Dealing With Being Exposed: Setting Boundaries While Being Open

Image by PublicDomainPictures / 17902 on Pixabay
Image by PublicDomainPictures / 17902 on Pixabay

As an advocate of Open Science, one thing that strikes me is how many academics believe that Open Science is an all-or-nothing approach. How, then, can we find the right amount of being exposed?

Because many of us have to balance openness with feelings of vulnerability when making our work available publicly, I argue, one more time, that going Open Access depends on a number of personal and institutional considerations and that we have the right, even when institutions put pressure on individuals to go full Open Access, to choose what, when, and how we share our work.

What feels right for you? What degree of exposure are you ready to go for, when and why?

The extent of exposure brings out a novel dimension of personal and academic vulnerability as it requires courage to share teaching and learning experiences and to take accountability for them. Specifically, depending on where you are on your academic path, being open requires an extra layer of courage.

[For a quick read, jump directly to the last section, “Questions to ask yourself when going open”.]

Sharing content publicly: Boundaries in a patriarchal world

For early-career feminist researchers, additional challenges arise (Pownall et al. 2021). In this paper that I summarized as a Twitter thread, a collective of ten early career psychologists defines Open Science “as both the commitment of incorporating transparency in all aspects of the research process and a fundamental approach to research which aims to clear science of its ideological biases”.

While I do not subscribe to the idea that science (open or not) is, should, or could be cleared “of its ideological biases”, I believe that the potential of this paper is somewhere else: It moves the focus from unequal access to infrastructures and funding1 to the lived experiences of the individuals who opt for Open Science

In doing so, the paper “Navigating Open Science as Early Career Feminist Researchers” highlights that debates about Open Science promoting transparency and collaboration often remain unaware of a feminist agenda, and end up promoting Open Science without acknowledging at the same time that female researchers have to do it in a “white, male, middle-class” environment—what is sometimes referred to as ‘Bropen Science’ (Whitaker & Guest 2020).

While early-career researchers clearly benefit from engaging in Open Science Practices insofar as they produce more (visible) output and ultimately get more cited, it is important to note that not everyone can afford to be vulnerable and exposed (in a patriarchal world). It has indeed been shown that doctoral researchers and/or scholars without a tenured position express more fears regarding Open Science than professors, notably in psychology (Houtkoop et al. 2018; Abele-Brehm et al. 2019).

Examples of how vulnerability manifests include, but are not limited to:

  • working on sensitive (often critical) topics that mat be difficult to bring in mainstream (highly reputed) journals, thus having many preprints “out there” that remain unpublished in a traditional sense;
  • increasing, through Open Access publications, the chance of being read and thus potentially criticized, especially for projects at an early stage / before the PhD defense;
  • not being supported by one’s supervisor(s) in one’s Open Science journey, which may be seen as a waste of time or not prestigious enough, in worst cases as narcissism, and thus damage the person’s reputation;
  • being afraid of professional and academic consequences if research findings or conclusions are not as solid or unequivocal as previously thought (this includes the fact that the author themself may change their mind);
  • being subject to pressures from peers and/or supervisors and not being able to weigh in when it comes to publication strategies (basically, not having a word to say);
  • being misunderstood when advocating for Open Science, for instance by scholars who mistakenly think that Open Science is restricted to publishing in an Open Access journal or paying the Open Access fees, etc.

The main contribution of Pownall et al.’s new perspective on Open Science from early-career feminist researchers is that feelings and emotions finally get a central place in discussing whether and how Open Science can be implemented, and notably:

  • the “fear of persecution, insecurities, and social dynamics that exist within scientific publishing”;
  • the “limited discussion about […] whose participation is valued”;
  • and the fact that “attempts to contribute to Open Science may be regarded as trivial or unimportant”.

Finding your balance

The fear of facing consequences for reflections shared publicly online is reflected in our participants’ answers as well. We have to take these fears seriously, and address them instead of leaving Open Science to people who can face the consequences with no or minimal risks for their career.

In her qualitative exploration of lecturers’ experience with Open Educational Practices, Cronin (2017) shows that all the teachers she interviewed maintain boundaries while navigating “context collapse” (Marwick and boyd 2010), i.e. the heterogeneous yet unknown audiences their content can reach.

