How to Credit Researchers for Making Science Matter

June 20, 2019 Adrienne Sponberg

Today’s scientist does more than research. They teach. They lead citizen science projects. They provide input to policymakers. However, the academic assessment and reward system has not kept pace with these shifting roles, remaining heavily tipped towards traditional measures of scientific output such as grants won and articles published. The value of science, however, goes well beyond the research itself, an idea embraced by major funding organizations which require researchers to demonstrate broader impacts of their research.

Addressing the Assessment Gap

Project Redefining Recognition was launched in 2018 to bring associations together to work on expanding research assessment to focus more on practices that advance open science, broad communication, and public engagement. Originally co-convened by Wiley and the American Geophysical Union, other society partners soon joined in by leading town halls at their own society conferences. The goal of these discussions is to inform recommendations for changes to the current reward system so our members’ actions are adequately recognized.

The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) hosted one such conversation at the 2019 Aquatic Sciences Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The venue was fitting, as our conference organizers worked closely with the local community to provide opportunities for our attendees to “give back” to San Juan and help rebuild the island following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. ASLO conference attendees quickly filled the spots for these diverse community outreach activities which ranged from painting houses in newly rebuilt communities to cleaning debris from mangroves.

Changing the Focus From Output to Impact

The four speakers for our panel discussion on “Redefining Recognition” each have deep experience with the various pillars of open science, broad communication, and public engagement. Leading off the panel was Dr. Deborah Bronk, co-chair for the ASLO meeting, a past president of ASLO, former Division Director at the National Science Foundation, and current President and CEO of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Bronk provided her perspective on the evolution of science advocacy and reward structures throughout her long career as she progressed from researcher to funder and now as an administrator of a research institution.

Dr. Patricia Soranno, the Editor-in-Chief of ASLO’s Gold Open Access journal L&O Letters, focused her comments on open science. Soranno is a champion of open science principles and mandating data deposition. She provided a view of the leaps and bounds we’ve made in formalizing recognition related to open science while noting that more still needs to be done in this space. 

Ruperto Chaparro Serrano of Puerto Rico Sea Grant spoke about the way scientists are engaging with local communities. Sea Grant, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, funds scientific research in thematic areas of conservation and marine resources, taking scientific knowledge generated through international research and applying solutions at the local level. Serrano discussed the importance of giving credit to researchers who humanize science through outreach and community engagement, such as the local activities for ASLO Meeting attendees that Sea Grant helped to coordinate.

Keeping the Conversation Going

Following brief remarks from each of the panelists, a lively discussion with the audience took place which will be summarized and shared in an upcoming article in ASLO’s member publication, the L&O Bulletin. Some key takeaways, though, are that engagement with faculty at all levels is key because for these activities to become widespread, there needs to be a culture change in academia. Societies play an important role in this culture change and can participate by establishing awards that recognize a range of contributions, offering how-to panels for this work at their annual meetings, and by leading and championing advocacy work. Finally, money is part of solving this issue. Universities need either more money to put toward these activities or reallocation of existing funds.

ASLO members have always been passionate about making their science matter. It was clear from our discussion in San Juan that they have a lot of experience at all levels of administration in tackling this challenging question of how to quantify the impact of such activities and recognize scientists’ work in these areas of open science, public engagement, and community outreach. While the task is daunting, we are looking forward to working with our members and other society partners, along with Wiley, on Project Redefining Recognition.

For more about the initiative, please visit here

About the Author

Adrienne Sponberg

Director of Communications & Science, Association for the Sciences of Limnology & Oceanography

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