All posts by Office of Scholarly Communication

In their own words: working in scholarly communication

Last month we put out a call for people working in scholarly communication to record and send us their views on what it takes to work in this area. After a slow start we now have a few uploaded.

As a head’s up, here’s the combined responses from four Jisc sessions held over summer to the question:

Which personal attributes do you think are most valuable in scholarly communications roles?

With words like ‘persistence’, ‘communication’, approachability’ and ‘negotiation’, this word cloud starts to reflect some of the advice we published recently for new starters in open access. But it’s not all scary – some of it is even fun! Take it from those who are walking the talk.

On this last day of Open Access Week we are pleased to showcase some of the first responses. So far we have received four contributions and these have started to demonstrate the broad range of roles available in this exciting area. Below you will hear from colleagues working in data management, librarianship and training roles as they discuss their daily jobs, the challenges they face and the skills they need.

We hope that you can use them to think about how you could make your own career in scholarly communication. If you would like to contribute your own interview (either in video or text format) the submission form can be found here. We hope to bring you more interviews over the next few months, building up into a useful bank of information for anyone wanting to work in scholarly communication and research support.

(With huge thanks to our contributors – Clair Castle, Natasha Feiner, Kate O’Neill, Claire Sewell and Sarah Stewart)

Clair Castle – Working in RDM

Claire Castle, Chemistry Librarian and Research Data Coordinator at the University of Cambridge discusses her role supporting researchers with their data management:

Natasha Feiner – Working in Research Support

Natasha Feiner, Senior Library Assistant at the University of Reading, talks about what her role involves and the importance of paying attention to detail:

What are the core tasks of your job?

Day to day I spend a lot of my time checking and updating records in the university’s institutional repository, CentAUR. This often involves talking to researchers and publishers about things like copyright agreements and sharing policies. On an intermittent basis I carry out ‘health checks’ on the records in CentAUR, for accuracy and REF compliance. At the moment I am undertaking an ‘in-press’ check to identify newly-published books and articles in the repository. Beyond CentAUR, I provide administrative support for open access events and training at the University of Reading. I am currently assisting with the organisation of a conference planned for 2019 that will focus on open research and publishing. I am also an active member of the university library. I provide liaison support for the Arts and Humanities team, and am involved with user services for the Business and Social Sciences team.

What are the skills you need to do this job well?

For the CentAUR side of things, attention to detail is really important. Minor mistakes could have serious implications for REF compliance. More generally, I think that a willingness to learn is essential for anyone involved in supporting research in a university setting. Policies and requirements are always evolving – especially in relation to open access – so it is important to be able to adapt quickly. A good memory for acronyms is also useful!

Kate O’Neill – Working in Research Support

Kate O’Neill, Research Services Librarian at the University of Sheffield, discusses managing an institutional repository and supporting academics to engage with Open Access:

Claire Sewell – Working in Training

Claire Sewell, Research Support Skills Coordinator at the University of Cambridge, discusses her role training Cambridge library Staff:

What are the core tasks of your job?

It varies from day to day but essentially I’m providing training to Cambridge University library staff (across one hundred plus libraries) in the area of research support and scholarly communication. Cambridge is a very research intensive university and so no matter which library you work in or what your role is, you are supporting these researchers in some way. My role involves making sure that library staff are equipped with the knowledge they need to support the research community they serve. This involves a lot of topics from basic introductions to data management and open access through to hands-on workshops on text and data mining and presentation skills. I offer a lot of face to face training but recently I’ve been expanding this to include more online training and resources for those who can’t attend training sessions. 

What do you need to do this job that you didn’t learn at library school?

I qualified a few years ago now so there wasn’t much concrete information about scholarly communication on my course which meant that I had to develop my knowledge on this area pretty fast. I also needed to develop my communication skills in a variety of ways. I had done some presenting before but I needed to look at adapting my message to different audiences and their particular needs. I also needed to learn a lot about being patient. For some people this area is a big change and not one they want to accept easily so I have to practice my diplomacy a lot more than I thought I would have to!

What is the best part of your role?

I think the best part (and the thing that I enjoy the most) is that I’m getting paid to learn. I’ve always been enthusiastic about professional development and tried a lot of different things over the years to develop my knowledge, from online courses to job shadowing. I was by no means an expert when I took on my current role and I’m still not so my role involves doing a lot of learning. When I see a need or when I’m asked to provide some training on something I do a lot of research to make sure I know I’m talking about. This often involves looking outside the box at different viewpoints and applications so I can offer a balanced training session or resource. In this way I’m constantly learning about new things in the world of scholarly communication and getting paid for doing what I enjoy!

