EGU Blogs


The future of scientific publishing

Last night, the Society of Spanish Researchers in the UK, SRUK, hosted an event discussing the past, present and future of scientific publishing (event details). One thing that was nice about this discussion, compared to previous ones I’ve attended in London, was the number of practising academics in the room. Often, academics are excluded from the discussions about scholarly publishing, which is a bit odd when you know, they’re the ones who actually need the services that publishers etc. provide.

Anyway, what did we all discuss?

Three great and varied speakers formed our menu tonight. For starters, we had Cameron Neylon, ex-scientista, and now the Advocacy Director for the megajournal PLOS. The main course consisted of Eva Amsen, also an ex-scientist, current epic science communicator and Outreach Manager for F1000Research. Dessert was the experimental Prof. Juan Aréchega, Professor of Cellular Biology at the University of Basque County, Spain, and Editor for the International Journal of Developmental Biology (note: not a predatory journal). I’ll try and summarise some of their key points.

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It’s beyond time we ditched the impact factor

“I am sick of impact factors and so is science.”

Stephen Curry said it best back in 2012. The impact factor is just one of the many banes of academia, from it’s complete misuse to being falsely inflated by publishers.

I want to draw attention to a new article  that addresses the causes behind this ‘impact factor mania’ that academia has.

The article is quite right to place the blame firmly in the hands of academics. It’s our fault that the impact factor is still misused. No-one else. Almost every academic knows why the impact factor is flawed, but still we use it over and over to assess the quality of a person or an article. It’s irrationality in its most blatant form, and you’d think academics would be smart enough to stop using it. But for some reason, we, as a collective, aren’t.

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I need your clothes, your boots, and your copyright.

1456588_10151852838033299_832432892_nJames Lewis is a PhD student at Imperial College London in the field of Planetary Geochemistry. When not blowing up gas cylinders, or hunting for jarosite, he can be found wandering the streets of London as an amateur photographer. James also suffers from Thesisitis, a common condition among third-year PhD students. He can be found on Twitter as @jmtlewis.

When I was applying for PhD projects two and a half years ago I found it slightly frustrating that no one could give me a definitive description of what a PhD is like.  There was no single answer as to what the challenges would be or the timescale at which practical work and writing up would play out or what was expected of me. Now that I’ve just become a third year student I’ve come to realise that there’s a reason for this. A PhD project has so many variables: the nature of your supervisor; the department; lab work; field work; modelling, and so on. New postgraduate research students can’t be given a rigid road map for their entire project because generally in the space of a few weeks or months things will change so much that the original plans will be almost meaningless. If you’re just starting out with your project don’t let this scare you but embrace the fluidity of academic research. While it’s important not to stray too far from your core project aims some of the most interesting and publishable work comes about when people explore why something didn’t work or following up an unanswered question identified through reviewing the literature.

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Why and how Master’s students should publish their research

This is an updated post from one I published a while back on my old blog at: – as I’ve developed as a scientist, I thought it would be good to share these thoughts in the emergence of new information and experiences. The comments on the older post are worth a quick read.

In the UK, many if not most Master’s students do not publish their postgraduate research. I’ve been informed by several people that in US-based institutions, Master’s students are continuously encouraged to publish their material by their supervisors and institutions.

Two years ago, I undertook an MSc at the Natural History Museum in London. One of the requirements, as with most postgraduate courses, was to undertake a research-based thesis. Out of the 21 students, so far only a single person (Roland Sookias) has had their research published. I have been informed that from at least the previous two years, this is pretty much the normal rate of publication! In fact, during the entire year I studied there, not a single supervisor/lecturer even mentioned formal publication or how to even approach manuscript preparation. This is an essential skill that all students should be taught really, and at least in my academic experience has been mysteriously neglected, by both students and their respective supervisors and lecturers it seems. This is especially the case, I feel, for Master’s students who wish to progress in academia, particularly through PhD research. Papers are academic currency, and the sooner you start accumulating wealth, the better.

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