A big leap and a logical step: Moving to PLoS
As a child I was very clear I wanted to be a scientist. I am not sure exactly where the idea came from. In part I blame Isaac Asimov but it must have been a combination of things. I can’t remember not having a clear idea of wanting to go into research.
I started off a conventional career with big ideas – understanding the underlying physics, chemistry, and information theory that limits molecular evolution – but my problem was always that I was interested in too many things. I kept getting distracted. Along with this I also started to wonder how much of a difference the research I was doing was really making. This led to a shift towards working on methods development – developing tools that would support many researchers to do better and more efficient work. In turn it lead to my current position, with the aim of developing the potential of neutron scattering as a tool for the biosciences. I got gradually more interested in the question of how to make the biggest difference I could, rather than just pursuing one research question.
And at the same time I was developing a growing interest in the power of the web and how it had the potential, as yet unrealized, to transform the effectiveness of the research community. This has grown from side interest to hobby to something like a full time job, on top of the other full time job I have. This wasn’t sustainable. At the same time I’ve realized I am pretty good at the strategy, advocacy, speaking and writing; at articulating a view of where we might go, and how we might get there. That in this space I can make a bigger difference. If we can increase the efficiency of research by just 5%, reduce the time for the developing world to bring a significant research capacity on stream by just a few years, give a few patients better access to information, or increase the wider public interest and involvement in science just a small amount, then this will be a far reader good than I could possibly make doing my own research.
Which is why, from July I will be moving to PLoS to take up the role of Advocacy Director.
PLoS is an organization that right from the beginning has had a vision, not just of making research papers more accessible but of transforming research communication, of making it ready for, making it of the 21st century. This is a vision I share and one that I am very excited to playing a part in.
In the new role I will obviously be doing a lot of advocacy, planning, speaking, and writing on open access. There is a lot to play for over the next few years with FRPAA in the US, new policies being developed in Europe, and a growing awareness of the need to think hard about data as a form of publication. But I will also be taking the long view, looking out on a ten year horizon to try and identify the things we haven’t seen yet, the opportunities that are already there and how we can navigate a path between them. Again there is huge potential in this space, gradually turning from ideas and vaporware into real demos and even products.
The two issues, near term policy and longer term technical development are inextricably linked. The full potential of networked research cannot be realized except in a world of open content, open standards, APIs, process, and data. Interoperability is crucial, technical interoperability, standards interoperability, social interoperability, and legal interoperability. It is being at the heart of the community that is working to link these together and make them work that really excites me about this position.
PLoS has been an engine of innovation since it was formed, changing the landscape of scholarly publishing in a way that no-one would have dreamed was possible. Some have argued that this hasn’t been so much the case in the last few years. But really things have just been quiet, plans have been laid, and I think you will find the next few years exciting.
Inevitably, I will be leaving some things behind. I won’t be abandoning research completely, I hope to keep my toe in a range of projects but I will be scaling back a lot. I will be stepping down as an Academic Editor for PLoS ONE (and apologies for all those reviews and editorial requests for PLoS ONE that I’ve turned down in the last few months) because this would be a clear conflict of interest. I’ve got a lot to clear up before July.
I will be sad to leave behind some of those roles but above all I am excited and looking forward to working in a great organisation, with people I respect doing things I believe are important. Up until now I’ve been trying to fit these things in, more or less as a hobby around the research. Now I can focus on them full time, while still staying at least a bit connected. It’s a big leap for me, but a logical step along the way to trying to make a difference.