Sarah Stewart – Working in Data Services

Sarah Stewart, Data Services Specialist at the British Library, discusses her role working with data at a large institution.

Lucinda May – Working in Scholarly Communication

Lucinda May, Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of Manchester, talks about the skills she needs for her role:

What are the skills you need to do this job well?

A lot of the skills required to do this job effectively are transferable: you need to be very organised, able to juggle competing tasks and prioritise your workload, manage your time to work to challenging deadlines, and have strong attention to detail – whilst working at speed!

I’m part of a relatively large team at Manchester and it’s essential to be able to work well with colleagues, sharing your different responsibilities as you work towards common goals. I’ve worked hard to build a solid understanding of numerous complex policies and their implications, and over the last year or so I’ve developed my skill-set to be able to translate this knowledge into implementing user-friendly processes, including considering service resource requirements and the user experience of our services. One of the most important skills to be an effective Scholarly Comms librarian is being able to explain complex information clearly to busy and sometimes stressed researchers. It’s essential that I have confidence in the expertise I’ve worked to build up whilst doing this job, as I need to be comfortable being asked for a view on issues or options by academics.

It’s not essential to have deep sector knowledge when starting this job, but you need to be committed to building a solid base of knowledge to draw on in conversations with researchers, and ensure you’re up to date on developments. I’ve always been encouraged to find and cultivate my own authentic voice – to explain things in my own words, and be authentic to my personality when communicating with stakeholders, as this contributes to building collegial, respectful relationships and partnerships with our colleagues across the University. I’m always aware that when I’m speaking to researchers or at an event, I’m representing Manchester, so it’s essential that I understand and am able to channel the culture of my organisation.

Resilience is another essential skill – both in terms of handling repetitive tasks and enquiries, and in terms of being challenged by people whose personal experiences of scholarly communication may result in alternative views on issues we’re discussing. I think to be successful in this role you need to have passion and enthusiasm. For me, my passion is sparked by understanding the real-world impact that effective scholarly communication can have – the research I help to disseminate can change the world. My enthusiasm comes from appreciating how important it is that we get things right, as there are real, serious implications for getting things wrong. I’m driven to develop our services and support, and always do better myself.

 

How did you develop these skills?

A Scholarly Comms librarian post isn’t an entry-level job: to hit the ground running I think you need to have experience of things like organisation, complex customer communication, and working under pressure. I moved into this role from an assistant-level role in the team. However I would like people to know that in my experience, sector knowledge isn’t an absolute necessity, at least to joining a team in an assistant role with a view to progressing to a librarian role. Before joining Manchester’s Research Services team I’d worked primarily with students in customer services roles, and before that in a public library, after a few years in the private sector – I had no previous experience of academic research, and issues relating to scholarly communication weren’t touched in during my library qualification. Of course I had to swot up on research support considerations for my interview, but from that base I’ve done all my learning on the job.

It’s essential to always listen to and watch your peers and senior colleagues – how do they approach tasks, explain things to academics, handle challenges? You need to be open to learning from things which don’t go well, and be receptive to feedback to improve. Working in a busy, demanding environment meant I encountered a lot of practice examples I could learn from. My manager has always supported my development by offering constructive feedback, and by encouraging me to observe things before having a go myself, and building my confidence, for example, by suggesting I deliver training sessions to postgraduate research students before moving to academic staff, and attending meetings at “friendly” Schools before progressing to more “challenging” Schools!

Working at a large institution like Manchester means we have loads of opportunities to get involved with projects outside our core responsibilities, and by doing so, to observe and learn from other colleagues in different teams – my sector knowledge has benefited hugely from collaboration with our Library copyright lead, and I’ve learned about negotiation and influencing by observing our Library subscriptions lead in meetings with publishers. There’s a lot of developmental support available in our Library, and I’ve been very lucky to be able to learn about leadership through involvement in our Leadership Development Network and exposure to members of our Leadership Team, including mentoring with our previous Head Librarian, Jan Wilkinson.

I absolutely love my job and feel proud to be part of the scholarly communications ecosystem. I would strongly encourage people to consider scholarly communication roles as it’s such an exciting and growing area for libraries and Higher Education institutions, there’s loads of scope to develop and make an important contribution.

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Keep an eye on the blog for more interviews coming soon. Videos can be found on our playlist here.

Published 26 October 2018
Compiled by members of the OSC team
Creative Commons License

So, what is it really like to work in research support and scholarly communication?

