open access for who?

IMG_1090Beautiful Uppsala.

A lot has been written about the push for open access publishing in academia. In case you’re not familiar with it, it means publishing in journals where content is available, free of charge, online, to everyone. This is very different than the traditional journal model, where libraries pay exorbitant fees to publishers for access to the journals, and if you aren’t working through one of those libraries you will hit a paywall where access to a single article is likely to cost $30-45 if not more.

In a lot of ways I feel like I can’t add much: it’s a great idea, it helps science be more accessible, it often helps data be more accessible, it opens the conversation. It’s another high cost, borne to authors instead of to libraries. It’s confusing how the journals make all the money no matter what way we publish.

I fully support the idea of open access, and most of my papers so far have been published in open-access journals. That includes one, about climate change effects on a seemingly unassuming (but actually ecologically and reproductively fascinating) arctic/alpine cushion plant, Silene acaulis. That paper went on to be one of the most highly-accessed articles on the Springer’s catch-all open access journal, SpringerPlus. To date it has over 4,000 accesses, according to the article metrics. Would this have been more if it were published in a different journal? I have no idea, but it is much more popular than I had expected.

Based partly on this positive experience, my masters supervisor (Juha Alatalo) and I decided to publish in primarily open-access journals. (I did not make the same decision about my other work, and have a different manuscript based on my research in Davos submitted at a traditional journal.) Which brings me to the unique question I have: how do I pay for it?

In traditional journals, there might not be a fee to get a manuscript published. There might be, but more likely (at least in the better journals) there is a fee for color figure printing, or perhaps a per-page fee. In open access, that goes out the window. Because journals can’t charge libraries fees to access these manuscripts, instead they charge the authors. Fees usually run greater than $1000, sometimes up to $3000.

Some departments and lab groups work this into their budgets. Some researchers also include a category on their grant applications to cover publication fees. However, some funding agencies also explicitly do not pay for publication fees. If you are a researcher in between grants, money might be tight. Or, like me, you might be a graduate student working to publish your first first-authored paper. It would take more than a month’s worth of my masters scholarship payment just to pay the open access fees. And, like me, you might work in a small lab group that does not have additional funding to easily cover these sorts of things.

I looked around and found that many universities (not all, but a chunk of the R1 schools in the U.S.) have special funds to cover open-access publishing. Just via google, here are a few examples: Harvard; University of Calgary; Cornell; University of Arizona.

The University of Heidelberg in Germany has a funny way of describing the rationale for their fund: “Heidelberg University supports researchers who are willing to publish articles in open access journals with a publishing fund to cover article processing charges.” Are willing. As if it’s some burden.

PLoS One even has a list of universities which have funds to cover PLoS (a journal consortium which stands for Public Library of Science) publishing. That’s really nice on first read, but then you think about it more and it seems less “open”: the publishing house itself is referring people to ways to convince third parties to pay the publishing house.

It also, and I am being petty and jealous here, makes it much easier for some researchers to publish in open access journals than others. The university where I did my masters, Uppsala University in Sweden, does not have such a fund. During the time when I wrote the paper I am seeking to publish, I was supported only by a small scholarship from my masters program. I received no funding from my supervisor or his lab. It’s not like I have leftover grant money with which I can pay publication fees.

Being in Sweden, home of Pirate Bay and the Pirate Party, Uppsala of course loves the idea of making science publicly available. Sweden has a program, OpenAccess.se, which promotes open access. Trolling through the Uppsala library archives, I am unable to find any evidence of funding to cover open access fees, but I did find a powerpoint presentation which stated, awkwardly, that there was at the moment no available funding to cover these expenses even though they really would like researchers to publish open-access.

Instead, Uppsala has a database called DiVA, which they call an open-access repository. This type of “repository” is listed as one of the main goals of OpenAccess.se. Up until recently, students were required to submit their theses to DiVA, so that they could be read by all; departments then realized that actually, if a student tried to then publish some part of that thesis, the journals might balk since it had already actually been published. When I finished my masters, we were first told to submit our theses, and then told not to because the university had to sort out some legal issues.

