Although I left the conversation feeling a little upset, my acquaintance raised some good points that have certainly been on my mind ever since. Regarding the 'deserving' nature of my topic, I have no answer - I think that gaining funding and or a job in academic is as much about luck, and being in the right place, doing the 'right' thing, at the right time, as it is about anything else. I love my topic, but I didn't necessarily expect that lots of other people would be interested in it too. I just happen to have graduated from my undergraduate degree at a time when interest in the area I'm working on is at a peak. I would have been very surprised if I had been as successful twenty years ago - 'fashions' change, and right now, I'm lucky to be fashionable... at least academically speaking.
But I do want to pay that good fortune forward, which is one of the reasons why I started this blog - so that members of the general public, if they were so inclined, could read a bit about the work I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to do. I've also been watching the developments in Open Access publishing with interest over the last year or so. At the end of last week attended a CAPOD course run through the St Andrews University Library on both finding resources, and publishing, in the new and changing world of Open Access.
The main principle behind 'Open Access' is the idea that the outputs of academic research ought to be accessible to all. I first heard murmurings of it in relation to the astronomical subscription fees charged by scientific journals. As noted in my previous post, the academics writing for such journals don't make a profit (or any money at all, at least not for the publication), but the publishers certainly do. Government officials and funding bodies slowly took up the rallying call, and the UK government now has a policy in support of OA, whilst Research Councils UK has mandated that all research funded by them must be open access in some form.
So far, so good. But it's at the practical level that things get a bit complicated, and I must admit that for all of my agreement with the general principle, I did go to the 2-hour training session with some trepidation. This is because there are two main 'types' of open access publishing (bear with me here!) - 'Green' and 'Gold'. Green OA is where a publisher gives permission for an author to 'self-archive' a version of their article, containing the exact same text as appearing in the published journal, but possibly not in the final publisher's format. (Research @St Andrews is an example of the type of database into which you can self-archive). They may add an embargo period - so, they might say you can self-archive, but only after 12 months have elapsed since initial publication.
On the other hand, Gold OA requires the author to pay a fee (often between £1000-£2000) in order for the publisher to make the final version completely free to access via the journal website. Universities have some money to support Gold OA, especially for researchers who come under the RCUK's mandate, but it's by no means guaranteed. Idealism apart, I do worry that Gold OA - often preferred by the really big-name journals - could end up causing problems to more vulnerable authors (such as PhD students or early career researchers seeking to keep their hand in whilst between jobs), who might not necessarily be the first choice for Gold OA support, exactly at the time in their career when it most matters to get their work published.*
However, the session I went to - packed as it was with information and advice - at least meant I came away with a better understanding of Open Access than I had before. Attendees were pointed towards the amazing SHERPA/RoMEO database, which provides details of most journals' OA policies.** In my previous post about preparing my first article for publication I stated that one metric I was using to select which journal to submit to was whether or not they allowed sub-headings, due to the form of the research I want to publish. Since the session at the library, I'm now in a position to also assess journals based on the type of open access which they allow. The research I'm writing up was from my undergraduate days, so it doesn't fall under the RCUK mandate, but as I said, I do believe in the principle of public access. Because of my concerns with Gold OA (and because I want to save up any application to university funds for it for when I try to publish research which does fall under the RCUK mandate), I'm narrowing my search down to journals which allow green Open Access.
What about readers? Have any readers outside of academia ever read an Open Access journal article? (I do kind of wonder if further thinking is required on how we advertise research that is technically 'made public', in order to ensure people actually realise it's there). How are other newcomers to academic publishing finding figuring it all out?
*Apparently an announcement will be forthcoming 'this spring' regarding whether or not OA will be required by the next Research Assessment Exercise; if it is, then OA publishing will become even more necessary for job-seeking academics.
**There is also a very handy, related database called (of course) SHERPA/JULIET, which allows you to cross-reference the policies of any funder you may have with those of the journals you might be looking at. As a side note, SHERPA/RoMEO goes for a few more 'colour' distinctions in type of OA - it classes 'green' as OA in which publishers' allow the final print PDF to be archived, and those which only allow a 'version' (i.e. not the final PDF but containing the same text) as 'yellow'.