State of Open Access and its Implications on African Researchers: Notes from a webinar and an interview with Joy Owango

Joy Owango, Photo borrowed from Africabusinesscommunities.com

Recently, I attended a webinar on the state of open access in Africa where I had a particular use of every presentation, focusing on support for early-career researchers like myself. See my notes with links below. The program was organized by the Training Center in Communication and led by its founding director Joy Owango. After the webinar, I made an interview with Joy Owango and will share some of the highlights of out 45-minute call, but I have cut out our children in both Kenya and Sweden joining us!

  1. What is Training Centre in Communication, (TCC Africa )?

We are a center that supports researchers’  in increasing their research output through training in scholarly and science communication.  In addition to this we host monthly thought leadership webinars on capacity building for early career researchers with a focus on open science.

In the beginning, the focus of the center was supporting researchers communicating among themselves, particularly how to write academic papers that could be understood at multidisciplinary levels. Within five years, we broadened the scope and started supporting researchers on how to communicate with non-scientists, even as we are going through this process, I increasingly noted the challenges early career researchers faced in the process of academic publishing. 

Before we start crucifying researchers about not being able to write, we need to ask, how are they getting resources for their research discovery? Just by answering this question, our model transformed, which, included providing open access discovery solutions to support their research lifecycle. We do not just offer training, but also advisory services, where we guide institutions on how to set up research and grant offices and also guide governments on ways they can improve on monitoring their research output especially with the support of open data. Before the COVID19 Pandemic hit Africa, we were in Malawi and guided the Government of Malawi through the National Commission of Science and Technology on how they can use  Scientometrics and open access data in monitoring research output from the country.

2. What is your funding model?

We are a not for profit organization with a self-sustainable business model, where we charge for our services, and as a result, funding is one of the revenue streams.

3. Do you apply for grants?

Yes, we compete for grants as well, however, it is not our main revenue stream, as it comes with the objectives of the donor and rarely in line with our objectives as such we work with donors who support early career researchers regardless of research background in improving their research output.  As a result of this, the donors we have chosen to work with support multidisciplinary research backgrounds and are not restricted to the research interest areas of the  African continent (namely research in, health, agriculture, and climate change). This decision was deliberate and  15 years later, we have survived and are self-sustainable. We have seen programs similar to ours come and go as they are 100%  reliant on funding and we did not want that as we wanted a more sustainable approach to supporting early career researchers in improving their research output through training.

4. What do you see as the most important issues for higher education on the continent?

Open Science. In its totality from data, infrastructure to academic publishing. Open science is the glue that holds together good quality scientific output from research discovery, academic publishing to dissemination. When a researcher is unable to complete his research due to paywalls, you understand their academic fatigue. Taking a postgraduate course is not easy and limited access to resources to conduct your research can be very frustrating. It was because of the frustrations and academic fatigue  I noted in researchers we trained that we thought of getting research industry partners, who supported open science.   So when we tell researchers, “you need to be involved in the process of scholarly communication”, it is really the whole research life cycle, from research idea, writing the paper,  and the whole process behind it, that helps you write that paper!

5. You founded TCC already in 2006, what is your own journey to where you are now?

From experience, I remember in the early 2000s’  I was studying for a postgraduate certificate in Mass communication research and the only library in Nairobi that had the latest resources in my research area was at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). For five days I sat in that library until 8 pm when they shut down, I  would sit outside until midnight as I needed access to the library Wi-Fi and the resources. Fortunately, ILRI is within a campus full of early career researchers, so no one bothered me.  This was a typical scenario that early career researchers may face in pursuit of resources for their research discovery process.

If your own university does not have subscriptions to the journals you need, as a student, you are stranded. Even then, I did not understand how bad it was until I got to work with Clarivate Analytics, then Thomson Reuters, and I was like “hold on! this is what I have been asking for… Access to data. But  all the good data is behind a paywall!” 

When we are talking about open access it is not just journals, it is the whole system! It’s not just “Oh, I want the full-text journal!”, no, it is the research discovery system that needs to be open. I understand there is a business model to it, but it needs to be open because a majority of self-sponsored researchers who may not have adequate support systems fall through the cracks and are unable to complete their education due to lack of resources. In essence, open science democratizes education.

You can watch the Webinar which was broadcast live on Facebook here.