There are also published articles in DiVA, and researchers are encouraged to upload their work which is published in journals. There are a few problems with this: copyright on journal articles is complex, and you aren’t necessarily allowed to “make” an article open access by posting it online. The journal owns the copyright, even if you own the data. As such, there are not so many full-text articles in DiVA. If I do a keyword search for the major ecological concept I am studying in my PhD, dendritic networks, nothing comes up. If I search for “dendritic”, I get some clinical medicine articles.

And DiVA is Uppsala’s crowning library achievement, in some sense. It is heavily promoted within the university, and touted as their contribution to open access.

(It also has other functions. “All publications by researchers and staff at Uppsala University should be registered in DiVA,” the FAQ reads. “The reason for this is to produce a complete picture of what is being published by staff at the university. In addition departments can use this information to facilitate the evaluation and distribution of funds.” There are many records of publications which do not have the actual full-text articles attached to them.)

It’s pretty clear that while DiVA might be useful for many applications, it is not the same thing as an open-access journal. And if you want your work to be accessed by all, Uppsala – consistently ranked in the top 100 universities in the world, and the second-best in Sweden – is not going to help you.

Here’s another example of how I’m stuck: the Ecological Society of America, which publishes multiple highly-regarded journals, waives page fees (for the first 15 pages per year, at least) for members who lack grant money, for its flagship publications Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs. For their open-access journal Ecosphere, members get a reduced price for publication: $1250 instead of $1500. There are no grant funds available to further cover costs for researchers who lack grant money.

And so, I’d like to ask: open access publishing is frequently discussed in very idealistic terms, with lofty goals for the future. But is it so egalitarian? If you lack funding, for instance if you are early in your career – not coincidentally the point where open access to your work might be extremely beneficial – there seems to be a clear message: open access is not for you. Finding a broader audience for your publication might be unattainable, as is your hope of sharing knowledge with all.

Advertisements

springtime of my sverige.

DSCN0932

In less than a week I’ll be competing in another big ski marathon. I know, I know. After the Vasaloppet, you really want to do this again, Chelsea? Well yes, I do. It’s the Birkebeiner. I’ve been excited abut the Birken for…. years. This year is no exception. I’m ready – to do whatever is possible for my body on that day, to participate, to have a great time. I know that it can’t possibly take 7 hours, since it’s only just over 50 k. So that right there means I will have significantly more fun.

But I digress – I’m going to be competing in a ski marathon. It feels surreal: these days in Uppsala have been warm and sunny. Spring came weeks ago and is not going anywhere. Winter is a distant memory.

And so in the midst of a long run I found myself standing in this magical clearing asking: where did the snow go? What did you do with it, Sweden? Which god have we offended and what can I sacrifice to appease him, or her? I’ll do it.

Don’t get me wrong, spring is lovely. It has been painful to work sitting at my desk all day, looking out the window at the sun that washes over everything and wishing that it could wash over me. I’ve been sneaking in a run here, a bounding session there, as I try to stay somewhat fit for the Birken.

Today I finally had time for a big run, and hit up my favorite place in Uppsala, Hågadalen. Just to get there, I had to make my way on a bike/pedestrian path full of happy people who were thrilled to be out in the spring weather. It was 50 degrees F and everyone was still bundled up, as if they were excited for spring but just weren’t quite sure whether they could trust it or not.

DSCN0910

DSCN0912

DSCN0911

And then, finally, I was in Håga, navigating my way through the puddles and over the rocks. I adore trail running, adore adore it. There’s something spiritual about being out there in the quiet, absorbing the peace all around you, but also focused so acutely on the little details of the treacherous ground. And yet you can’t be focused too hard. The best thing about trail running is that you achieve a sort of trance state, where you are noticing the bumps and potential trip-ups almost through your peripheral vision and your stride automagically adjusts to take them in. You’re looking, but you’re not looking. It goes deep.

For me the singletrack of Håga is almost like a cathedral, a place which distills and amplifies all those little things about trail running. The quiet is so quiet – you are surrounded my mosses and lichens which soak up the sound in their softness. And the trail is so nimble and twisty. It’s muddy and rocky and rooty and sometimes the best way is to just head off through the heather. I never come back without a scratch as a souvenir.

