Open Access McMaster

Open Access McMaster

Students for Equity in Scholarly Communication


What is your project about?

In recent decades, the internet revolution has led to the ability to quickly and easily communicate information to a wide audience at a low cost. Scholarly communication, however, is still slow and expensive, chained to outdated modes of publication. This means that the majority of scholarly work, though publically funded, is paywalled and inaccessible to anyone who is not affiliated with a wealthy university. At its heart, this system is antithetical to the conceptualization of scholarly work as a public good.

The open access (“OA”) movement seeks to change this by making scholarly work freely and immediately available online. Across the globe, open access and open research practices are becoming recognized as the new standard for scholarship. Funding sources and institutions alike (including the Montreal Neurological Institute, Simon Fraser University, and the Gates Foundation) have passed policies mandating OA for papers authored by their member researchers. Furthermore, research funded by the Tri-Agencies here in Canada, which includes most work by graduate students at McMaster, is mandated to be OA.

In 2015, President Patrick Deane made McMaster a signatory on the Berlin Declaration on Open Access and affirmed McMaster’s commitment to “service and the public good” through the Forward with Integrity initiative. Despite this, conversations about equity in scholarly communication at McMaster are few and far between. There is substantial confusion amongst researchers about how to comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access mandate - for example, some researchers believe that they can no longer publish in their desired journals to comply with the mandate. Though there have been some small initiatives to educate students on OA (for example, the library has hosted events for Open Access Week in the past), the leaders of these initiatives do not have first-hand experience with the unique barriers faced by grad students in their academic work, such as relationships with advisors and co-authors. Thus, there is virtually no connection between those with expertise in this domain (e.g. librarians) and graduate students, who are likely to be affected by this new wave of scholarly communication in their future careers.

The purpose of this SPICES project is two-fold: first, to raise awareness amongst the graduate student community about the importance of OA, and second, to arm students with the skills and resources that they will need to engage in open research now and in the future. We believe that as grad students ourselves, we are in an ideal position to engage graduate students in this important issue in academia.


What are you going to do?

We have planned a series of actions centered on understanding student perceptions and misperceptions about OA, increasing awareness of OA, and providing resources to help students engage in working openly. The activities that we propose fall into three phases. Our proposal includes some planned activities, but also allows for substantial flexibility in the final phase of the project, so that it can be based on what we have learned in the first two phases.

  • Phase 1: Learning Phase

  • Administer a survey to graduate students about perceptions and attitudes towards OA. From this, we will begin to understand the specific barriers to openness for students at McMaster beyond our personal experience.

  • Phase 2: Awareness Phase

    • Hold awareness workshops (target audience: graduate students and post-docs)  about the benefits of OA and about complying with the Tri-Agency OA mandate.

  • Phase 3: Advanced Workshops

  • Hold additional workshops that are related to OA on topics such as the Open Science Framework, preprints, experimental preregistrations, and open data.

Why are you doing it?

As researchers, it is our responsibility to make our work as widely available as possible. We cannot possibly anticipate how our research might lead to advances outside of our niche fields - perhaps one of our experiments can influence industry work or inspire a teenager, like Jack Andracka, to pursue a research project he imagined in his high school chemistry class. It is unconscionable that we pursue this knowledge with public money just to lock it behind a publisher’s paywall, generating profit for publishers but not for society. We are proposing this project because we are passionate about promoting more equitable systems for scientific communication. As one of the most prominent research institutions in Canada, we believe McMaster’s students should be leaders in this initiative. Though there has been some activity promoting OA in the past, these efforts have largely failed to connect with grad students. As graduate students ourselves, we understand the challenges that grads face when considering OA and plan to incorporate students’ concerns into our workshops. Thus, we believe that we can be the best messengers to carry this message to other graduate students.

How are you going to do it?

First, we will recruit other students to act as team members on the project. OA is particularly salient to us as psychology students. Open research practices have been promoted as a way to guard against underpowered research, which disproportionately affects psychological science. However, the push towards OA certainly spans disciplines, and the Tri-Agency mandate affects almost every research group in the university. To successfully meet the needs of graduate students across research areas, we will need input about the wants and needs of those students. Thus, our first step will be to recruit students from other departments to our team by advertising through the Graduate Student Association, the School of Graduate Studies mailer, and the Scientist Association at Mac.

Our first official initiative will be to survey McMaster graduate students about their perceptions and misconceptions of OA practices and benefits. The survey is already in development, and being editing through crowdsourcing with members at OOO Canada, of which some of us are members ( The results of the survey will guide our actions in the awareness stage of the project. This stage will occur in the first month of the project.

In the Awareness Phase, we plan to hold OA information sessions and workshops to promote understanding of the benefits of OA.  The sessions will include a short presentation, a question period, and a “self-archive-a-thon,” in which students can actually make their work open and compliant with Tri-Agency policy, guided by our members. These sessions will be held several times over the course of the fall semester so that as many people as possible can attend. We will give out surveys at the end of the session to monitor our progress and adapt our sessions to meet the needs that students suggest. In March 2017, we will pilot this workshop with the support of the Scientist Association at Mac. Feedback from the pilot workshop will inform the design of the project workshop.

In the spring semester, we will hold a series of advanced sessions about more specific aspects of OA and open research. We will spend fall semester planning these events with the goal of scheduling one event per month in the spring. For speakers in the GTHA, we would like to bring them on campus to speak and interact with students directly. Other sessions could be held virtually. The sessions could include (but would not be limited to):

  • A workshop on the Open Science Framework and the benefits of pre-registration (Center for Open Science)

  • A session on benefits of archiving (potential partners: Center for Open Science, ASAPbio)

  • A session on open notebook science (Rachael Harding, University of Toronto)

  • A session on global accessibility (Leslie Chan, University of Toronto)

  • A session on copyright and intellectual property (McMaster Library)

  • An “Archive-A-Thon,” a day of self-archiving

What results do you expect?

From the Learning Phase, we expect to get a better idea of students’ attitudes towards and knowledge about OA. Currently, most of our knowledge on this topic is based on anecdotes and personal conversations. This will be extremely valuable to us and to any other entity on campus who might be interested in getting involved in OA initiatives. We will make the anonymized, aggregated results openly available.

For the Awareness and Advanced Workshop Phases, we expect to address misconceptions and provide meaningful information (including tools/resources) for students. Our overall goal is to create an ongoing dialogue about OA amongst McMaster’s graduate community and establish relationships between students and librarians, who are best equipped to answer students’ questions about access and copyright after the completion of this project. We hope to reach at least 15 students in each session, and will ask participants to complete a short survey to gauge our effectiveness and modify our events accordingly.



C. Michael Galang/Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour/Graduate Student/September 2020

Hector Orozco Perez/Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour/Masters Student/September 2018

Haley Kragness/Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour/PhD Candidate/January 2018

We will additionally recruit members from other departments by advertising through the Graduate Student Association, the School of Graduate Studies, and the Scientist Association at Mac.


Summer 2017 – Recruit members of Open Access McMaster to expand our reach across disciplines, develop and finalize survey

September 2017 – Administer survey, aggregate responses

October 2017-December 2017 – Run info sessions/workshops, collect feedback to optimize workshop

January 2018-April 2018 – Run advanced workshops, as well as awareness workshops if there is still demand