Joy Owango, TCC

Plan S, an initiative for making open science a reality

Dimensions.ai open access publication data

Elizabeth Merincola, African Academy of Science Open Science

No charge, funded by grants directly.

Main point: The impact factor is not a valid quality measure!

Osman Aldirdiri, AfricArxiv

This is a preprint platform, so no peer-review, no charge!

Sherpa /Romeo, data on journals!

Preprint, Postprint, Open access journal, Predatory Publishing

Matt Hodgekinson, Hindawi

Open access journals since 2007 (220 peer-reviewed journals)

Better access to research for researchers in resources limited situations

Article processing charge (APC), payment when published (Waivers for Africa based researchers and others)

Other models: Open Library of Humanities , CIELO

***

My own reflections from the seminar are that sitting in the middle of the information age exploding, it is easy to just get tired and not research well where you “host” your research, however, it is as important as ever. All the links I shared above are mindblowing in their own way, it is actually as exciting as it is tiring! But you need to understand how to make your research visible and readable to the constituencies you write for! As Joy shared, open access publications in the last two years are many (44%) and growing fast from Africa, however not all fields are well-represented.

The movement toward open science is in a way a “going back” to the foundations of science – sharing progress for the common good – and public and private funders are now going back to this ideal. As a researcher believing in the public good of science, I believe all of us have a responsibility to publish our data and findings open access.

I am attending Nordic Geographers’ Meeting #NGM2017

On Sunday, I’ll be in Stockholm for the 7th Nordic Geographers’ Meeting. I am excited to be presenting my work to a completely new audience – geographers, and a wider audience of social scientists – as I usually meet with Africa scholars or Migration scholars. The theme is “geographies of inequalities” which is almost a perfect topic to capture student migration out of the global South.

At the meeting, I hope to:

  • get some new ideas on how to take my work to the next level (Where do I publish?  What are others doing on students and migration?) and
  • pick up some clues on how I continue to do relevant interdisciplinary research. (What methods should I use?  Who can I collaborate with? Who else is interested in my work?)

I’ll be presenting two papers out of my dissertation research for the following two panels:

Session A3: Youth and Inequality: Perceptions, experiences, and aspirations. (PDF details)

Conveners: Prof. Katherine Gough of Loughborough University and Dr. Thilde Langevang of Copenhagen Business School.

Session description
Rising unemployment and sluggish economic growth are widely predicted to further widen income and wealth inequality worldwide. Young people, in particular, are being disproportionately affected with the OECD claiming that youth have replaced the elderly as the group experiencing the greatest risk of income poverty. This has widespread implications for the opportunities and constraints young people face as well as impacting on their aspirations for the future.This session will bring together papers which explore how young people’s lives and aspirations are being influenced by the inequality they experience and imagine both in situ and in faraway places. Papers are welcome from societies across the globe where young people are being affected by real or perceived high levels of inequality. Topics which may be explored in the session include, but are not restricted to, the implications of rising inequality at a range of scales for young people’ perceptions, experiences and aspirations of: Mobility and immobility /Education and skills training/ Work experiences and job prospects/Housing and home

Here my paper “Migration aspirations among university students in Ghana” will discuss my choices to focus on university students and not youth in general as well as aspirations and intentions and not migration per se . I also will share some results from the survey I did with university students in Ghana, in particular looking at social backgrounds of students and their view of migration. (20/6/17 1.15-3.00 pm. Room: William Olsson, House Y)

Session J7: The Politics of Movement. (PDF details)

Conveners: Dr. Nancy Cook & Prof. David Butz, Brock University.

Session description
The politics of movement  entanglements of power, social inequality and mobilities – is an abiding preoccupation in social geography and critical mobilities studies. Both scholarly fields identify mobility as a fundamental structuring dimension of social life. They also demonstrate that the capacity for movement under conditions of one’s choosing is a valuable resource that is unequally distributed in social contexts structured by hierarchies of power. In other words, movement is socially differentiated; it reflects and reinforces structures of power to configure inequitable social hierarchies. Critical geographers and mobility scholars are tracing the ways in which relations of gender, race, class, sexuality and citizenship shape discourses and practices of mobility that produce beneficial movement for some people and too little or too much movement for others.