DSCN0917

DSCN0919

DSCN0927

And so I was happy, so happy, to be out running in Hågadalen for the first time this year. I had this sense that I belonged. It was magical, especially as I headed toward Rödmossen, where that top photo was taken. Even within Håga, which I already love, Rödmossen is one of my very most favorite places. It seems almost mystical with all that moss and lichen, a spongy sort of forest that can absorb anything. Maybe it would just soak you right up into it. I follow trail signs but always have this nagging sense that the forest has a will of its own, that it’s its own being with wishes and plans. What if there’s something out there switching the signs around? The boggy, fenny, rocky forest would make the perfect labyrinth. I can imagine twisting and turning your way through, stuck forever not knowing which direction you were going. I always think that this area would be a fantastical place for a fairy tale, and indeed these landscapes must have inspired Norse mythology.

These slightly foreboding feelings are seldom at the front of my mind, though. The forest is a happy place. And today it was a happy day, the sun seeping through the trees and me and the forest just enjoying springtime together. And yet – I didn’t belong there. It’s early March! It’s not time for this. No, it is time for skiing. I have had a few snowless late winters in my life – Eugene, Oregon; Montpellier, France – but this is something on a whole new level. It has been spring for weeks and going to Norway will be like a culture shock: white? snow? Spring is lovely, but this was not what I was expecting from Sweden.

It’s the hand I’ve been dealt, though, so I might as well go about enjoying it. Starting in Hågadalen.

DSCN0934

quick trip to visby.

I have been meaning to write something about my last day in Ruhpolding, as it was lovely… not sure if I’ll ever get around to it. Life is busy! I moved to Uppsala successfully and am living in a beautiful flat with my friends Marta and Johanna. It’s so great to be back in Sweden. On Thursday I competed in the district championship relay team with my little club here, Uppsala Vasaloppsklub. Our team was: Christina, who could be in the 35+ age division but we didn’t have any other women interested in racing, so she competed in the 17+ division with us – she’s good; Karin, who is also good but is also quite pregnant!; and me, anchoring. They classic skied, I skated. It was the first time that UVK ever had a women’s relay team so we were really really excited just to be there competing. We finished third! The race was at night which is always fun as you feel like you’re really zooming along when it’s dark out, just flitting between the lights on the trail.

1425555_777258778970486_1273320277_n

Photo by Jon Orvendal who was sick and couldn’t race, so he came to watch and was SO frustrated not to be skiing. I really had so much fun being back with my skiing friends!

Anyway, besides that, I made a quick trip to Gotland, a large Swedish island in the Baltic. My supervisor lives and works there on a separate campus of Uppsala University, so I was there for two days. It was quite productive as we finished one manuscript which is getting ready for submission, and started working with the dataset for the next two papers. Also I got to see some of the city, which is a really cool old place. The city walls are from the 1200s and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As my supervisor lives there, you’ll hear much more about my future trips to Visby as well. It’s just a 45 minutes flight from Stockholm or you can take a ferry. Based on my first visit, a highly recommended destination!

Click photos to enlarge.

last days.

minya

Another stolen photo from Min Ya.

Today I move out of my dormitory, into a hotel for a night, and then – hopefully – out of Sweden. (I am still having visa problems so maybe not, but that’s another story.) I can’t believe it has been five months – what? How is my time here already coming to an end? I don’t want to leave. A classmate who is already in Montpellier, France, where I’m headed, posted on facebook that it was “22 degrees, get excited!” and I was not excited at all. It’s January. I don’t want winter to be over.

Last week we had a fun winter school at the Erken Laboratory, a limnology field station owned by the university. Aside from a presentation from the director of the lab, we didn’t do any limnology; instead, all of us MEME first-years gave presentations on a general theme of “evolution in a world of human-induced change.” I talked about the evolutionary consequences of overfishing and overharvesting, speaking quite a bit about cod, which I hoped would make my uncle Todd proud. In all, the presentations were really great – it was impressive for a student-organized symposium that people put so much work into things. I think none of us wanted to embarrass ourselves in front of our current or future classmates.

