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The next generation of researchers will care less about status and more about relevance

“The next generation of researchers will care less about status and more about relevance”
Name: Prof Frode Eika Sandnes
Position: Full Professor of Computer Science
Expertise: Human computer interaction, Universal Design, Welfare technology
Institution: Oslo and Akershus University College, Faculty of Technology, Art and Design, Department of Computer Science
Country: Norway
ORCID ID: 0000-0001-7781-748X

An interview with Prof Frode Eika Sandnes on 23 November 2015

Why the interest in Open Access (OA)?

Open Access is not a goal in itself; it is a means to an end when I need it.

I am not an Open Access activist per se. Nevertheless, I think there are good reasons to strive for Open Access. It is not the financial argument related to scientific publishing that concerns me most; it is that Open Access allows you 1) to reach more people and 2) it is convenient. We see that young up-and-coming researchers do not use the specialist databases that I was trained to use when I was a research student; they use larger, more generic search engines instead. In my opinion, if your work is not accessible via such systems, and if your full-text article is not one click away and immediately accessible, your work will be ignored. Moreover, today’s new researchers communicate differently due to social media, e.g. some send tweets such as “Have you seen this?” with a direct link to a full text article. Therefore, if you want your research to be relevant and to be used and cited, you need to be easily found: Open Access! The days of inter-library loan via mail are numbered.

“With Open Access, we hope to speed up the process of making our high-quality research more visible.”

From an institutional management/leader’s perspective, Open Access is really important. Over the last decade, my institution has transformed itself from a purely educational institution into one that conducts more research. By engaging with Open Access, we hope to speed up the process of making our high-quality research more visible around the world and thereby improving our research reputation. Through such increased access to our scholars and their work, opportunities can arise where our researchers are invited to conferences as keynote speakers or to join projects, where we attract more strong students and even Master or Ph.D. students from around the world who want to work with our research groups. Open Access stimulates new forms of collaboration regardless of the type of organisation we are – whether we are a university or university college.

How are you spreading the OA message?

As a leader, I promote OA in my capacity as a pro-rector, whenever appropriate, be this in meetings or in blog posts. As a professor, I promote OA in my interaction with my colleagues and students. For example, I am also a member of two research groups, and we try to discuss what, how and where to publish. Research group members present their publishing plans to one another and, instead of making publishing decisions in isolation as in former times, we work together, share knowledge and share advice on where to publish and why. I also discuss publishing strategies with both my Ph.D. students and Master students. We consider Open Access channels, and sometimes discard the idea of OA, but OA is an option up for discussion.

What other OA activities are you involved in?

I have been involved in some editorial work in some start-up Open Access journals. My experiences so far have been mixed with challenges in quality management and commitment. When I organise conferences, I prefer and promote Open Access proceedings, and many other scholars share my view. For example, Elsevier has a new conference paper series, Procedia Computer Science, and this is a step in the right direction. There is a business model for this, and it has some limitations.

In 2011, as rector for research and internationalisation, I also actively supported the development of the Open Access policy and mandate for Oslo and Akershus University College (HIOA).

What are the current challenges with OA?

I think the main challenge for Open Access is that its reputation is not yet well established as a reliable publishing model, with some fearing predatory publishers.

In addition, if you look at the typical life cycle of a researcher: a young researcher is first and foremost focussed on passing his/her Ph.D., then getting an academic position, getting tenure and finally becoming a full professor. Publishing in the strategically best journals is of utmost importance for better chances of professorship. This is a clear challenge for the early career researcher. I have reached the top of the academic ladder in Norway, which means that I no longer have much to prove. I am freer to experiment with the publication channels I choose. However, I have to admit that I tend to save my strongest ideas for the best journals; I’m a bit conservative in this way, so I should probably submit more of my better work to Open Access journals.
At the moment, I am doing some exciting work with researchers from different countries and disciplines, and we are discussing where to publish. One of them has suggested that we attempt to publish with PLOS ONE. This is unknown territory for me, but up for consideration.

What is your key hope or vision for more OA to research?

We still have a long way to go. I would like to see many more high-calibre Open Access channels that cover a diverse set of disciplines. Currently, some still consider publishing in an Open Access journal somewhat stigmatising. Open Access is still regarded by many as second rate compared to the strong, traditional subscription journals we know well. Reputation affects where researchers choose to publish – researchers publish where other high-status researchers publish. I believe that this will change with the upcoming generation of researchers as they care less about status and hopefully more about relevance. People are talking about alternative publishing models and Open Access is helping drive this transformation. However, this might take 10, 20 or even 30 years.

In addition, if more researchers were to publish their top work in Open Access journals, the impact of these journals would improve, which is an issue for some currently. Research is often evaluated by using the h-index, which though simple, is not perfect or always relevant. This is also true for the science citation index and journal impact factor where indices are limited to certain journals and subject areas, and built on expensive subscription services such as Web of Science. Moreover, Google has made the h-index accessible to everyone, and Google indexes more scientific output nowadays. In my opinion, our goal should perhaps be to stop Thomson Reuters in their efforts here. That would probably be good for both academia and mankind.

“Many of us are suspicious of the power of closed (old boy) networks.”

Open Access journals also need to ensure a high-quality reviewing process. Some Open Access journals are experimenting with new quality assurance models such as open peer review, which is exciting, as I believe that such openness and transparency will contribute to the quality of research. Many of us are suspicious of the power of closed (old boy) networks, publishing cartels and citation cartels. If you know the people running journals – even the prestigious ones – it is easier to get published in exchange for favours. With a more transparent peer review system, everything is open for scrutiny, including the work of reviewers and the editorial boards. This has the potential to increase the quality of the current peer review system.

What essential advice do you have for other champions?

I believe that research institution managers can raise their organisation’s reputation by promoting Open Access publishing. The more accessible Open Access output there is, the greater the visibility of our research. We need to keep up the good work, and we need to work together more to change the reputation of Open Access publications.

“We need to work together more to change the reputation of Open Access publications.”

So “Can we submit more of our better work for Open Access publication?” Perhaps I need to heed this advice myself. To conclude, we need to get more high-profile researchers involved in Open Access to help raise the reputation of Open Access: so more champions to spread the word.


Copyright: Tanja Strøm, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. Creative Commons CC-BY Licence.

Tags: OA journals, OA mandates, OA policy, OA policy development, Open Access, PLOS ONE, SCI, accessibility, advocacy, blogging, business models, citation, collaboration, commercial publishers, commercial publishing, convenience, discourse, editorial work, fear, h-index, ideas, impact, open peer review, openness, outreach, peer review, predatory publishers, proceedings, publishing strategy, quality, relevance, reputation, research assessment, research evaluation, scholarly communication, sharing, subscriptions, tenure, traditional publishers, traditional publishing, transparency, visibility, workflows

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