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Category: Earlier Career

Postdocs are doing it for themselves

Image credit: opensource.com, CC BY-SA

Image credit: Open Source.com, CC BY-SA

Postdocs must make Science more open to have their voice – and get it heard.

Gary McDowell, Tufts University and Future of Research Symposium

We’re delighted to welcome Gary McDowell, a post-doc working on left-right development in frogs (his Twitter handle is appropriately named @biophysicalfrog) and involved in the Future of Research Symposium starting on Thursday of this week (check out the speakers) as our second guest blogger. That we have decided to cover issues of importance to junior faculty in this post is a deliberate choice because we want to encourage their participation in the scientific conversation and Open Access. For a flavor of our activities with this group, including our first ever students awards at the European Students Conference in September, check out the Earlier Career channel on our blog.

Now over to Gary…

Recently, Liz Allen from ScienceOpen and I discussed her blog post entitled “How to make science more open, 7 ideas for early career researchers“. Our conversation gave me some pause for thought about the role of postdocs in facilitating the scientific endeavor.  I also am a firm advocate of “post-docs doing it for themselves”.  I’ve been involved in the organization of The Future of Research Symposium, a two-day event for graduate students and postdocs in the Boston area to come together and discuss the issues facing young researchers at present, under the groupings of training, structure of the workforce, funding, and metrics of assessment.  One measure of the success of a scientist is through the science they produce, reflected in the papers that they publish.  At present, we are at a point in scientific publishing where there is a strong movement towards “open access”: science available to all.  This means freely available to read and re-use: no paywalls, no subscriptions, simply science that is freely available to the public.

There are many good reasons for publishing open access which even its detractors can itemize as pointed out in a recent tweet by Joseph McArthur (@Mcarthur_Joe) who highlighted this section of an assessment by analysts from Bernstein Research which was shared by the independent journalist Richard Poynder (@RickyPo)

“Stepping back to take in the big picture, we would be hard pressed, having spent six years networking extensively in the academic publishing and OA communities, even to articulate what problem is OA trying to accomplish. Ask a librarian, and you will be told that OA is meant to address the serial cost crisis (the rising cost of journal subscriptions and the impact this has on their capacity to fulfil the other missions of academic libraries). Ask a researcher, and you will be told that OA will allow more researchers to read their articles, leading to more citations and – ultimately – to better dissemination of knowledge. Ask an economist, and you will be told that OA will allow small and medium sized companies which do not have access to the latest research to do so, furthering the growth of the economy and job creation. Ask some activists, and you will be told that OA is meant to deflate the margins of capitalist exploitation of public spending. Ask an activist from emerging countries: you will be told that OA is meant to allow researchers and doctors in poor countries to have access to leading research. This lack of clarity on which problem OA is trying to solve, in turn, means that it is difficult to achieve any of these goals.”

There are clearly many noble goals to the endeavor of publishing Open Access.  However there are concerns, particularly amongst young researchers, about publishing outside of the “high impact factor” set of journals that are traditionally viewed as grant- and job-winners.  These issues were recently highlighted in a blog by Alexander Grossman, a co-founder of ScienceOpen. Major difficulties that postdocs face in Open Access include not having the final say on where their papers are published, or even when.  Many of us have smaller sets of work; or negative data; or data that aims to reproduce other’s work, which are all good pieces of science but are often not viewed as being worthy of publication.  In my own experience, I have been very fortunate to always work with principal investigators who are (reasonably) happy to publish smaller datasets or less exciting (but still novel) stories.

However my own experience with Open Access has been somewhat limited.  Changes to requirements for funding from Research Councils in the UK, and NIH funding in the US, have led to my research becoming gradually more open, most recently graduating from being behind a paywall for one year to being immediately open to the public.  As part of the preparations for the Future of Research Symposium, we have published an open letter to Science in the Winnower and an article in the Journal of Postdoctoral Research.  Both publications have then been rapidly disseminated on social media, for example through our @FORsymp handle to our target audience, for free and open discussion.  The experiences I have had with these publications, plus investigating other avenues for publishing open access, reinforce my own view that in the modern era, when people search less in particular journals and more on particular topics, that a paper being available rapidly and openly is more important than the competitiveness of getting into the journal.  Good work is good work, and recent controversies over paper retractions how that the Impact Factor of a journal is not necessarily a direct correlation with the rigor of the peer review of the science.  In fact, many of the controversies that arose from the STAP saga may have been avoided in formats with Open Peer Review, with people able to directly comment and review on the paper, rather than the initial concerns having to be raised indirectly on other media.