We also brought in several speakers from Uppsala and other universities, who gave great presentations about their research and offered to take in anyone who was interested in doing a project with them. So that was cool.

But mostly, we enjoyed the scene – the lab is on a huge lake, 25 square kilometers, and surrounded by some forest and a lot of farmland. We stayed in the “manor house” that had been donated to the University in the 1920’s to start the field station, and it was quite cushy compared to other field stations I have visited! We had a huge kitchen, some sitting rooms, board games to play… and the beautiful outdoors to explore. Every morning and afternoon walking back from the lecture hall we would have these views, like in Min Ya’s picture. Half of the students are currently at Groningen University in the Netherlands, and we hosts were excited that we could show them the real Sweden. The lab even has a sauna, so we could teach them the ways of heat and steam.

I managed to ski most days, not on trails but just tromping around in the fields or on the snow-covered lake. One day I saw a pack of wild hogs running along the treeline of a hayfield. It took a few looks to realize what they were.

So that was lovely, and it was nice to see our friends from Groningen, who we hadn’t seen since summer school if at all – a few I had never met. Of course, they were awesome. I miss them already. We’ve made a vow that our cohort will stick together, no matter where in the world we happen to land.

Just before winter school, I jumped in a ski race – a local one, but a 40 k seeding race for the Vasaloppet, the biggest marathon in the world. There were hundreds of people and it was a delightful shitshow of sharp corners and disappearing tracks at the start. I spent the whole race passing people and was shocked to end up third! I even won some Swedish money and a new ski bag, which unfortunately I didn’t need so I passed it off to a friend in my ski club.

loppet

It’s hard to sum up my time here in Uppsala – I will remember it forever. And I am completely certain that I will ome back next spring to do my final project here, because I love it. I love the town, the city, the university. The department where we work is amazing and everyone is very friendly; they are nice to graduate students, respect graduate students, and have enough money that they are always offering to help you do a project in their lab. I’ve never seen such a great research and learning environment before, and it’s certainly something to aspire to.

But I’m also going to miss my friends! Half of our coursemates were regular masters students here, so they will be sticking around when we leave. I feel bad abandoning them because they have been so fun; it will be really special to come back and finish my degree with them. I’ll also miss the ski club, a lot. It has a unique feel to it with all adults and skiers of all levels just getting together to go train, have fun, and learn from each other. I think it’s a great model and not one that is so common. Of all the people in my program, I’m the only one that did any sort of activity outside of school and I’m so happy that I did; these new ski friends are amazing and welcomed me with open arms. My classmates didn’t make many Swedish friends or learn much about Sweden; I did. Lucky me.

So, til next year, Sweden! I’ll think of you often, as I’m melting on the Mediterranean.

loppet2

How to be a Viking.

My life has taken some unusual turns right now. I’m writing this on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, where I will see my dad’s entire family for the first time, ever – the last time we had a complete family reunion, my cousin Pablo wasn’t even born yet. Despite the joy that it will bring me to see my family, some of whom I am ashamed to admit I haven’t seen in years, it’s not a happy occasion. But more on that later.

Despite the turmoil over my grandmother’s illness that seemed to make me permanently melancholy over the last ten days, some thing don’t change. I have great friends here and I like to get out and do things. Last week my friend Reto, who is doing an exchange semester from Switzerland where he is working on his bachelor’s degree in Bern, gathered us on the roof of our dorm for grilled sausages and beer. It was a lovely evening.

“There’s a reason why I invited all of you here tonight,” said Reto, or at least something like that.

We were surprised: we thought this was just a party on the roof, not an occasion.

“I saw a poster for something called the Extreme Viking Challenge, and I thought maybe you would want to make a team for it.”

Before he even described what the event was, I knew I was in. Some of my other classmates were less sure. But after he described the six-kilometer course through the woods that included obstacles and climbing walls, and told us that if we could complete it we would become true Vikings and earn a place in Valhalla, everyone said that they would at least come watch those of us who were foolhardy enough to attempt the race.

I checked the weather no Friday night: rain in the forecast for race day. Given that organizers had already promised plenty of mud, I tried to psych myself up and think about what I could wear that would be the least miserable in the conditions. The next morning we took a bus to a random stop in the middle of some farm fields and walked down a dirt road in search of the race, following intermittent signs scattered among the barns, tractors, and a sawmill.