Cronin (2017:10) also shows that participants who have an active online presence feel more confident in sharing their teaching materials as Open Educational Resources, because they have developed a strong sense of what they feel ready to share.

Questions to ask yourself when going open

In the end, when considering engaging in Open Science, consider reflecting critically what openness means to you:

  • What do I expect from “putting myself out there”? Do I want to be read by other scholars (and potentially cited), be read by people outside of my discipline / outside of academia, get feedback, be part of a community, become visible, enter a scientific discussion, show I’m working on a topic, make the work of others easier, etc.? Of course, these answers are not mutually exclusive.
  • What prevents me from sharing? What am I scared of? Do I think I may change my mind (not a problem, but I understand this may be an issue)? How is the error culture in my community? How much do I benefit from being visible?
  • How much do I want to share? Do I want to share only papers accepted for publication, or am I okay with sharing work in progress? Do I want to share data, and on which conditions (under which license)? What will happen if I do not share anything?
  • How do my sharing practices reflect my academic and pedagogical values? Do I share early pieces of writing because I want to make the research process visible? Do I then also submit to journals with an Open Peer Review? Do I share only when the paper is final and why? Am I ready to share slides of presentation (work in progress as well)? Do I make a difference between my teaching materials and my research (fully legitimate to have one consistent publication strategy or different ones according to your goals, your audience, the time you invested, etc. — just ask yourself why)?
  • How much time do I have and how much do I want to invest in Open Science practices? Let’s not sugarcoat it: Being visible online, curating content, uploading preprints on open repositories TAKES TIME. Anyone who says you can just do it on the side either is lying or has been practicing Open Science for a few months now, so that the anxieties revolving around it are manageable (or at least lower) and the technical issues an easy fix. Yes, going Open Science is a commitment, and we should see it as such instead of pretending that everyone has the time, capacity and energy to pursue it.
  • How can I / do I want to react if being present online is too much? Can I add a disclaimer at the beginning, stating the manuscript is currently under review / being revised / is an early version? Can I delete this preprint (often, Open Access repositories do not allow withdrawals), rewrite this blog post, write a retraction if needed?

More than committing to Open Science once and for all, learn to reflect, adjust, and communicate your boundaries. Just because you can practice Open Science and maybe have already does not mean that you have to in all situations.

Open Science will only become really inclusive when we start seeing openness as a high variety of practices embedded in structures and institutions that are still highly beneficial to those in positions of power.

References cited:

  • Abele-Brehm, Andrea E., Mario Gollwitzer, Ulf Steinberg & Felix D. Schönbrodt. 2019. Attitudes Toward Open Science and Public Data Sharing. Social Psychology. Hogrefe Publishing 50(4). 252–260.
  • Cronin, Catherine. 2017. Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. Athabasca University 18(5). 15–34.
  • Marwick, Alice E. & danah boyd. 2011. I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society 13(1). 114–133.
  • Pownall, Madeleine, Catherine V. Talbot, Anna Henschel, Alexandra Lautarescu, Kelly E. Lloyd, Helena Hartmann, Kohinoor M. Darda, Karen T. Y. Tang, Parise Carmichael-Murphy & Jaclyn A. Siegel. 2021. Navigating Open Science as Early Career Feminist Researchers. Psychology of Women Quarterly. SAGE Publications Inc 1–14.
  • Houtkoop, Bobby Lee, Chris Chambers, Malcolm Macleod, Dorothy V. M. Bishop, Thomas E. Nichols & Eric-Jan Wagenmakers. 2018. Data Sharing in Psychology: A Survey on Barriers and Preconditions. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science. SAGE Publications Inc 1(1). 70–85.
  • Whitaker, Kirstie & Olivia Guest. 2020. #bropenscience is broken science | The Psychologist. the psychologist. (16 October, 2020).
Cite this article as: Naomi Truan, "Dealing With Being Exposed: Setting Boundaries While Being Open," in Ici et là, 02/12/2021,
  1. The unequal access to infrastructures and funding also represents real and tough challenges when entering the Open Science landscape, which I do not mean to undermine, but simply are not the focus of this article. []

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1 Response

  1. Elodie Winckel says:

    What an exciting article, very enlightening! I mainly heard mentioned the fear of having one’s work “stolen” if one exposes work in progress, or of risking self-plagiarism in future publications (I don’t know if this is even true, since I personally never understood what the rules were).

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