discover”, “Share and publish” and “Evaluation and ranking”. The website underwent user testing, and the project group found that users rarely use page navigation (other than the one on top of the page), they would rather scroll. This meant that the website had to have clearly marked headlines. The project group also found that they had to think about their jargon and try not to use that kind of “academic tribal language” that they had gotten used to. They also had to limit the amount of text on front pages, have short and well-written introductions and more in-depth subject-specific information. The users that tested the website didn`t use the search option. Many of them had bad experiences from other websites, and they were often afraid of being taken out of the site by searching. User-testing is vital, the project group explained, as it uncovers problems and errors, confirmes what has been well done and they got inputs on design as well.

The last part of the day were parallell sessions, and I chose to go to “Literature searching for PhD students” where we had a look at the “Review and discover” at the new website. I have a few notes from the session, but it was really more of a discussion on how to present search examples etc. so I don`t think I`ll write about it here. A few questions that were addressed were: Do we offer PhD students a bachelor course (only a little more advanced) or do we keep it to a real PhD enhanced level? What competencies should a librarian possess? What problems are there when it comes to PhD students` varying levels (concerning their prior knowledge) and e.g. expectations from international students vs. Norwegian/Danish students?

Bente Andreassen closed the conference by saying that developing courses on each institution is meaningless. We should collaborate and learn from each other. …and on that note it was over:) I spent a very interesting day, and I hope to be able to test the website properly soon.

PhD on track – a new website for PhD support launched (part 1)

I attended a conference last week where the website “PhD on track” was launched. It is a new resource to help PhD students with things like systematic search, referencing, publishing, co-authorship, marketing and sharing the research, open access issues and the weighted funding system in Norway, to  mention some. The conference was divided into three main parts, where the launch was part two. Check out the website, (and look at the conference program) and I`ll write up my notes here (I tweeted too, and the hashtag that was used was #phdontrack).

Berit Hyllseth from The Norwegian assosiation of higher education institutions did a presentation on generic skills (or rather professional skills as she corrected herself to) that we expect PhD students to have or gain. Which skills should they possess? Interpersonal skills, organisational skills, research competensies, cognitive abilities, communication skills and enterprise skills were mentioned. Hyllseth also showed us the Vitae Researcher Developers Framework (RDF), a new framework that describes necessary skills and competensies that a PhD students should have. PhD students can use it as a personal development tool, to see where they need to learn more  and put in more effort.

Norway is committed to the European Qualifications Framework, where the focus (for PhD students) is on the student`s knowledge and processes, not the research that they produce. Globalisation causes (among many other things) a higher demand for knowledge, and there is an emphasis on innovation and development, Hyllseth said. 74 percent of all persons with a PhD work in the public sector in Norway. This is a Norwegian phenomenon. In OECD countries most people with a PhD work in the private sector. We must focus more on the globalisation effect, Hyllseth said. It is not enough to educate researchers who have basic research skills and knows how to publish. An increasing number of people are enrolled in PhD programmes, and many are now studying part-time. We have to standardise programmes to facilitate researcher mobility. The research must also respond to the market`s needs. There is a paradigm shift in PhD education. The student can no longer expect to have a close relationship with his or her mentor because the mentor have more students to take care of than before. Are the PhD programmes bold enough to give us researchers that the society needs and wants?, Hyllseth asked rhetorically.

Hyllseth`s own data showed that while most PhD students (at the University of Oslo) were contented with their mentor and the guidance, they were less impressed with the courses and seminars. Many saw these courses as not very relevant and of low quality. The students expressed a wish for a broader choice of courses, and said that they wanted to learn more about academic writing, publishing and project management.

There is a need for better quality and a stronger collaboration between the different elements in the PhD training. There is also an expressed need for more interdisciplinary collaboration, but the faculties (at the University of Oslo) are autonomous and they decide how to build these training programmes and courses. There is no central management here.

We have to clarify the mentor`s role as someone who is jointly responsible for the student`s academic progress, we need better and more systematic use of external tutors and resources, a handbook for mentors as well as training measures to mentors. Hyllseth also recommended more partnerships with external institutions and a focus on marketing the value of PhD students and their knowledge.

More in part 2 (to come)