New vacancy PNN: General board member Diversity & External PhD candidates

The PNN is the national representation of interest organization for and by PhD students in The Netherlands. We represent PhD candidates at the national level and are therefore a partner for members of the House of Representatives, the Ministry of Education, the VSNU, the KNAW, Science in Transition and Academic Transfer. We organize various meetings every year and are active in de VAWO and Eurodoc (European PhD consultation). PhD candidates from all Dutch universities and UMC’s meet at our GMM’s.

As of September 20, we are looking for a new general board member: Diversity & External PhD candidates. Since collaborations with most of our partners takes place in Dutch, being fluent in Dutch is a requirement. More information and the full description (in Dutch) can be found in the attachment or contact Kimberley Anneveldt via secretaris@hetpnn.nl.

Vacature bestuurslid Diversiteit & Buitenpromovendi

PNN warns: the evaluation of the PhD-student experiment is not independent

The PhD-student experiment, being performed mainly by the University of Groningen (RUG) involving 850 PhD-students, is currently being evaluated. Aim of the interim evaluation is to decide whether the experiment should be halted. However, University of Groningen is seemingly seizing the interim evaluation as an opportunity to expand upon the experiment with another 800 students. PNN is warning: the interim evaluation being performed by research agency CHEPS is characterized by interference and (the appearance) of bias. After repeated internal attempts of warning in vain, PNN sees no other way but to reach outward.

Background

The PhD-student experiment led to commotion and several inquiries by the Dutch parliament. Whilst Dutch PhD-candidates are usually appointed as a university employee, they are appointed as students with a scholarship within the experiment. The self-evaluations performed by University of Groningen are outspokenly positive, in contrary to reactions from the PhD-students. The promised advantages of the experiment, including more freedom in research and education tasks, are often disappointing in practice. The disadvantages are clear: PhD-students get paid €20.000,- less than their employee counterpart, they do not accumulate any pension and the are not protected by the collective labor agreement. PNN, ISO (‘interstedelijk studenten overleg’) and the council of state have previously been very skeptical regarding the experiment.

The interim evaluation

To protect the young researchers that would participate in this experiment, an interim evaluation was planned to determine whether the experiment should be halted prematurely. Currently, this interim analysis is being performed by research agency CHEPS (University of Twente) commissioned by the Ministry of Education (OCW).

As it turns out, the interim evaluation is far from independent based on rapports passed to NRC Handelsblad by PNN. CHEPS is basing its research mainly on previously performed self-evaluations by the University of Groningen, without having access to the underlying raw data. Despite repeated insistence, the research agency neglected to perform it’s own quantitative investigation among PhD-students.

To complement the RUG data, interviews with several stakeholders were held; these consisted mainly of policy officers and administrators of the university, but also a few PhD representatives, students and the university council. PNN has received complaints that the participants were approached (and partly selected) by the RUG itself and were encouraged to be positive with regards to the experiment; ‘’We hope that a positive interim evaluation will be sufficient cause for politicians to allow the desired expansion of the current quota. […] I know that the current Minister appears to hold a negative view on the experiment started by the previous minister. This is why it is of the utmost important that the interim evaluation goes well.” What is of further notice is that the University policy officers and administrators received a list of topics in preparation for the interview. Many of the potential critical participants were not provided this opportunity.

Following complaints on this course of action, PNN was asked to help organize a round table including PhD-students. However, these participants indicated that research agency CHEPS appeared to be steering the conversation. Furthermore, the criticism by the PhD-students was not included in the evaluation, based on the draft report which PNN was able to view.

No independent research

This course of action suggests that the interim evaluation is threatening to become a repeat of the self-evaluation performed by the University of Groningen – a stakeholder with a vested interest in a positive outcome – supplemented with interviews with a dubious form of objectivity. According to PNN, it is clearly not a form of independent research as claimed by CHEPS, which is a violation of the Dutch Scientific Code of Conduct. In addition, the course of the experiment by the RUG could be called to question; an experiment calls for independence and objectivity. PNN is of the opinion that these basic conditions have been violated. There is no experiment if the outcome is already predetermined through active interference and attempts to suppress any critical views.

PNN Statement about the implementation of Plan S

Involve and support PhD candidates and early career researchers in the implementation of Plan S

Plan S

On the 8th of septebmer 2018, Plan S was presented by cOAlition S. The initiative strives to establish direct and complete Open Access of scientific publications from January 2020 onwards. It encompasses all publications that are the result of research funded by the members of cOAlition S, including the Dutch NWO and ERC. At its core are 10 principles currently being developed into a set of implementation guidelines.