For this session, I will discuss some thoughts around what a global South student really is in relation to mobility in my paper “Conceptualizing academic mobility and mobility exclusions from a global South student perspective”. Based on the data I collected for my dissertation research I will suggest some trends in the politics of movement from a student point of view. (19/6/17 at 5.15-6.45 pm in Room: U26, House U)

I am also looking forward to keynotes, especially with Dr. Brenda S.A. Yeoh who has a distinct global South perspective in her work and meeting new friends – and at least one old! I want to thank my good friend Michael Boampong who sent me the initial info on this conference, and who is also attending the conference as well as and my department at Ashesi University which made this trip possible.

Hope to meet you at #NGM2017!

Dissertation Completed!

 After eight years with this topic, five years at University of Ghana, countless notebooks, redrafts, and seminars, my manuscript is now finished, printed and submitted!
The feeling is indescribable.

  
    

 

My Only New Year’s Resolution 2015

…is finishing my PhD.

photo5 years in, two kids later, one pending extension of program, 100s of pages written and 1000s of articles read – this madness must stop so I can summarise what I have learned and move on to other projects.

This year it is therefore happening: I will submit my dissertation! And I am telling everybody! My family, my boss, my friends, now you!

You can help me by asking how it goes, offering to entertain my children and please just stop giving me “interesting stuff” to read.

I will be chronicling my progress weekly over at the blog for my research website Student Migration Aspirations.

What resolution have you made for the new year?

Read some other academic new year’s resolutions.

One Month At the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden

Today was my first day as a guest researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. I have been given the opportunity to stay for a month and will be spending the time writing on and thinking about my dissertation.

My first day was great and hoping to get a lot done!

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In the first photo the NAI Director and administrator with my PhD colleagues in the park just outside our building, the second photo an interior snap shot from the lunch room!

Research Update – Winning Choices or Hacks for PhD Productivity

Research collage

As readers of this blog knows well, I am a PhD candidate with the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana currently doing my data collection for my dissertation. My research moves very slowly, but this semester, I can see I have gotten over the “what is it really that I am doing?”-stage and entered “this is what I am doing!”-stage of my research degree. The feeling is swell. Some of the winning choices I have made this year includes:

  1. taken help from research assistants Ibrahim and Esther (and maybe Seth). They need to learn about the research process, I need admin help. They could use some extra cash, I could use some more hours in my week. Win-win.
  2. spent many more hours in the UG Balme Library as graduate students now have a lovely Research Commons there. The space is just so beautiful, I am collecting for a photo post on the sublime building that is Balme library.
  3. transferred my research library onto Zotero (finally! it took me three full days and it is not 100% yet, but just going through my readings was useful!)
  4. thinking about my research every day. In the car, the first 30 minutes in my office in the morning or after dinner. Solutions only come after much thinking.
  5. grabbed every opportunity to publish or present. I decided to do this as the main purpose of doing a PhD is to learn the craft of research, however when feeling slightly overwhelmed with just your regular work – extra stuff seems…crazy! But it is not, in new constellations, be it with conference participants, abstract reviewers or a taxi driver, I have learned more about the craft.

What good choices have you made in your career this year?

 

 

Research Friday and Ghana Style Gagnam Style (Azonto)

Today, I am all about research. Finally! This semester, it has been more than difficult to find the time to sit down and read, write and theorize due to everything else I am doing, like teaching and Frontlining. But today, it is happening.

I have already had two cups of coffee (the second one as ice coffee as its already hot out).

I have sorted all my research related papers in five piles: unread articles and reports, read – but not incorporated, African studies research not directly related to my dissertation, teaching related research and my own drafts of conference papers, timelines and dissertation chapters.

I have realized its been so long since I worked on my documents I don’t even know what version is the latest! The one in Dropbox? In my computer PhD folder? In my email? On Google Drive? Arggghh.

But then I was sidetracked and found this cute Ghanaian version of Psy’s Gagnam style:  Cp3 Ghana style (She likes Ghana style) ripe with Azonto dancing, sleek Accra vistas and gorgeous people in slim jeans and everything was alright again.

Enjoy!

Guest Post by Kweku Ananse: How To Become an Employable PhD Graduate

Last week, Kwaku Ananse wrote a guest post about problematic supervisors. A main problem,he concluded is  misguided advice suggesting you focus only on your dissertation:

In our times, employers want graduates with experience, widely interpreted either as teaching, research experience as evident in a publication, or both.

