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Posts Tagged ‘research councils’

I’ve blogged here a number of times about my concerns about the new UK Research Councils’ policy on Open Access. I’m in favour of Open Access, but have concerns about the way they are implementing it, particularly the effective push towards Gold Open Access. This is where the author pays the publisher an APC or article processing charge, effectively to compensate them for loss of income from people downloading the article for free. APCs can run into thousands of pounds, and are a particular problem for independent unaffiliated scholars like me. The other form of Open Access, Green Open Access, is virtually unheard of in humanities, unlike in sciences where it is widespread. In this form of open access there is no fee paid by authors up-front, and instead they are allowed, sometimes after an embargo period, to put an online version of their journal paper in an institutional repository, or a personal website, or a central one like ArXiv.

Well I am delighted today to say that two of my old academic journal papers are now available freely online. This is thanks to Edinburgh University Press, which is one of the few humanities publishers which supports Green Open Access. I double-checked their rules with them, and got the go-ahead today to put the final as-published versions of my papers online in my personal website.

One paper was my very first history academic journal paper, published way back in 2006, long before Open Access in its modern form had even been dreamed of. This was derived from part of my history PhD, then still in progress, and looked at the borrowing registers of Gray Library in Haddington, East Lothian, from 1732 through to 1816. This was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies.

The other paper that’s just gone freely online was published a year ago, in Scottish Historical Review, probably the most eminent Scottish history journal, which was a real coup for me to get a single author paper into not long after completing my PhD. This paper, too, developed work studied in my PhD, this time examining books in people’s houses, using a case study of after-death inventories in late 18th century Dumfriesshire.

Both papers, in downloadable PDF form, are available via my publications page in my personal website.

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I read a blog post today about self-funded PhDs, which was really interesting. It was written by someone who is working part-time to support their PhD, which I think, if I’ve read it correctly, is studied full-time. That takes a lot of guts. Much more common, certainly in the humanities, is self-funding for part-time PhD students.

I was a PhD student twice. Initially I was a full-time science PhD student when I fell ill in 1994, with what would turn out later – once eventually diagnosed – to be a very aggressive progressive neurological disease. I had to drop out, and although I considered self-funding it was not financially an option. There were other reasons that would have stopped me completing that PhD anyway.

Seven years later I started a self-funded humanities PhD, having picked up, in the meantime, a bachelors and masters degrees in history, both studied part-time. I expected to self-fund throughout. My husband was working, so I did not need to support myself financially. And I was studying the second PhD part-time, which made a big difference to the fees due, and the workload.

Much to my surprise I won funding from the second year onwards from AHRC who were willing – unlike my previous funding council EPSRC – to support part-time study. This was a particular surprise because I’d had to declare my past research council funding, but that was not counted against me. And, most significantly of all, when I applied, only 1 in 5 applicants to AHRC for PhD funding were successful. I was very very lucky.

There’s a perception among some in the sciences that self-funded PhD students are failures. It’s certainly true that – at least for full-timers – PhD funding is much easier to get in the sciences. There’s much more science money out there, people with lower quality earlier degrees can get funding for their PhDs. In humanities there is virtually no funding available for PhD students. Even what there is is only available for the very very best, and out of those only the very luckiest. This has led to a different economic situation among humanities PhD students, where it’s particularly common for people to self-fund part-time study alongside a full-time job. Or, more typically, a slightly less than full-time job, so they have the time available to put in the study required. Indeed in some humanities departments there are more part-time self-funded students like this than full-time funded ones.

What I’m less sure about is what the prospects for employment in academia are for people who self-funded throughout their PhDs. I could easily see some academics not being so impressed that the student, unsurprisingly, could not get some of the very limited funding. On the other side though I suspect that many academics would consider the bigger picture, and would assess for example the student’s publication record and teaching experience. For the latter part-timers can be at a disadvantage, with some departments more likely to offer teaching opportunities to full-time funded students, not least because they can be more visible on-campus. But if a part-time student is determined, and makes the right enquiries, they can get the good opportunities too.