Followers of this blog will remember various posts over the last year about the OSC’s work as part of the Scholarly Communication Professional Development group. This group of interested parties from across the information sector aims to look at the training needs of those working in (or wanting to work in) scholarly communication and how these can best be met.

Although it’s an expanding area of academic librarianship with a rapidly growing number of roles, those hiring for these positions often report that it can be hard to recruit from within the library community. Too often those from a library background, both new and more established professionals, don’t know enough about these roles and the skills needed to be successful in their application (or even to apply at all!). These roles are actually a great fit for the library and information skill set but the terminology used in advertisements is not consistent and it can be hard to marry existing skills to what is being asked for.

One of the goals of our group is to demystify the range of jobs available in scholarly communication.  Obviously the exact nature of the role will vary between both countries and institutions but we hope that by using the combined power of the community we can cover most areas. This is where you come in…

Inspired by the 23 librarians programmes which took place across the UK a few years ago we would like to offer those who are working in scholarly communication and research support a chance to share their thoughts with us in the form of short vox pop video interviews. Designed to be no more than two to three minutes in length these videos would outline what your role is, the core tasks of your job and the skills you wish you had developed prior to working in this area. We will host these videos online and over time build up a useful resource for the community at large and those looking to work in this area. Videos can be filmed on phones, tablets or anything else you have to hand.

We are aiming to launch the first wave of vox pops during Open Access Week 2018 (22 – 28th October) but the contributions don’t need to be restricted to those working in Open Access roles. We welcome contributions from anyone who considers that they work in any aspect of scholarly communication or research support, whether this is in a library or a different environment. To help you we have put together both a sample video and a list of questions below.

 

What are the core tasks of your job? Tell us about one thing which surprised you about your current role?
What are the skills you need to do this job well? What is the best part of your role?
How did you develop these skills? What is the most challenging part of your role?
What do you need to do this job that you didn’t learn at [library] school? What advice do you have for others wanting to work in this area?

Don’t feel that you have to answer all of the questions – just choose two or three which you feel you would like to answer. Alternatively, if there is something else you would like to share about your role then this is your chance! The only thing we ask is that you give your name, job title and place of work at the beginning of your video. If you would prefer to write your answers rather than record a video we would also welcome your contribution.

You can contribute to the project here: http://bit.ly/ResearchSupportInterviews

We will share these interviews during Open Access Week so watch this blog for further details.

Published 02 October 2018
Written by Claire Sewell
Creative Commons License

Lessons learned from Jisc Research Data Champions

In 2017 four Cambridge researchers received grants from Jisc to develop and share their research data management practices. In this blog, the four awardees each highlight one aspect of their work as a Jisc Data Champion.

The project

All four Champions embarked on a range of activities throughout the year including creating local communities interested in RDM practices, delivering training, running surveys to understand their department better, creating ‘how-to’ guides for would-be RDM mentors and testing Samvera as part of RDSS. They were excited by the freedom that the grant gave them to try out whatever RDM related activities they wanted, which meant they could develop their skills and see ideas come to fruition and make them reusable for others. For example, Annemarie Eckes developed a questionnaire on RDM practices for PhD students and Sergio Martínez Cuesta has posted his training courses on GitHub.  

However, throughout the duration of the award they also found some aspects of championing good RDM disconcerting. Whilst some sessions proved popular, others had very low attendee figures, even when a previous iteration of the session was well attended. They all shared the sense of frustration often felt by central RDM services that it is getting people to initially engage and turn up to a session that is the hard part. However, when people did come they found the sessions very useful, particularly because the Champions were able to tailor it specifically to the audience and discipline and the similar background of all the attendees provided an extra opportunity for exchanging advice and ideas that were most relevant.

The Champions tried out many different things. The Jisc Research Data Champions were expected to document and publicise their research data management (RDM) experiences and practices and contribute to the Jisc Research Data Shared Service (RDSS) development. Here the Champions each highlight one thing they tried out, which we hope will help others with their RDM engagement.

BYOD (Bring your own data)

Champion: Annemarie Eckes, PhD student, Department of Geography

The “Bring your own data” workshop was intended for anyone who thought their project data needed sorting, they needed better documentation, or even they needed to find out who is in charge or the owner of certain data. I set it up to give attendees time and space to do any kind of data-management related tasks: clean up their data, tidy up their computer/ email inbox, etc. The workshop was, really, for everyone whether at the start of their project and at the planning stage or in the middle of a project and had neglected their data management to some extent.

