How I Work Open: Nicole Baker

photo of Nicole Baker

Nicole Baker
Research Scientist, School of Aquatic and Fisheries Science
Photo credit: Berett Wilber/KUCB

How would you describe your research?

I currently work as a research scientist in a fisheries lab, where I support data collection efforts for a variety of questions about global fisheries. I did my Master’s thesis in Puerto Rico on the status of the conch fishery there. Conch is eaten by a lot of people in the Caribbean, so it’s important to do periodic underwater surveys of things like conch size and number to get a sense of how well the population is doing.

What kind of open work do you do?

I’m an ambassador for MarXiv, which is a free online research repository for the ocean and marine-climate sciences. In that role I give workshops that detail the problems and challenges that the current for-profit publishing system presents, and explain how Marxiv is a resource for addressing those challenges.

Personally, I’m committed to open publishing; at this point I refuse to publish in a non-open-access journal. My two major publications thus far have been a NOAA-sponsored literature review on conch, which is available on the NMFS website and on my ReseachGate profile, and my thesis, which I submitted to the University of Puerto Rico and published in the peer-reviewed OA journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries.

Preprint servers like MarXiv are an incredible tool for authors who want to give free access to their work. Many publishers allow researchers to put post-peer-review, but pre-formatted versions of their articles online in open access repositories, and Marxiv is focused on ocean sciences. But there are very similar preprint services for all kinds of disciplines. There are the established ones like arXiv and BioRxiv, but the OSF Preprints platform hosts all kinds of smaller discipline-specific archives.

What sparked your interest in open access?

My advisor at the University of Puerto Rico was asked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to do a literature review on the Queen Conch.  NMFS had received a petition to put conch on the endangered species list, and they wanted an overview of the literature to help make their decision. This project became a part of my thesis. The library access at University of Puerto Rico wasn’t nearly as thorough as it is at UW, and I really struggled to get papers I could use for the literature review. A lot of Caribbean universities are in the same position, where researchers want to read the latest papers in their field but can’t get access. I told myself then that when I published my work, I wanted people to be able to read it.

Now that I’m at UW I see what the other side – having good library access – can do for you. I’ve requested books from 1985, thinking there’s no way I’ll be able to get it, and it will arrive in my mailbox three days later. It’s so starkly different from my experience in Puerto Rico. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding the exact paper you’re looking for and then realizing you can’t read it.

How did you find your open publishing venues?

I don’t remember exactly how I found Marine and Coastal Fisheries; I’m a member of the American Fisheries Society, and I got a notice about a sale where they had half off the publishing fees. I think that email was how I first heard of the journal, and when I clicked on it I thought ‘wow!’ The scope was perfect for what I was working on, and it’s open access.

I found MarXiv through their twitter ad for ambassador positions; I thought ‘I wish something like this would have been around when I was writing my lit review.’ I applied for the position, detailing how frustrating it was at University of Puerto Rico, and they chose me.

What are some of the barriers to publishing openly?

Lots of people don’t publish OA not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t afford the article processing charges. It would be a good thing for funding agencies to explicitly encourage and pay for OA publishing. And I suppose there are a lot of prestigious closed journals that people want to publish in. I’m early in my career so I don’t know first hand what doors that opens for you, but I think people should still consider the value of OA.

Marxiv actually gives you an opportunity to do both. So you can publish in a closed, high-impact journal, but then upload your preprint to MarXiv so that everyone can access the content. It’s a win-win.

Why do you think open access is important?

I believe that everybody should be able to read scientific literature. It’s important for researchers because if you don’t know what other people are doing, how can you compare your results with theirs? It’s like you’re working in a vacuum if you don’t have access to what else is happening in your discipline. It opens up opportunities for collaboration if someone sees your data.

Also, as a researcher, you want your information to be used. MarXiv asked the Washington Department of Natural Resources about how many of the leading conservation journals they’re able to subscribe to, and it’s terrible: they don’t subscribe to any of them. So they’re making management decisions without being able to read any of the latest research. If you want your research to be used, it needs to be available to the people who will use it. That’s the bottom line.

What’s your vision for an open future?

I’d like for open access to be a bigger part of the publishing calculation for researchers. So instead of just going for the best journal you can, have open-ness be a factor in your decision. Having more funders be directly supportive of OA publishing costs would also be really useful. Some agencies require you to publish OA, and they give you the funding to do that. I’m not sure all agencies can do that, but it’s a good model – it shows that they value open access.

I also want people to be more aware of their rights when interacting with publishers. When you sign a copyright agreement with a journal, you don’t have to blanket give up all your rights; authors do have the power to negotiate. You can let the editor know you want to upload a preprint to an OA repository, and lots of times they’ll say yes. Making people aware that that’s a possibility – that when you sign an author agreement you can retain some of your rights – is a big part of the outreach work Marxiv does.

If anyone is interested in hosting a workshop for their department, or needs simple help navigating the website to upload a preprint, please contact me. That’s what my job as an ambassador is all about.

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