As representatives of all PhD candidates in the Netherlands, we like to respond and contribute to the debate surrounding the implementation of Plan S. In general, as young researchers, we support the ambitions of Plan S. We fully endorse the joint statement on the implementation by the European representation (Eurodoc, MCAA and YAE), to which PNN also contributed. In this statement, a number of specific proposals are made regarding the implementation of Plan S. We call upon NWO and the other members of cOAlition S to integrate these proposals in the implementation of Plan S, as well as in future debates and initiatives within cOAlition S.

In addition to this joint statement, we would like to address the members of cOAlition S, in particular also the Dutch members, with an important call: make sure that PhD candidates and early career researchers are better informed, supported and involved in the ongoing transition to open science in general, and the implementation of Plan S especially. Below we iterate 4 key concerns we would like the members of cOAlition S to consider while moving forward with Plan S.

  1. Modernizing the evaluation and rewarding of researchers

One of the major concerns for early career researchers on Plan S is the potential disruption for their scientific career. For many research areas most of the ‘high-impact’ journals are currently not Plan S-compliant. However, in the current academic system, publishing a ‘high-impact’ paper is key to advancing ones scientific career, especially for early career researchers. Since Plan S will make publishing in such ‘high-impact’ journals more difficult, the scientific community will have to shift towards an alternative way of evaluating and rewarding scientists.

PNN supports the statement of (the Dutch) NWO and ZonMW on actively debating and pursuing a new system to evaluate and reward scientists. A clear, specific and rapid completion of this transition will be crucial to address any potential career disruptions and concerns for PhD candidates and early career researchers. It should be made clear how open access benefits young researchers, for example when it comes to awarding grant applications. A ‘lost generation’ of young researchers should be prevented: a generation who under the current reward system would not be rewarded for complying with Plan S, but rather suffer negative career consequences. In our opinion, the emergence of such a lost generation would harm the transition to open access by eroding the support among young researchers.

We call upon cOAlition S, and in particular NOW and ZonMW, to provide clarity on this topic as soon as possible. We explicitly call for the involvement of PhD candidates and early career researchers in the design of a new evaluation system which rewards open access. Signing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) would be an important step in this transition. The shift towards a new reward system should take into consideration two key points: 1) avoiding a ‘lost generation’ as stated previously and 2) providing a level playing field and equal opportunities for researchers who do not fall under Plan S to also publish in Open Access journals through ensuring adequate funding.

  1. Involve PhD candidates and early career researchers more actively in the debate

Plan S accelerates the transition to Open Access publishing. This provides both opportunities as well as challenges for early career researchers. We feel that this group is not always represented and involved in the debate surrounding Plan S. If Plan S and the transition to open science is to be a success, engaging and involving young researchers is crucial. PNN represents the interests of PhD candidates in the Netherlands and as such invites NWO and ZonMW as a member of cOAlition S to involve the voice of young researchers more explicitly in the implementation of Plan S.

  1. Lack of Open Access Infrastructure: ‘One size fits all’?

As mentioned by other parties, Plan S does not distinguish between differences in publication cultures across the various scientific fields. PNN is especially worried about young researchers in fields that are still lagging behind when it comes to open access infrastructure, lacking peer-reviewed open access journals. In this regard, Plan S is sometimes ahead of scientific practice. For example, in the field of law, articles are often published in national journals who do not have clear guidelines on open access at all.

We ask NWO and members of cOAlition S to collaborate with junior and senior scientists to make a thorough analysis of the various scientific fields in order to detect and tackle potential practical problems upfront. Where (peer-reviewed) open access publishing opportunities are indeed lacking, this should not be made the responsibility of individual researchers. Where this is the case, alternatives publication methods should be offered to make sure that all researchers can still publish under Plan S. Potential practical problems and solutions should be identified and communicated to researchers in advance.

  1. Financial support

The implementation guidelines contain important features that make open access publishing better achievable for young researchers. Of particular importance to PhD candidates is the financial support by the members of cOAlition S to cover the APCs (‘article processing charges’) so as not to financially burden researchers themselves. We would like to stress that tall publishing fees should be covered fully under Plan S. If such fees would exhaust the already small research budgets of many departments, young PhD candidates will often be the first to be affected.

Finally, we would like to propose an addition to Plan S and ask the Dutch members of cOAlition S in particular to consider to provide also for funding for open access publishing for researchers who do not fall under Plan S. Independent financial support for open access is not always present at universities, making it difficult for PhD candidates to engage in open access publishing due to limited financial support. Although Plan S is an important first step towards open access publishing, extending means and support beyond Plan S for all researcher would help further accelerate the transition to open access, thereby also potentially contributing to more appreciation of the ambitions of Plan S within the research community at large.

Questions or comments can be sent to rob.vangassel@hetpnn.nl or (for press) anne.devries@hetpnn.nl