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Why OA is important to students – and why they are important to OA!

Green cars outside Berlin by Michael Caven, Flickr, CC BY

Yesterday, we were delighted to welcome student Peter Grabitz as an intern to the Berlin office. Peter is a former project coordinator at the European Students Conference (ESC) organized for 26 years by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, which attracts 400 students annually.  A warm welcome to Peter and his first blog post which offers his perspective on the importance of Open Access (OA) to students. As Peter says at the end of his post:

The responsibility for OA education lies with the younger generation. None of us has ever had the experience of sitting down with our grandparents while they explain the significance of Twitter or Facebook! When it comes to innovations and new technologies it is most often the younger generation that is the driving force to change. And so it is up to us to sit down with our professors and explain the groundbreaking advantages of new communication methods in scientific publishing. We grew up with this stuff, they did not.

A few Fridays ago I met Ruben on a friend’s birthday party. Currently doing a PhD and with a looming deadline, he was only there to say hello and leave a gift. He wouldn’t have been on such a tight schedule, if there was an easy and affordable way to access all the articles he needed. His University is quite small and doesn’t offer many journal subscriptions so he was hitting paywall after paywall, He nearly gave up before he really began.

The solution? He asked a friend who studies in a bigger University in the same city for his library password and finally he had the access he needed.

But… is this really the solution and what lies at the heart of this problem?

The current scientific publishing system made sense back in the time of Descartes at the beginning of the Enlightment when research began and findings needed to be shared publically instead of via letter. Interesting results were bundled and published regularly and the very first journals arrived. Publishers created a way to bring research to the people.

With the amount of submitted articles rising, publishers asked the most renowned researchers in the field to give their opinion on the relevance and methodology of the articles to decide which ones to publish which today we know as Peer Review.

The first difficulties became apparent in the late 20th century in what was called the “Serial Crisis”, Libraries and Universities couldn’t afford subscriptions to the ever growing number of crucial journals. Journal price inflation outpaced library subscription budgets and cuts in institutional funding. The only remedy: less serial subscriptions to balance the budget.

Publishing was shaken up again when Sir Tim Berners-Lee thought it would be great to start a global network connecting millions of computers – the internet. Spreading information became as easy as one click. One of the only fields that was slow to adopt to the internet was scientific publishing. With a margin of up to 36%, publishers continue to drain money out of the research system and are use draconian copyright restrictions and paywalls to block society from reading and using research results.

In 2001 a group of people dedicated to change this system met in Budapest and signed the Budapest Open Access Initiative. So why do I care about it?

  1. Ruben’s story is not the only one like this. All around the world, there are students not gaining access to the latest results in their field of study. And it is not only students. It is also their professors. How can you teach something you are not even able to read? Open Access gives equal opportunities to every student, regardless of whether he or she is affiliated to a small or big, British, German, Gambian, Malaysian or no university at all! Open Access empowers everyone!
  2. It is good for you and for your research. Because, as Björn Brembs puts it: “Glamour is nothing if nobody reads you.” By now it has been scientifically proven: publishing your research OA gives you more citations. More people read you. Your impact is higher, even without the dreaded Impact Factor.
  3. The importance of OA goes even further. It directly translates into better patient care by ensuring a medical education that reflects the current results of research and the state of the art. OA makes information on drug safety and treatment effectiveness available to literally anyone. It brings the latest results in research directly to the patients’ bedside.

The importance is clear. But: what can we do to support OA as students?

  • Read, read, read the OA literature. Encourage others to do so too.
  • Join the OA community. For example, the Right to Research Coalition are seriously amazing! Anyone can learn a lot from their experience by going to one of their Conferences
  • Be a role Model. Publish OA yourself! If you do it with ScienceOpen, or any of the newer OA venues, it’s quick, easy and more affordable than ever
  • Become an ambassador. Ask your professor and coworkers in the lab to publish OA. Articles, Data and Software. Even though you might receive negative answers, like these, don’t give up and be persistent
  • Become an advocate. Ask yourself, is there a Repository at your university? What OA strategy has your university adopted? Is there one? Who is responsible for it?
  • Educate and raise awareness. There are many opportunities to raise the topic of Open Science. For example, start an event during OA-Week!

The big question isn’t IF Open Access will take over, but WHEN it will do so. As Alexander Grossmann, co-founder of ScienceOpen, puts it: “both the visibility and acceptance of OA concepts among the scholarly community worldwide needs to be increased”

If not students…who else?

The responsibility for educating about OA lies with the younger generation. None of us has ever had the experience of sitting down with our grandparents while they explain the significance of Twitter or Facebook! When it comes to innovations and new technologies it is most often the younger generation that is the driving force to change. And so it is up to us to sit down with our professors and explain the groundbreaking advantages of new communication methods in scientific publishing. We grew up with this stuff, they did not.

It is our responsibility to find a better solution to the problem than Ruben did. It is our responsibility to shape a new publishing system in scientific research that will be effective, innovative and most certainly: open.