Helping Astronomy Be More Open

Resources for Open Science in Astronomy (ROSA) | An Open Project Spotlight

Rachael Ainsworth (@rachaelevelyn) is a Research Associate and Open Science Champion at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester. Rachael was selected to join the Rebel Foxes cohort in the current round of Mozilla Open Leaders with her project, Resources for Open Science in Astronomy. Rachael uses her project to promote openness in academia, all while pioneering the #RebelFoxes🦊 hashtag on Twitter.

I interviewed Rachael to learn more about Resources for Open Science in Astronomy and how you can help.

What is Resources for Open Science in Astronomy (ROSA)?

Resources for Open Science in Astronomy (ROSA) is an open project to compile and tailor open science best practices from around the web into a how-to kit for astronomers to research openly from proposal to publication. The project will result in two products: a general open science resource kit that can be adapted to any field, and one specifically tailored for astronomy: ROSA. The project is being developed on GitHub so that anyone can contribute content, resources, tutorials, insight and experience, which will undergo curation and tailoring to create field-specific guides. The end product aims to be a well-documented guide on why you should research openly how.

Why did you start ROSA?

ROSA is a response to the challenges researchers face to practicing openly in academia. Astronomy is better at open science than many other fields but there is still a long way to go to make astrophysical research more transparent, reproducible, open and inclusive. Barriers to open science in astronomy include the perceptions that making research products openly available requires too much time and effort with little reward or that there is a need to protect intellectual property due to high competition for positions. Another barrier is that many researchers simply do not know how to open up their workflow or why they should. My goal with ROSA is to break down these barriers by addressing the why’s and the how’s in order to incentivise open science.

How is astronomy different from other scientific fields when it comes to open practices?

Astronomers are rockstars when it comes to open access compared to other fields — almost all publications have a version uploaded to arXiv and journal clubs are fairly common among physics & astronomy departments, where recent articles from astro-ph are presented and discussed. Further to this, the Astrophysics Data System is the literature database that links to both the main (sometimes paywalled) journal publication of an article and it’s open access version on the arXiv, while also providing citation and reference information — a tool we very much take for granted in our field.

Observatories typically make raw data from their telescopes openly available on their own archives, either immediately or after an embargo period of 1–2 years in order to give the Principal Investigators time to analyse the data and publish the results. Large data catalogues are published on VizieR, however the scripts/routines used to analyse them are not often included nor are individual, calibrated datasets/research outputs. One reason for this is that modern astronomical datasets can be quite large (reaching up to hundreds of GB and even tens of TB), making storing them extremely challenging.

Astronomers are increasingly using platforms such as GitHub, figshare, Zenodo and other repositories to make their outputs openly available, but I would like to see this more widespread!

What challenges have you faced working on this project?

Time management of this project has been the biggest challenge — in hindsight I wasn’t thoughtful enough when setting events/dates as milestones. I wanted to have a prototype of the toolkit website in time to test at MozFest, but this was completely unrealistic considering we were only a few weeks into the Mozilla Open Leadership program! There is a long list of issues that I keep adding to instead of closing, so I think it’s time to revisit and update my roadmap.

What are you most proud of accomplishing during the mentorship program?

I am most proud of facilitating a session at MozFest around my project. The session was ultimately titled, What resources do we need to break down barriers to open science? and during it, participants discussed the barriers to and benefits of open science based on their own experiences.

I was very excited for MozFest, everything online indicated that it would be one heck of an event. I felt prepared for my session, thanks to the Mozilla Open Leadership training where I learned all about running awesome events. Although maybe I was a bit over-prepared — I made slides, an etherpad, designed flyers and social media graphics to promote my session when the reality was that MozFest is “controlled chaos”. So on the first day of MozFest, the day of my session, I was overwhelmed and really nervous. What if no one showed up to my session? What if they did, but didn’t get anything from it? I was really worried about wasting participants’ time. So I sought advice from my mentor and other Mozilla Open Leaders (who I got to meet at MozFest in person!), and ended up scrapping the etherpad and many of the slides — stripping my plans for the session down to its simplest form. We kept it analogue by only jotting notes on post-its and focused on engagement and discussion — which seemed to work successfully as the conversation has carried on well beyond MozFest. A nice succinct conclusion from the session was that we need a “Hello, world!” example for open science, which could potentially be ROSA.

How has your project been impacted by Mozilla Open Leaders?

Through Mozilla Open Leaders, I was able to translate my project idea into actionable goals and deliverables — turn a nebulous concept into an actual shape. Training on how to compose the vision statement and open canvas enabled me to clarify my ideas and desired outcomes in order to outline them in a roadmap; I gained focus through really thinking about the project’s target contributors and users. I highly benefited from learning how to optimise the project GitHub repo to make it as welcoming and accessible as possible for new contributors, and even had a few #hacktoberfest participants (see logo)!

I have also learned and grown so much on a personal level through the Mozilla Open Leadership program, including becoming a more confident speaker through community calls, demos and building a fantastic support network (#RebelFoxes🦊).

How can others help you continue the work on ROSA?

We are looking for contributions from people willing to share their own experiences with open science, what barriers they faced and the benefits they have seen from working openly. We are also seeking topic suggestions and content on open access, open data and open source tools from around the web that would be useful for a researcher to have at the very start of their career. Check out the issues in the project GitHub repo that you can help us tackle or join our Gitter chatroom for a friendly chat about your questions/suggestions/ideas for the project :)

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

An exciting outcome from the conversations in the Mozilla Open Leadership program, MozFest and OpenCon, is that Chris Hartgerink (#Cohortzilla🦎) and I are joining our similar projects (Liberate Science: Now Boarding + ROSA) together to form the generalised open science how-to guide and resources on open research skills. To quote his newsletter, Collaboration over competition :-).

What meme or gif best represents your project?

Mozilla Open Leaders offers mentorship and training on working open. Join a cohort of project leads fueling the Internet Health movement. Receive mentorship and training through the Mozilla community in this 14-week online program on working open. Apply today!