Announcing new support to build capacity for Open Science

We launched the Mozilla Science Lab 18 months ago to explore how the principles and values of the open web could advance scientific discovery. We’ve made significant progress in recent years in building awareness and tools for “open science”, but we’re still facing gaps in training, implementation and scale.

Since our launch, we’ve been working to meet researchers where they are and provide open science skills training, mentorship and community support to build and scale a community of practitioners working in the open. Through a collaboration with Software Carpentry, an open source project that runs computational skills workshops for researchers, we’ve reached over 4,900 researchers and librarians, run over 130 events, and onboarded over 200 volunteer instructors to help run workshops globally in the past year alone. Teaching 4,900 researchers is no small task, and we’re extremely grateful to the dedication, passion and time contributed by the network of volunteer instructors and others involved in supporting those training activities worldwide.

But there is so much more opportunity for impact when it comes to hitting the scale and growth needed for systemic and lasting change in the sciences.

With new support from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable  Trust, we’re excited to announce a new fellowship program for Open Science training for early-career researchers. This two-year, $1.76  million dollar grant will build on the our existing educational work to  explore skills training and capacity building for the biomedical and  physical sciences. The grant is one of the first investments by the Trust, part of a new funding program announced today dedicated to  collaboration, reproducibility and infrastructure in biomedical  sciences. (More in their press release here.)

Addressing the skills gap in open science

We’ve learned through our collaboration with Software Carpentry  that there’s a tremendous demand and need for skills training in the community to help researchers do more collaborative, efficient and reproducible science. Part of that is rooted in technical awareness and programming, but more importantly, those skills are only the starting point when it comes to open science.  We can’t do this alone, especially if we’re to reach the scale and growth needed for systemic and lasting change in the sciences. That’s why for our next phase of work, we’re focusing on building and supporting networks of leaders, and programming to support their journey towards open science and help learners across programs and institutions worldwide.

Billions of dollars are spent each year around the world in biomedical research alone, but for that investment, it’s claimed that at least 70% of research cannot be reproduced, in part due to the lack of data and materials as well as errors in calculations. There is still a tremendous amount of waste, error, and siloing in research that slows progress. The inherent collaboration and knowledge sharing in open practice – principles that embody Mozilla’s mission – can help drive advances across everything from personal genomics to drug discovery, and accelerate the pace of scientific research.

One of the contributing factors is the state of training across the sciences. Even as research becomes more computationally and data-driven, training and resources supporting basic web skills and ways of working with data are sparse and scattered, if available at all. This leaves researchers to either teach themselves (often with limited success) or rely on others less informed about the specifics of their work. This keeps research practice from evolving to be more like the web: open, collaborative and accessible, where we can truly build on the work of others to tackle some of society’s biggest problems.

Mozilla Fellows for Open Science

As part of the support, the Lab will launch a fellowship program for early-career researchers, centered around training for more efficient, collaborative research as well as community leadership. The fellowships will run for 10-months, focusing on three fellows for the first two rounds, and include a mix of computational and data training as well as community engagement. The end goal:  training up the next round of open science trainers in research.

There are two other fellows programs within Mozilla: the OpenNews Fellows program, where technologists are placed within newsrooms; and the Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows program out of the Advocacy program, where fellows are based in organizations such as Amnesty International, the Open Technology Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union. For the Open Science fellows, we’re taking a slightly different approach, with the fellows remaining embedded within their existing university (rather than placing them at another institution). They’ll still be helping with events that reach beyond their institution’s walls and even their individual discipline – there’s undoubtedly a tremendous opportunity there to learn from peers across the sciences. But for there to be a lasting change in the university system, we want to support these fellows as leaders within their own community, and incentivize them to serve as open science trainers on a local level, as well. For this, the fellows’ advisors and lab leaders will play a key role, and we’ll be working to ensure there’s an encouraging and supportive environment at each institution as well as supporting each fellow during their time. Our ambition here being to explore models of enabling culture change within university systems, and for that, we look to our fellows to be those leaders within the communities they know the best.

The fellows will also receive training and mentorship needed to serve as open science trainers across a series of educational programs, including Software Carpentry, as well as work to develop new materials, tools, and projects to further science on the web.

These are all paid positions ($60,000 per fellow), with health insurance benefits as well as childcare allotments. We’ll be talking more about the details of the program in the coming months in the lead up to the application call opening. Stay tuned for more.

Data Training and Scaling Our Training Efforts

The grant also supports curriculum design, a data training program and train-the-trainers activities for researchers, extending the Lab’s existing work to provide learning pathways for researchers around open practice. This will enable us to explore in earnest training models and partnerships that further open science as well as data-intensive research. This will include training around data management, analysis, cleaning, working with open data resources and data sharing.

We will also be exploring ways of engaging community members and learners to help lead events and trainings at their institutions, with a train-the-trainers program focused on reaching researchers new to open science and data training. This is inspired by (and will support) other Mozilla train-the-trainer efforts (such as Teach the Web and Maker Party) as well as programs such as instructor training run by Software Carpentry and groups like School of Data. We will also be focusing in on models to help scale and support broader participation worldwide.

We will be opening a call for a Data Program Lead, a Train-the-Trainers Lead as well as a Curriculum Designer in the next few months. These positions will be critical to the delivery of the Fellows Program, as well as shape our educational program moving forward. These roles build on our existing work, and we’re keen to support existing programs to the fullest extent possible to reduce duplication, as well as help contribute to the pool of resources and know-how to help scale open science participation globally.

And finally, a thank you

This work would not be possible without the support and help of a number of community members and organizations, of which we’re especially grateful to for their support. This includes the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, as well as Greg Wilson from the Software Carpentry Foundation, our colleagues at Mozilla, the countless volunteers instructors, helpers and workshop hosts, the Science Lab team, and the open science community for their invaluable input. Special thanks to C. Titus Brown, Ethan White, Richard Bookman, Laura Hilliger and John Wilbanks for their feedback.

The first call for fellows goes live this spring, with an initial focus on the biomedical and physical/natural sciences. Join our mailing list for more information  or drop us a line. You can also sign up to hear more about the fellows program here.