By the time we got to the venue – actually a paintball range, complete with mazes of bunkers, towers, and a gutted schoolbus – we were already wet and cold. The organizers offered us camoflage onesies in case we didn’t want to get our clothes muddy, but I couldn’t imagine being weighed down by a full-body cotton suit, so I turned it down.

When race start rolled around we walked into the woods, slipping even without trying to run. I was cautious as we finally took off down the road, but still somehow was in the lead even though I was jogging; I guess everyone else was even more worried than I was about both the mud and the upcoming obstacles. In short order we hung a sharp left over a ditch into the woods, and the fun began. First, crawling up a web of tires hung over a huge boulder face.

A man in a bright pink shirt scrambled up them faster than I did, and as we set off into the woods I tried to match his pace. He was nimble jumping over downed limbs and avoiding branches that seemed to conveniently hang just at face-level; it was easier for me to follow him. The course was marked by one or two lines of surveyor’s tape strung along between trees and stakes in the ground, which sometimes stopped or changed direction abruptly. While the man in pink had to follow the route, I could just follow his very bright shirt.

After mucking around in the woods we came out in a large cornfield, where I was able to catch up but we were weighed down by the mud that stuck to our shoes in larger and larger clumps – it was like wearing snowshoes. On the other side we tried to kock the mud off, only semi-successfully. After some more fun in the woods we were again in a field, and this time we had to sling a log over our shoulders and run out around a rock in the middle and back again.

I wasn’t cold anymore: I was having a blast.

The rest of the course was just as advertised. One section was a real swamp, with water that came up to my knees. Somehow, the man in pink manage to power through and keep running. The grass was so knotted that it tripped me up, and there was a lot of deadfall that I had to climb over – I was afraid I wasn’t nimble enough to jump without knowing how deep the water was on the other side. In a few places, I was worried that my shoes would be sucked off by the mud.

The obstacles were much more fun. Besides a few walls, there were also large barricades made of logs stacked one on top of another; fun to climb over. At one point we came back into one of the original fields and snaked back and forth over a series of obstacles. Logs one after another as a long line of balance beams running the length of a ditch; nets to crawl under, ensuring that we get intimate with the mud; running through tires; throwing ourselves up, onto, and over a collection of concrete retaining walls. One was high enough that I didn’t make it on my last attempt.

When we re-entered the woods there was more. Nets to climb up and over, wires to traverse, monkey pars (slippery in the rain!) to swing across, more pathfinding through the forest, and finally, a rope swing across a small “pond” (or really more like a giant, muddy, intentional puddle). The rope was so slippery that I fell off halfway across. And then: I popped out back on the road and slid my way to the finish. I had never caught the man in pink, later revealed to be a serious mountain biker, after he left me in the swamp, but I was the second person to finish and I was quite happy.

That gave me the chance to go back and watch a few of my friends as they made their way through the zig-zag field. I cheered especially hard for Katie, who is a tiny, tiny English girl and was at a distinct disadvantage for all of the height-related obstacles. I actually helped her over a couple of the taller concrete walls.

The sense of accomplishment we felt was very real: Katie and Daniel, in particular, I don’t think had ever done anything like this. It wasn’t just something that was fun for me to do, the crazy girl who goes running and rollerskiing and exercises more than the other masters students think is comprehensible, but it was fun for all of us. And it was fun to do together. I think it brought us together.

Reto, whose idea this was in the first place, enjoyed the course so much that he went out and did it a second time. After we changed into dry clothes, we sat around waiting for him, eating snacks. The organizers also ran the paintball range and offered us the chance to play, but we decided to take a rain check (literally) and come back on a sunny day – the longer I sat waiting for Reto, the colder I became. The warmth I felt while I was racing was replaced by all-consuming daydreams about a hot shower.

Just before we left, I was offered my prize for being the first woman across the line: a swig of fine Viking cognac. Contrary to belief, the bottle was already half-empty when I poured myself a glass! Not bad for a rainy Saturday, and it sure beat sitting in my room being glum about the weather.