Postdocs need to make themselves heard and Open Access publishing provides a medium to do this.  A free exchange of ideas is encouraged not only by postdocs publishing in places where their papers are accessible to all; but by postdocs participating in the review process.  Whenever possible, I sign my reviews to make it clear that I am not hiding behind anonymity in the comments that I make, and so I am therefore careful to make sure they are fair and critical in a constructive manner.   ScienceOpen is one example of a progression from the typical reviewing process, using Post-Publication Peer Review to facilitate open and fair discussion and criticism of scientific work.  Not only is embarking upon peer review a great contribution to the scientific community, this is an excellent opportunity for postdocs to get experience in reviewing papers and also in providing reflection on how to write their own papers.

In her post, Liz advocates getting involved in journal clubs and conferences.  I would agree with this, and in particular we are keen for people to get involved with the Future of Research Symposium not only this week, when the symposium will be held, but carrying our findings forwards: we view this not as a one-off event, but a continuing endeavor.  I would extend Liz’s call-to-arms and suggest that postdocs get involved in scientific societies: many societies are now actively soliciting postdoctoral involvement at the very highest levels.  For example, the Genetics Society of America has posts on all committees – and its executive board – for trainees. The American Society for Cell Biology has an extensive network of postdoctoral volunteers, COMPASS. Many learned societies are engaging upon connecting with younger researchers who are, after all, aspiring to be their future members as established academics.

Finally, the most important reason for postdocs to get involved and raise their voices is to make themselves be heard.  There has been a call, in the most recent meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for younger scientists to respond to the alarm raised by senior academics, in particular about the state of biomedical research in the US:

The voices that are missing so far, [are] the young voices and we need to get them into the mix.”

Shirley Tilghman, PCAST, September 19th 2014

That is the aim of the Future of Research Symposium, to try to initiate a unified voice on how graduate students and postdocs feel about the issues important to science and how it is carried out.  Our aim is then the continuation of these meetings, both locally and hopefully to inspire others nationally, to produce a voice which is ever louder.  The voices of young researchers are not, in the main, being heard.  Recently, an open letter was sent to the AAAS journal Science regarding concerns over its new widely-advertised open access journal, Science Advances, written mostly (but not exclusively) by young researchers. The response of AAAS so far has been to send the authors some Frequently Asked Questions. Likewise, a similar group has sent a similar open letter to the Society for Neuroscience over its new open access journal eNeuroThe response was another email that did not address or attempt to answer any of our queries (but was a step up from the AAAS response).  In one particular case the term “riff-raff” has been used by Steven McKnight in his capacity as President of the ASBMB, to describe those “who never would have survived as scientists in the 1960s and 1970s”. There is a lot of support at the highest levels of academia, but clearly a lot of work needs to be done by our community to have our concerns taken seriously.

Postdocs have a lot of support in academia and beyond from those willing to speak out in our favor.  However, without the postdoc community engaging, raising their voice and making clear that they are present and essential to the scientific endeavor, there is only so much that can be done to change the system.  So I join with the call-to-arms to postdocs to engage in making science more open, and raising aloud their voices.

Give the pioneers a chance – Open Access and closing the reputational gap for young scientists.

25th ESC 2014 Berlin
Impressions of the 25th European Students’ Conference 2014 in Berlin

Over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of chatting to many young researchers from different areas of science. Last week, I was delighted to attend the 25th European Students’ Conference 2014 in Berlin where I had been invited to organize an afternoon workshop entitled Perspectives on Scientific Publishing with about 100 participants. It was terrific to spend almost three hours with so many students which were keen to find out more about the future of scholarly communication.

My interest in this topic was sparked by a previous panel discussion on scholarly publishing when I observed that a significant part of the audience were Ph.D. students or post-docs. When one of the speakers talked about new opportunities in Open Access publishing, a very intensive discussion began. Almost all the young scientists in the audience were excited and motivated by the principles and vision behind Open Access. They said they would like to change the current publishing system and participate in a more open conversation about their research with peers. I was thrilled because that is what we are trying to develop at ScienceOpen.

However, “If I publish my work Open Access, I will have difficulties in my future career, I am afraid, because I need the highest Impact Factor (IF) possible” said one of the young scholars, dampening the enthusiasm, and in the end most of his colleagues agreed.

