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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Open Access isn't easy - let's talk about that

A li'l bit of mountain magic from the last few weeks
Greetings, blog readers! Somehow nearly 3 months have passed and here we are – the flowers of spring have blossomed earlier than ever, the winter darkness is lifting and I’m now to be found as a junior doctor on an acute oncology ward. My absence from my blog has been for very happy reasons of work craziness and life loveliness, but finally I've found a spare hour for me, Spotify and a birds eye view of the snowy wilderness of Canada en route to San Antonio, Texas.

Chaps, it's SPARC MORE time!
(Read: YAY! Conference on Open Access – Meeting on Openness in Research and Education)

It feels like two seconds since OpenCon2015 in Brussels – as inspiring an event as one could ever hope to attend.  I was lucky enough to be invited to speak on a panel about the work Fulbright have been doing to develop an open access policy, and that’s what I’ll be chattering about in San Antonio, Texas this week.  More than that, I’m hoping to hear how we can keep moving forward with all the exciting open access/data/education developments that are happening all over the world. 

…Because Open Access – well – it’s bloody hard.  There, I’ve said it.  I am totally team open access.  When I need to know the latest evidence on a certain disease or treatment, I want to know without having to struggle past pay walls.  When I’m planning experiments in my research area of cancer biology, I need to know what’s been tried and tested, or how to implement a particular method, without selling half my grant funding for the privilege.  When I have something to publish, I want to know that people won’t experience barriers in accessing the information I’ve generated (bearing in mind that I am yet to be anything other than essentially government funded for all of my exploits). 

But as a junior doctor, I don’t have funding to pay open access fees, and I’m not sure my study budget would make much indent in Article Processing Fees (APCs) even if I could use them for that purpose.  Even now that I’m starting to be first author for a couple of papers, I still need the support of people far more senior than I who have their own careers to worry about, and therefore have their own ideas about where we should publish (although I will say people are broadly supportive when I raise the issue).  It’s really quite intimidating to raise your hand and tell a bunch of co-authoring Consultants that actually you’d rather this paper be published openly.  It’s also scary when you realise you might know the most about open access amongst your authoring team, and even then feel like you know very little.  Pre-prints, post-prints, embargo periods, green, gold, repositories, APCs, licenses, copyright…. Yikes!! I barely know enough about how to write and publish a paper, let alone all of that! 

We are working in an imperfect system of Impact Factors, Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessments, annual appraisals (in my case, both clinical and academic) and research output hierarchy.  We’re rightly asked to think outside the box and lead the change in publication culture by leaders in the open access field, but when you’re at the bottom of a very, very long ladder, it’s quite a daunting ask.  As a doctor, I find myself faffing around my need to competently do things as diverse as chest drains, talk to patients about terminal cancer diagnoses and manage patients who become acutely unwell, whilst simultaneously doing cancer research and being at the forefront of a new culture and direction for cancer research publishing.  Something amongst all of this has got to be easy, right?!

But as I’ve said before – just because something is hard doesn’t mean we should run away.  Open access is important in every field (science, humanities, the arts) and I’ve learned a great deal more about the nuances of this in helping US-UK Fulbright to develop their policy.  As a doctor, I see it in every patient for whom we care. The vast majority of what we do in hospitals is derived from some kind of research study – everything from the drugs we use to the types of beds we have, the dressings we use to the methods by which we do any procedure.  I look into the eyes of patients for whom we’ve reached the end of the line in terms of treatment for their cancer and wonder what therapy is being developed right now that might one day treat the same patient? Why should such knowledge be hidden behind a pay wall, or the data protected by copyright laws?

If that can’t drive me forward, then nothing can; but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  This conference comes off the back of a rather intense few weeks at work – this junior doctor loves her job but working on an acute oncology ward of course comes as a package deal of giving something of yourself.  Perhaps that’s something that all things worth doing require?  

Check out the SPARC website and twitter (@karinpurshouse) to follow the latest news from the SPARC MORE conference.  Digestible potted highlights to follow!

1 comment:

  1. "I don’t have funding to pay open access fees(.)"

    Not all open access journals charge fees. Some are very modest - have you looked at PeerJ?

    I currently don't have any research grants, either, but I have still managed to find ways to publish a lot (though not all) of papers open access. Blog post here: