I left my scarf in the cafeteria at the US Senate on Capitol Hill.
Well, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
It was not the only surprising and overwhelming thing that happened at OpenCon2014, an open access conference for early career types like me.
Appreciating that readers of my blog are a mixed audience (seriously, message me, because I would love to know who you are!), open access is all about making research openly available. It is the strangest thing that research which is publicly funded is then submitted to a journal, whereupon it is peer reviewed for free by fellow scientists (for no reward, professional or otherwise), and somehow it gets spat out the other end with a price tag. And a hefty one at that. Of course there are some editing costs. But when even Harvard University is struggling to pay for the rising cost of journal subscription, it’s a clue that something is wrong. You can read about Open Access on some of my other blog posts.
|Co-founder of PLoS, Patrick Brown|
OpenCon2014 was an international meeting of 175 students and early career researchers from over 40 countries in Washington DC. Over the weekend we heard some of the most compelling and diverse arguments in favour of Open Access, Open Data and Open Education from equally compelling and diverse speakers. Highlights for me were Patrick Brown, Co-founder of PLoS (Public Library of Science, now probably the biggest completely open access journal) describing how he set up PLoS despite having no experience of publishing. Peter Murray-Rust described the potential of text and content-mining to actually maximize the potential of existing research. And finally, one of the most affecting talks for me personally was by Erin McKiernan talking about what we can do as early career researchers (she is herself one). We spent Monday on Capitol Hill meeting relevant political figures in the Senate. Wow. Directly lobbying HELP committee members. Awesome. In the afternoon a group of us went to the National Institutes of Health (NIH – who fund most publicly-funded American research) to discuss ‘openness’.
I could go on about how amazing this weekend has been, how inspired I feel, how excited I am about the projects and plans we have for the coming year.
But I am also scared. For one thing, I realised the extent to which I know nothing about data management and access. Yes, I am part of the ‘digital, internet generation’, and have no computer phobias. But that does not mean I’m an expert. My experience of software is pretty much limited to Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDFs. I have never worked on ‘code’. Managing data is something I find incredibly challenging. Organising my data so someone else can use it later on – well, where does one start?
In addition, I am not so much an early career researcher as an embryonic one. I can still count the number of publications I have on my hands. And most of the time I am the middle-ish author. How does one leverage preference over an open access journal when often these decisions are made when I’ve already moved on geographically, and when I’m authorship small-fry? And when any publication at all is a requirement on a job application?
These are not meant to be excuses, and I have considered how I’m going to tackle all of these (a MOOC on data management, contacting my librarian at Yale and asking for help from OpenCon peeps re the former, and initiating early conversations and just being bold on the email front re the latter), but it just reflects some of the challenges facing baby researchers like me. And if we’re the keen ones, for whom Open Access is a clear ‘Yes’, then I can understand how it seems too great a mountain to climb for less interested peers.
I guess the key is to keep the fear in check and just power on with the support of my fellow open accessers, and continue to spread the word. I really believe that open access and open data is the only way forward, and not only that, it’s better than the current status quo. I want my research to be useful to anyone who wants to read and use it, and not just those who can afford to do so.
But despite any façade or game face, I am somewhat daunted. So if anyone wants to help me on the journey, I’d be glad for the company.
(Also if anyone finds my scarf, it’s actually the only one I brought to the USA from home and it was one of my favourites. My neck is henceforth very cold. It is forest green with burnt orange flowers bought originally in Dublin. If found, message me. Kind regards, KRP.)