Competition is intense for academic jobs. And it can be an additional struggle for young researchers to get exposure for their work, especially if they are in a specialized field with a limited audience.
Erin McKiernan, 35, who works primarily in experimental and theoretical neuroscience and has made a personal commitment to broaden access to the outputs of her research – including publishing articles only in open access journals. She reached that decision in 2012 after hitting pay walls doing research while working at a small institution in Puerto Rico. McKiernan experienced first-hand the “heart-wrenching” frustration that she and her students experienced in effectively doing their work with limited access to scholarly journals. So McKiernan decided to take action. She became active on Twitter, blogging about the problem and engaging with the open access movement.
In the Fall of 2015, McKiernan became a professor in the Department of Physics, Biomedical Physics Program at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. She used a grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation to develop a series of educational materials to promote the value of openness in conducting and communicating science (whyopenresearch.org). McKiernan says she has been encouraged by the increased awareness that she sees being paid to the issue of access, and is particularly pleased that Mexico recently passed its first national level public access law, requiring research results to be made freely accessible.
“I’m using openness as a plus, rather than as a negative. It’s an integral part of my work flow,” said McKiernan. ”Open Access has been a great tool to get my work out there.”
By sharing the results of her research openly, McKiernan’s work has read by scholars across disciplines and she’s received useful feedback. She’s tweeted and blogged about her findings, creating a level of visibility that she otherwise could not achieved as a young researcher.
McKiernan is also now frequently invited to share her experiences with her peers, and has been invited to give numerous talks on campuses around the world, and addressing fellow early career researchers at OpenCon in Washington D.C. in 2014 and again in Brussels in 2015.
McKiernan is committed to promoting openness and making her work freely available.
“This is the way I feel I have to carry out my career as a researcher,” said McKiernan, who acknowledges the challenge of being recognized for her work with the heavy reliance on publishing in high impact journals in the tenure process. “I think the tide is slowly changing and people are starting to realize that there is really high quality work being published in other venues. I hope the trend continues.”