Dr. Meredith Niles speaks at Dartmouth about “open” as an asset

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Dr. Meredith Niles, Assistant Professor, University of Vermont

We were thrilled this week to host Dr. Meredith Niles, Assistant Professor in Nutrition and Food Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Vermont for her presentation titled, Using Open as an Asset: Opportunities to Broaden Your Impact. Meredith’s talk centered on her journey toward becoming an “open scientist” and her perspective on how publishing openly has forwarded her work and supported her career goals. Meredith values the importance of engaging in conversations and work that support openly available research, and her talk sparked a lively conversations with participants representing varied experience with and knowledge about open access issues.

Meredith currently engages in the open access landscape through her research, publication, and participation open access events, and it was interesting to learn that her awareness of open access as an important initiative began early on during her time as a student where she discovered that the results of her research would be important to local farmers. As she published that research in subscription journals, Meredith realized that this information would be important to the local agricultural community, but it would be inaccessible to them behind high subscription and article fees. To Meredith, this represented a severe disconnect.

After the completion of her PhD and post-doctoral work, Meredith went on to Washington, D.C. where she worked in the non-profit sector. In this role, Meredith found herself on the other side of the gated fence and unable to access key, but expensive, articles needed to inform policy. Since then, it has become clear to Meredith the importance of  publishing her research in open access journals. This is a challenging perspective to maintain within a profession where researchers often feel bound by the tenure and promotion process. Disciplinary perspectives on journals with long-standing, powerful, and respected reputations still play a major role in where researchers decide to publish, and these are often the journals that live behind expensive subscription walls. But, the tides are shifting in this arena. Researchers and the institutions that grant promotion and tenure are becoming aware that like subscription journals, open access journals are peer-reviewed, and respected across disciplines. True…like any other product, some are of better quality than others, but there are many resources available help determine which is which (e.g., the Directory of Open Access Journals). Meredith spoke to the importance of challenging colleagues locally, nationally, and internationally to let go of the myth that publishing openly will negatively impact their career trajectories, and she provided us with examples of how it has broadened the impact of her work by reaching new audiences. Meredith has clearly made significant strides to become a strong voice for the importance of open access at her home institution and beyond.

OpenCon2016_SignUpForUpdatesOne of the ways that Meredith engages in this conversation beyond UVM is through her relationship with OpenCon, a student and early career academic professional conference on Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data. In 2015, Meredith was on the OpenCon organizing committee. This year OpenCon will be held in Washington DC on November 12-14, 2016.  The three day conference includes keynotes, panel discussions, workshops, and hackathons to help participants build skills in key areas—from raising institutional awareness to coordinating national-level campaigns effectively. Attendance to OpenCon is by application only, which helps ensure a diverse, representative, and active group of participants at this unique conference. The application process opens on June 6th, 2016.

Though OpenCon is available by application only, Dartmouth College Library has been able to offer one travel grant for a graduate student (PhD or Masters), post-doc, or early career faculty to attend OpenCon 2014, 2015, and now 2016. Following Meredith’s presentation, Dr. Rachel Obbard, Assistant Professor of Engineering in Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, and Brett Anderson, PhD candidate in Physics and Astronomy shared their experiences attending OpenCon on the Dartmouth sponsored travel scholarship, and how that has impacted their work. Rachel noted that attending OpenCon2015 really opened her eyes to the “energy behind open access” and what universities around the world are doing to support open access. For example, some international institutions are very active in how they make Open Education Resources (free textbooks) available to their students. Rachel noted this as an important area for exploration and growth within US academic institutions. Brett attended OpenCon2014 and expressed his peers’ concern about the pressure that the tenure process places on publication choices, but as major professional organizations such as the American Geophysical Union have a voice in supporting open access, new scholars are beginning to look towards open access publication with more confidence.

OpenCon is an amazing opportunity for students and early career professionals, and I’d encourage applications to OpenCon2016. Those interested in the library travel grant must first apply and be accepted to OpenCon2016 (registration opens on June 6, 2016) before they can apply to the library travel grant.  More information will be made available soon about the Dartmouth sponsored travel scholarship, and I will post a link here when it is.

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