Open Science can’t always be open

Over the last two weeks, the majority of my effort and time has been directed at doing one very important part of my job – supervising students. I find student supervision really rewarding and I’ve enjoyed training and helping people ever since training up the first person to work for me (she was awesome – 10/10, would lecture endlessly at again). And it’s a big part of being an academic; from post-doc to professor, a portion of your time should be dedicated to helping out the students – that’s kind of the point of university.

This post is kind of heavy so enjoy this penguin to lighten the mood
This post is kind of heavy so enjoy this penguin to lighten the mood

But I’m not going to talk about any of that here.

I love this blog – it kind of works like a giant sounding board for me and is a great way of reaching out to the science community for advice and help on various complicated topics. I’m pretty new to this whole research thing and I really value the ability of using this blog (and Twitter) to seek out feedback and help.

It is genuinely painful for me to rule certain aspects of my work off limits, as I think it hurts my ability to improve those aspects of my work. Being able to talk about the successes and failures of my work with students would, I think, be both valuable for others to read about and (as has happened with other work) spark insight and help that I had not previously considered.

There are two reasons I feel so strongly about drawing this line.

Firstly, it’s their project. If they want to shout about it all online then that’s their call not mine. People have different approaches to sharing their work, I recognise that publishing 600-1000 words a week on a blog is a bit extreme and my students might possibly want to do something different. Although I’m not really talking about their academic output, more the story of their progress and the challenges in looking after the project etc. But I don’t want to steal their thunder or pre-empt what they might want to say about their projects.

Secondly, they are learning to be researchers and my job is to help them do that. With that job comes an expectation of confidentiality. If I went to my boss with a problem the last thing I’d want is to have that then promptly shared online with X hundred people. Students need to know that what they talk to me about stays between them and me unless they want to share it with the wider world (see first reason). Student meetings don’t work if the student is sitting there thinking “am I going to read about this tomorrow?”.

And with both of the above, while they are reasons I can’t talk about others’ work, I don’t feel they apply the same to the student. If they want to discuss my supervision of them online, I’m okay with that. Obviously, I don’t think bitching about how mean I am online is necessarily the most constructive thing in the world but if they want to share their experiences of being a student I feel that they are within their right to talk openly and honestly about their project (and me) to their heart’s content. Obviously I’d prefer it if they stick to the stories where I’m generally awesome and possibly heroic (citation not found) but I can’t have everything.

So why mention any of this? Firstly, I want to explain that ‘hole’ in my blog coverage. Secondly, you know how I mentioned that I love this blog for its ability to reach out and find help I hadn’t considered before? Well this is one of those posts. Not discussing my students on here is, I feel, the right thing to do – but in all honesty, I’d love to find an alternative to ‘clam up and hope it’s okay’.

I’d really love to find a way of sharing some of my experiences and stories so if anyone has a better idea I’d love to hear it. I know both professors and students who read this blog and I’d love to know what you think about this issue, I can’t be alone in trying to tread this line carefully. Post your random thoughts below.

 

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