If I publish my work Open Access, I will have difficulties in my future career, I am afraid, because I need the highest Impact Factor (IF) possible.”

But how real is this risk for junior faculty who will have the most important impact on the future of academia? To find out more about the perspectives of grad students and junior researchers at institutions or universities, I tried to find arguments against active participation in Open Access publishing. Although younger researchers would like to have a public discussion about their science with their peers, almost everyone I talked to stressed that they have been instructed by their academic senior advisor to aim for a high-IF journal to publish their work. And most young scientists had the impression that there are relatively few quality Open Access journals and even many of these have a low IF, if any. Therefore I next asked some of their supervisors and professors for their thoughts. Amazingly, many of them emphasized that their graduate students and junior researchers themselves insisted on publishing in a “Champions League” journal, or at least, in a “Premiere League” journal with a high IF.

Who was right? I believe that we don’t need to answer this question in order to understand why young researchers are wary of Open Access publishing opportunities.

Let’s summarize the major reasons that motivate a researcher to publish her/his work:

(A) To record and archive results.
(B) To share new findings with colleagues.
(C) To receive feedback from experts / peers.
(D) To get recognition by the scientific community.
(E) To report results to the public, funding bodies, and others.

Next, let us analyze which reasons for publishing are more relevant to young researchers in comparison with others. Reporting results (E) is a more formal reason which is required when one has received a financial contribution by funding organizations. As for archiving (A), it is not a particular motivation for junior scientists. By contrast, sharing with colleagues (B) may have more significance for those groups that have just started to build up their academic network. We all agree that younger scientists must not only actively promote themselves by sharing new results of their work, but also to intensify dialogue with their peers. They therefore also depend on feedback from experts and peers (C) much more than a senior researcher who has established his or her expertise across decades. Both (B) and (C) will hopefully result in recognition from the scientific community and (D) has long been considered the conditio sine qua non in academia for all junior researchers if they want a successful academic career. Everyone I talked to agreed and most of my scholarly colleagues confirmed that this list appeared to be consistent and complete in describing the relevance of publishing for young researchers.

But where are the Impact Factors in my list? Where are big journal brands?

But where are the Impact Factors in my list? Where are big journal brands?”

Until relatively recently, recognition has been largely measured by citations. Today, with more frequent usage of social networks, we should broaden our view and associate credit for scientific work also with mentions, likes, or retweets. The latter attributes of modern communication in social networks is an immediate and uniquely fast way to provide and earn credit  in scholarly publishing. There are an ever increasing number of examples where an excellent paper was recognized within minutes after it had been published Open Access. Citations are important, but it is the article and the individuals who authored that work which should get credited. And there is growing evidence that papers published Open Access are read and ultimately cited more often. Impact factor is a “toxic influence” on science, as Randy Shekman, Nobel laureate and founder of eLife recently stated,.

“Impact factor is a “toxic influence” on science.”

Finally, we do not need big journal brands or an Impact Factor to evaluate the relevance and quality of research. Neither for senior scientists, nor for young researchers. The latter group, however, has a significant intrinsic advantage: they are much more accustomed to communicating with social media tools. If they continue to use these when starting their academic career, they will strongly influence traditional, old-fashioned ways of crediting academic research.

My conclusion can therefore be considered as an invitation to the younger generation of researchers:

  1. Substitute pay-walled journals with new open science technologies to publicly publish your scientific results
  2. Continue to use social network tools to communicate about and discuss recent research with others
  3. Adopt alternative metrics to measure scientific relevance in addition to classical citation

Liz Allen, who works with me at ScienceOpen, also recently wrote this blog post to encourage younger researchers to be part of the open scientific conversation and suggested different ways for them to get involved.

It will be your generation in a decade from now that will craft the careers of other young researchers. Nobody else. Therefore you should not be afraid of publishing Open Access or submitting your next paper to an alternative open science platform. The more people like you who follow that path of modern scholarly publishing, the less emphasis will be put on classical incentives for academic evaluation. Open Access and active communication about new results in science by social media and open science platforms, such as ScienceOpen, can increase both usage and impact for your work.

“We do not need big journal brands or an Impact Factor to evaluate the relevance and quality of research.”

And my request to senior scientists who are presently judging the quality of the younger generation of researchers: challenge yourself to look at their social networking record and their willingness to shape the new measures of recognition. And do not forget: Access is not a sufficient condition for citation, but it is a necessary one. Open Access dramatically increases the number of potential users of any given article by adding those users who would otherwise have been unable to access it, as Stevan Harnad and Tim Brody demonstrated already 10 years ago. Give the pioneers a chance – they are the future of research!