For the workshop the participants needed a laptop or login for the local computers to access their data and a project to tidy up or prepare, that can be done within two hours. I provided examples of file naming conventions and folder structures as well as instructions on how to write good READMEs (messages to your future self) and a data audit framework to give participants some structure to their organisation. After a brief introductory presentation about the aims and the example materials I provided, people would spend the rest of the time tidying up their data or in discussions with the other participants.

While this was an opportunity for the participants to sit down and sort out their digital files, I also wanted participants to talk to each other about their data organisation issues and data exchange solutions. Once I got everyone talking, we soon discovered that we have similar issues and were able to exchange information on very specific solutions.

1-on-1 RDM Mentoring

Champion: Andrew Thwaites, postdoc, Department of Psychology

I decided to trial 1-on-1 RDM mentoring as a way to customise RDM support for individual researchers in my department. The aim was that by the end of the 1-on-1 session, the mentee should understand how to a) share their data appropriately at the end of their project, and b) improve on their day-to-day research data management practice.

Before the meeting, I encouraged the mentee to compile a list of funders, and their funder’s data sharing requirements. During the meeting, the mentee and I would make a list of the data in the mentees project that they are aiming to share, and then I would then help them to choose a repository (or multiple repositories) to share this data on, and I’d also assist in designing the supporting documentation to accompany it. During the sessions I also had conversations about about GDPR, anonymising data, internal documentation and day-to-day practices (file naming conventions, file backups etc.) with the mentee.

As far as possible, I provided non-prescriptive advice, with the aim being to help the mentee make an informed decision, rather than forcing them into doing what I thought was best.

Embedding RDM  

Champion: Sergio Martinez Cuesta, research associate, CRUK-CI and Department of Chemistry

I came to realise early in the Jisc project that stand-alone training sessions focused exclusively on RDM concepts were not successful as students and researchers found them too abstract, uninteresting or detached from their day-to-day research or learning activities. I think the aerial view of the concept of 1-on-1 mentoring and BYOD sessions is beautiful. However, in my opinion, both strategies may face challenges with necessary numbers of mentors/trainers increasing unsustainably as the amount of researchers needing assistance grows and the research background of the audience becomes more diverse.

To facilitate take-up, I tapped into the University’s lists of oversubscribed computational courses and found that many researchers and students already shared interests in learning programming languages, data analysis skills and visualisation in Python and R. I explored how best to modify some of the already-available courses with an aim of extending the offer after having added some RDM concepts to them. The new courses were prepared and delivered during 2017-2018. Some of the observations I made were:

  • Learning programming naturally begs for proper data management as research datasets and tables need to be constantly accessed and newly created. It was helpful to embed RDM concepts (e.g. appropriate file naming and directory structure) just before showing students how to open files within a programming language.
  • The training of version control using git required separate sessions. Here students and researchers also discover how to use GitHub, which later helps them to make their code and analyses more reproducible, create their own personal research websites …
  • Gaining confidence in programming, structuring data / directories and version control in general helps students to acknowledge that research is more robust when open and contrasted by other researchers. Learning how researchers can identify themselves in a connected world with initiatives such as ORCID was also useful.

Brown Bag Lunch Seminar Series: The Productive Researcher

Champion: Melissa Scarpate, postdoc, Faculty of Education

I created the Productive Researcher seminar series to provide data management and Open Access information and resources to researchers at the Faculty of Education (FoE). The aim of the brown bag lunch format was to create an informal session where questions, answers and time for discussion could be incorporated. I structured the seminars so they covered 1) a presentation and discussion of data management and storage; 2) a presentation about Open Access journals and writing publications; 3) a presentation on grant writing where Open Access was highlighted.

While the format of the series was designed to increase attendance, the average was four attendees per session. The majority of attendees were doctoral students and postdocs who had a keen interest in properly managing their data for their theses or projects. However, I suspect it may be the case that those attending already understood data management processes and resources.

In conclusion, I think that whilst the individuals that attended these seminars found the content helpful (per their feedback) the impact of the seminars was extremely limited. Therefore, my recommendation would be to have all doctoral students take a mandatory training class on data management and Open Access topics as part of their methodological training. Furthermore, I think it may be most helpful in reaching postdocs and more senior researchers to have a mandated data management meetings with a data manager to discuss their data management and Open Access plans prior to submitting any grant proposals. Due to new laws and policies on data (GDPR) this seems a necessary step to ensure compliance and excellence in research.

Published 2 October 2018
Compiled and edited by Dr Lauren Cadwallader from contributions by Annemarie Eckes, Dr Andrew Thwaites, Dr Sergio Martinez Cuesta, Dr Melissa Scarpate
Creative Commons License