Of course even funding can vary in how full it is. When I won my funding from AHRC part-time award holders just had their fees paid, and no allowance for living expenses. We also didn’t receive the same support for attending conferences and other things as full-timers. Over the following years the situation improved. I know, for example, that my original PhD supervisor, who later moved from Dundee to Oxford, was pushing for part-time PhD-ers to get the same support as full-timers from AHRC. And we eventually got it, including a living expenses allowance, which is only fair, given how often even part-time students have to reduce their working hours, and thus earning potential, to fit in a PhD.

What I’m sure about is that if I hadn’t won funding I would have carried on with my humanities PhD, part-time, self-funding, and I’m confident that I would have finished, and would have been doing exactly what I’m doing now, as an independent academic researcher, publishing my research in academic journals and doing new fun research. And I have the utmost respect for others doing their PhDs by self-funding, whether they are full-time students, or part-time ones. It can be difficult, but also rewarding.

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Research Councils UK has today published new guidance on Open Access publishing. There are some changes, including greater addressing of the green Open Access route, and relaxations on speed of implementation, and differing timings for e.g. humanities. But there is still no section addressing the issue of independent scholars, and the increased personal cost that they may face under this new scheme. The Research Councils are offering extra funding to pay for APC charges, but this is based on institutions, and block grants. This is of no benefit to non-affiliated independent scholars like me.

I’m still finding this incredibly frustrating. My AHRC-funded PhD thesis is freely available online, in PDF form, but I’m being penalised and restricted re future publishing based on it. This is the case even when the content from the PhD is only a tiny little bit of a paper with mostly new research. So I either don’t publish, expunge the PhD bit, or break the rules.

And I’m in favour of Open Access, as seen by my thesis already being freely available. But I’m not in favour of Open Access the way RCUK are pushing it through.

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[This is a blog post I originally posted on Google+ some months ago. But it’s still relevant now, not least for me as I try to beat the deadline to submit certain papers, or I’d have to pay a very hefty fee to have them published under the required open access rules.]

I’ve been increasingly concerned by the UK government and research councils’ plans to switch to insisting on open access for UK-funded research output. On the one hand I think open access to academic journals is a very good thing. But I have grave doubts about the model they’ve chosen. It’s not going to stop institutions having to subscribe at great cost to journals, otherwise they’d miss international contributions. And there is going to be an additional cost added, pushed primarily onto authors, for paying for open access provision. Estimates of this new cost vary, and the cost will vary by journal, but 2000 pounds per article is frequently talked about. The trouble is this money has to come from somewhere. For people in university environments or applying for new research grants it’s possible that their employer or funder will support them, although this will put a greater financial burden on the public purse which the taxpayer will ultimately have to pay for eventually. But there is also a long tradition of independent research, particularly in the arts and humanities, and many independent scholars who do not have access to such funding support for publishing costs. Such scholars may have benefited from research council support during their PhD, as I did with my AHRC-funded part-time PhD. Thus any output from their theses falls under this new scheme. But they did not get extra money to pay for unanticipated future publishing costs. So they will have to shoulder any such costs out of their own pocket. This is going to badly reduce the number of such scholars who can afford to publish, and they will also be restricted in terms of which journals they are even allowed to publish in. It’s hardly good for the future of scholarly publishing and getting your research “out there”. Incidentally don’t assume that funded PhD people got large pots of money and can afford to pay 2000 pounds per article, especially if non-university employed. My AHRC award paid for my tuititon fees directly to the university. Only in the last couple of years of my part-time PhD did I get a very small maintenance grant. There is nothing left over to pay for these new publishing costs. And if you do hope to work in academia it’s ever so important to publish. But can everyone afford to?

For the UK Research Councils’ announcement about this new policy see here.

And for concerns expressed recently (October 2012) by the President of the Royal Historical Society see here.

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