“Give the pioneers a chance – they are the future of research.”

Alexander Grossmann

How to make science more open – 7 ideas for early career researchers

Moreopen

Quick update: in celebration of Open Access Week 2014, we’re waiving publication fees for early career researchers until November!

Recently, we’ve noticed more and more calls for greater Open Access (OA) participation from earlier career researchers, post-docs and graduate students. Thankfully their voice is increasingly being heard on many issues.

Erin McKiernan, a researcher working primarily in experimental and theoretical Neuroscience, published an excellent piece in the Guardian newspaper in which she made several memorable statements – two of which are particularly so:

if you believe in openness, stand up for it”

“I am an early career researcher, and have pledged to make all of my work openly available”

Let’s also not forget the Open Letter to the AAAS, protesting the pricing and licensing model for their first Open Access journal led by Jon Tennant and Erin McKiernan (busy lady) and signed by 114 researchers, many of them at earlier career stages.

And finally, researchers such as Jessica Polka and Kristin Krukenberg, provide a great example of “post-docs doing it for themselves”. Togerther with a team, they are organizing the Future of Research Symposium, October 2/3 2014 in Boston, to ensure that the voices of junior scientists are heard in the ongoing dialog about policies that shape the scientific establishment.

With these words ringing in our ears, here are 7 different ways for interacting with the literature that provide earlier career researchers with more ways to shape their future.

1. Publish OA. There’s a great deal of young talent advocating for OA but research shows that when it comes to actual publication, multidisciplinary OA titles (so called “megajournals”) tend to attract more experienced authors. This is easy to understand since the current promotion and tenure system overvalues well-established high impact journals and doesn’t recognize that articles and individuals can have significant impact, regardless of where they are published.

So what happens to younger scholars when it comes to publishing OA? Firstly, they usually don’t get to choose the publication venue, that’s usually a leadership prerogative. In some respects, it’s probably easier for a senior author to persuade a junior one to publish OA than the contrary. This also helps to explain why early career researchers can appear very conservative because their career depends on acceptance by conservative authorities. Therefore, change needs to be driven from the top down, as well as from the bottom up of course.

Additionally, the down-sides of handing over copyright to a traditional publisher may only become apparent after restricted paid access has reduced the reach of their work. With OA, authors keep their copyright and content is free for everyone to read and re-use with attribution.

In the world outside of scholarly publishing, first achievements are not the last and there’s recognition that practice makes perfect. Even within scholarly publishing there’s a growing realization that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between being open and being successful.

At ScienceOpen, we believe that our system of publication within about a week of submission (after an internal editorial check) with DOI and Non-Anonymous Post-Publication Peer-Review provides a less stressful way for junior faculty to build their publication history.

We also offer additional support that earlier career researchers may find useful. We have free workspaces where authors can collaborate on their articles and submit them to us or elsewhere as they prefer. Unlike some OA journals, we offer proofs and an iterative correction process before publication which also includes complimentary copy-editing and language polishing if required. After publication, two minor or major Versions are included.

And, we have an active social media program that we use to advocate for OA and promote our author’s work. We enjoy interviewing our lead authors and are also happy to interview authoring teams or team members with a strong story to tell, just ask us. Naturally this effort works best if we join forces with your own personal social media streams.

Full and partial fee waivers are available to those who demonstrate need, for those in low or middle income countries and in less well-funded disciplines.

2. Choose more progressive forms of Peer Review. Anonymous Peer Review encourages disinhibition. Since the balance of power is also skewed, this can fuel unhelpful, even destructive, reviewer comments. At ScienceOpen, we only offer non-anonymous Post-Publication Peer Review.

Authors can suggest up to 10 people to review their article. Reviews of ScienceOpen articles and any of the 1.3mm other OA papers aggregated on our platform, are by named academics with minimally five publications on their ORCID ID which is our way of maintaining the standard of scientific discourse. We believe that those who have experienced Peer Review themselves should be more likely to understand the pitfalls of the process and offer constructive feedback to others.

