2018-19 Americans in the EU

Open Science by Design  –  A Fulbright in Review

The ideals and principles of open science (or “open research and scholarship”, as we might express it in the States) are summed up in the EU’s Research and Innovation strategy as “the ongoing transition in how research is performed and how knowledge is shared.” Anyone in any corner of any university could look at whatever screen is in front of them and clearly see the means by which academic knowledge has been utterly transformed by the internet and technology. Working in a sub-field of librarianship called “scholarly communications,” my career is studying, advancing, and building the tools, systems, and knowledge to smooth that transition.

The work of scholarship is a worldwide endeavor. Although not balanced between the east and west, global north and global south, and influenced severely by colonialism and historical oppression, the advancement of knowledge is an experiment that invites all nations to participate. Undertaking a Fulbright-Schuman research fellowship, I had a modicum of perspective for what a global scholarly ecosystem may look like, and I’m happy to report that my horizons expanded even more through the process. Not surprisingly, my concept of this trip as strict academic experience was very quickly modified by life, family, cultural translation, and the practical day-to-day of needing to get groceries and be well-rested.

It’s difficult to look back on the experience without rose-colored glasses. My family and I spent 5 months roaming landscapes and socio-cultural environments that we dreamed about. For the first time in my professional life, I had totally unstructured free time to explore around corners of my interests and follow threads that took me into new intellectual areas. My host institutions, Maastricht University and the Royal Library of Denmark/University of Copenhagen, were gracious and giving, intervening only when I asked and needed guidance. But it was also deeply challenging to understand boundaries between my professional and personal time, and complicated for my family to adapt to a northern European winter with very limited language and support networks.

The things I learned were almost all surprising. I am still struggling to understand how deeply the two World Wars affected the European continent and people. We were lucky to have a few visitors during our time overseas, and I was shocked at how emotional it was to go with my dad to visit the Valleikanaal de Grift, perhaps a link to our family heritage. It was humbling to watch my wife make wonderful things out of toilet paper rolls to keep our kids engaged and content. It was amazing how quickly a place felt like home. And most of all, I was surprised that despite carrying the banner of the prestigious award that got me there, I constantly felt like a fraud and a slacker.

The Fulbright was such a significant experience, that I am still unsure of all its impacts on my life. Often, I catch myself daydreaming about the snow falling on the beach at møns klint, or replay in my mind that final presentation at Maastricht University Libraries and wonder if I said all I meant to. The regrets are haunting — why did I spend so much time with headphones on at a desk when I could have been chatting in broken Dutch with fantastically interesting people? What might I have learned at the Nordic Open Science Festival if my flight hadn’t been cancelled? Did I work enough? Too much? Is it possible to eat too many frites and appelflappen?

Now, back in the gorgeous James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University, I am so excited for whatever may come next. But, there is always, and may forever be, a little itch in the back of my mind that someday, somehow, I need to get back. I guess that’s what Fulbrighters and global travelers everywhere share in common; the quest for knowledge isn’t just an intellectual one, but physical, emotional, and in many ways spiritual as well.

Micah Vandegrift is a 2018-2019 U.S. Fulbright Schuman Scholar in Library Science from North Carolina State University to the University of Maastricht (the Netherlands) and the Royal Danish Library (Denmark).

Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.