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How Professional Development is Tied to Our Ability to Serve Researchers

24th September 2015
By Phill Jones
Image: Gerd Altman
Image: Gerd Altman

Last week I was in DC again, having volunteered to organize and moderate an educational seminar on career development, called ‘A day in the Life of a Scholarly Publisher – Tasks, Issues, Career Options’. I wanted to do this particular seminar because I see education and career development as key to the future of the scholarly communication industry.

A few months ago, I wrote a post calling for greater collaboration between professional societies in the areas of career development, mentoring and training. Earlier this month, Martyn Lawrence, Publisher at Emerald Publishing Group wrote a blog post reporting on a panel at London Book Fair that was chaired by David Thew of Thew and Company. While discussing the relative merits of a degree in publishing, Martyn observes that very few publishers actually have one, and further, many of us essentially stumbled into this rather unusual career path.

I’m certainly one of those people who didn’t set out to work in the publishing industry but found myself here as a result of trying to find a job that could enable me to make a tangible difference to the progress of science. Ironically enough, when I was an actual scientist, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to make an impactful contribution from inside science. Instead, I decided I needed to work on projects changing the way science is communicated, expanding the types of contributions that are valued.

When I first entered publishing, like many scientists, I knew little about how publishing actually works. For instance, relationships between society and commercial publishers were a mystery to me – I certainly didn’t know what an aggregator was. Looking back, I could have done with more training and access to information early on.

One thing that concerns me is that the lack of understanding between publishers and researchers goes both ways. In fact, there seems to me to be a general lack of understanding between the stakeholders and contributors to scholarly communication generally. Researchers, publishers, funders, librarians, research administrators, vendors etc have a tendency to exist in their own worlds. We are trying to achieve the same general goal of accelerating the advancement of human knowledge by improving the way in which information is discovered and exchanged, but we often have such different world views that we don’t understand each other’s behavior.

On the positive side, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who sees this as an opportunity to improve how things are done. A few days ago Alice Meadows of ORCID wrote a great piece in Scholarly Kitchen reporting on her experiences at the VIVO conference in Cambridge, MA. VIVO, for those who don’t know, is a researcher profile system that was originally funded by the NIH.  Meadows notes that very few publishers attended the VIVO conference and makes an excellent case as to why more should. I recommend giving it a read.

Generally, I’m seeing more and more researchers invited to speak at publisher conferences. As I reported last week, the ALPSP international conference had some great sessions around this idea. One session featured an actual early career researcher, Kirsty Edgar from the University of Bristol. Another session reported the findings of projects to better understand how customers interact with information products and services and as an example, the work by Sage in the area of user experience is tremendous.

While we’re expanding the conversation, let’s keep going. I’ve previously advocated that publishers take a closer look at library publishers and repository managers. Why? Their close relationships with the academic community they serve yields great insights into what researchers value. There’s increasingly interest in what funders are up to. Without listing too many examples, at the London Book Fair last year there was a great panel titled, ‘Where does all the money go?’, chaired by Toby Green of OECD and explored how funders assign money based on research assessment. Next month, I’ll be hosting a webinar for SSP on a similar topic examining the way funder mandates are affecting research assessment paradigms and how that in turn affects the needs of researchers. I’d encourage everybody to look out for that sort of content at conferences and seminars.

The need to improve career development and education in publishing is at least two-fold. On the one hand, we must make our industry more accessible to people coming into it from the outside, to help them get oriented and teach them the skills they need. That was the main goal of last week’s seminar in DC. On the other hand, whether we’re publishers, librarians, funders, or technologists, we must all make an effort to continue to educate ourselves about the evolving needs of researchers, as well as each other’s perspectives. The more we know about each other’s needs, desires, concerns and fears, the more value we can all add to research and its communication.

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