3. Participate in conferences. As an early career researcher, paying to attend a large international event can cost upwards of $2000 which makes it a luxury activity often requiring travel scholarships etc. If you get the opportunity to go, we recommend reading this recent article about live tweeting from the event before-hand so you can bring those who are not there into the conversation. And, if you can’t go to an event, don’t despair, because the same article describes ways to ask remote questions. Also, let’s not forget that posters are a great way to get involved in a meeting, ScienceOpen even rewards the best with prizes!

4. Participate in journal clubs. These informal meetings offer a way to discuss the best new literature but they aren’t always run on inclusive lines. If your group is dominated by senior faculty, we suggest you politely make two suggestions to the person organizing the club:

  1. That the group leader rotates and is picked from junior faculty
  2. That the definition of discussion success = everyone participates

5. Participate in online Groups. ScienceOpen has aggregated over 1.3 million (and growing) OA articles from publishers such as PLOS, F1000 Research, BMC, peerJ, eLife to name but a few (from PMC) and physics articles from ArXiv. We’re intrigued to see what discipline specific conversations emerge when the literature is on the same platform and researchers form Groups to discuss it.

At ScienceOpen we welcome earlier career researchers to take these roles. They can start a discipline in their niche area, invite others to join their group from the over 2 million networked on the platform already or from outside, and use the Search functionality to curate existing content into themed collections based on criteria they pick (and explain using comments).

6. Become a Collection Editor. The natural evolution for a Group that is actively curating and discussing existing content is to call for new content so that the collection “grows and lives” and we invite applications for these roles from researchers at all career stages. Getting closer to the publishing process by managing and building a Collection is a great way to raise your profile in your community of choice and build relationships with others.

7. Keep advocating for change. Last, but by no means least, continue to advocate for change. Join ScienceOpen in signing open letters to reform journals that don’t “get” OA. Advocate for initiatives such as DORA (San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, sign it too) that works to break the stranglehold of the Impact Factor. Let’s keep up the pressure!

Above all, enjoy making Science more open and if you want to remind yourself why, watch this short and funny video from Sebastian Alers, a member of our Editorial Team.

Announcing the inaugural ScienceOpen Student Awards

25 years fall of the wall

It’s been 25 years since the “Fall of the Wall” (the actual date is November 9th 2014, the wall came down in 1989). I was living in the UK at the time and remember the excitement like it was yesterday. The European Students’ Conference (ESC), taking place from 17-20th September, is similarly celebrating its 25th anniversary.

One of the largest student-run biomedical conferences worldwide, the ESC was catalyzed by this poignant moment in history and was one of the first to facilitate the exchange of student dialogue between the West and East.

ScienceOpen, the new OA research + publishing network (short video), headquartered in Berlin, is delighted to be sponsoring and attending this conference (if you can’t be there, we will be live tweeting) and discussing how we make publishing better with this engaged audience. You can visit our stand and talk to Dr. Sebastian Alers, Senior Editor at Science Open (featured in this viral video) to learn more about who we are.

Students who are in Berlin for this event will be inspired by a varied and challenging program:

Scientific contest – those with accepted abstracts can prepare posters and compete in their discipline category to receive ScienceOpen Poster Awards comprising a cash payment and a voucher each for a free poster publication. Those who win the next oral rounds, qualify for a ScienceOpen Innovation in Publishing Award which gives each researcher a free article in ScienceOpen.

Workshops – includes ScienceOpen co-founder Alexander Grossman, Physicist and Professor of Publishing Management on “New Perspectives in Scientific Publishing”. Covers Public Post-Publication Peer Review, Altmetrics and other 21st century publishing topics.

Keynote speakers – features luminaries such as John P.A. Ioannidis, author of the OA PLOS Medicine article entitled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”, which has over a million views!

Themed lecture series – “Rethinking Medical Research – how do we achieve innovation” which will look at the opportunities and challenges that are presented to researchers and physicians including Open Access (OA) policies.

We’re kicking off our focus on Earlier Career Researchers at the ESC conference and just made this announcement of 7 ways to make science more open and interact with the literature, each other and further your career.

You can also join us and find us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn. Welcome to the next wave of OA publishing.

Give the pioneers a chance – OA and closing the reputational gap for young scientists.

The last time I attended a panel discussion on scholarly publishing, I realized that a significant part of the audience were Ph.D. students or post-docs. When one of the speakers talked about new opportunities in Open Access publishing, a very intensive discussion began. Almost all young scientists in the audience were excited and motivated by the principles and vision behind Open Access. They said they would like to change Continue reading “Give the pioneers a chance – OA and closing the reputational gap for young scientists.”  

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