This reality brings me to the issue of taking initiative outside the normal routines of the graduate program.

1.One is to visit the personal websites of other graduate students in other universities who are in the same discipline as you are.Know what these students are doing in terms of the conferences they attend, the types of publications they have (and the journals they have published in etc). Being on top of these things should alert you to what your competitors are up to.

2. Another thing outside the graduate comfort zone is to test your ideas by sending cold emails to perhaps established leading scholars in the field to give you feedback regarding your use of their analytical ideas (Here, I have to say I am hesitant with important but emerging scholars). You are not always guaranteed a response but you might be surprised how some of these scholars are interested to help young intellectuals with feedback and suggestions of recent literature. These people can be your pool of what Kajsa refers to as “informal supervisors” (see her post ‘Informal Supervisors: Surviving Ph.D‘) who can be both local (in other departments in your school as well as in your program) and as well as international.

3. One important thing to note in a graduate school is not to see yourself as incapable of publishing in leading journals in your field.

  • Read such journals and note what the leading debates are.
  • Examine such debates side by side your current research.
  • When you see a contribution that perhaps a facet of your research can make to such debates, ‘be bold’ (as they say in GH-politics) and write an article and send it out.

Several things can happen with such an approach: the paper might be rejected (and good reviewers will give you details as why the paper was rejected); paper accepted (but with some revision,either substantial or minor). Whatever the case, the plus side of taking such an initiative is that you have begun a process that is going to be part of your academic life.

This guest post is written by fellow graduate student Kwaku Ananse, one of my readers.

 

Informal Supervisors : Surviving a PhD

I cannot stress enough that you need more people than the one(s) on your panel if to succeed with your  PhD – well this is what I think, anyways, halfway into the project. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with three of my informal supervisors.

Ironically, the meeting I had scheduled with my official supervisor was cancelled as I missed our deadline last week. These are the three types of supervisors I have managed to get for myself totally outside the structures of  the university.

1. The Mentor

Here is a person who knows university politics, who remembers what it was like being in your too large PhD shoes and always shows support interspersed with some practical advice.

Will ask you: How are you?

2. The Senior Researcher

The Senior researcher has seen it all before and will suggest you look at the bigger picture, read the classics and start planning for the next step of your career.

Will ask you: What are your main variables?

3. The Visionary

The visionary points you to interdisciplinary related readings that you didn’t know existed, briefs you about the newest methods on the block with a YouTube video and asks some uncomfortable questions about your work.

Will ask you: Have you read Spivak?

Ideally, I think the culture of the academy starts and begins with sharing information, roadmaps and ideas, however I am still amazed at the generosity at which my informal supervisors have approached and challenged my work. If you read this, thank you!

 

 

Free and Open Source Software for Academics

This afternoon, I went to an inspiring lecture by Joshua Kwesi Aikins as a part of a two-day lecture series for graduate students at Institute of African Studies at University of Ghana. These were some of the free and open source softwares that were recommended. I have ordered them in what I feel is the order of importance to my research endeavor.

1. Zotero. Keep all you references handy. Add more by “harvesting” bibliographic info from websites (like Amazon, Google Scholar etc.). Insert references into any document and by the click of a button add bibliography or change referencing format. Just as all open source software, there is plenty of information online on how to get started, see for instance this Zotero guide. Amazing!

2. LimeSurvey. A free tool you can use to create online surveys (they can also easily be printed). The basic results are immediately visible, and if you want to do regressions etc. LimeSurvey exports to the most common statistics programs (also as free and open software). Fantastic!

3.RQDA. A software that enhances and facilitates qualitative research.  RQDA lets you work with text documents (for instance transcribed interviews) and code them. Then you can sort your coded text fragments and analyze or even make a quantitative analysis of them. Wonderful!

These were just a few of those mentioned, but on my top list to download (I am already using Zotero).

Update: The Academic Productivity blog has more software tips.

What free and open softwares would you add to the list?

Procrastinating Progress

Today was supposed to be the first day this year devoted to research. Between breakfast, laundry, Facebook,  a few old Grey’s Anatomy episodes, fixing my car and lunch not very much has been done. Sunny Saturday and I am sitting inside.

But I have to get a grip, ‘cos if I do, my husband will take me walking on the beach tomorrow morning. So I try to visualize that walk with a clean conscious and seawater on my feet and it feels good.