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4000 items milestone: Featured researchers - Professor Derek Woollins FRSE FRSC and Professor Alexandra Slawin, FRSE, FRSC, School of Chemistry

Research in Chemistry moves fast. Professors Derek Woollins and Alexandra Slawin between them have recorded over 1200 articles in our Research Information System, PURE. Over 100 of these have been deposited in Research@StAndrews:FullText to make them available Open Access. As our researchers with the highest number of OA publications, we are delighted that Derek and Alex agreed to be interviewed to celebrate our 4000th item milestone, the second post in our series.


Alex recently had her 1000th paper published (and keeping track of all that is quite a task!). There is a good reason for this rate of publication- new compounds are constantly being developed and their 3D structure analysed by X-ray crystallography leading to further development. So high is the rate of research output in the field that keeping up is becoming increasingly difficult. It’s impossible to read everything. Instead keyword searching and matching new research effort to compounds with known structures are driving the direction of research. As Alex pointed out the dynamic research environment also poses practical challenges such as tracing data and lines of research when students and staff move on.


In this research environment where does Open Access (OA) stand?

“To a certain extent OA is an extra piece of work and doesn’t change how we are publishing in mainstream journals in any case”, says Derek

"We're still in the transition zone with various external drivers and changes we need to be aware of. We've got to deposit in PURE, but it's hard to get a clear picture of the overall OA environment. Southampton led the way in e-publishing its research and this may have helped them to advance significantly in the league tables."

“But to do the work and not publish it? You might as well not have bothered - Open Access makes it more published.”


Do you find there are any advantages in OA publishing?

“People outside of chemistry may not have enough specialist knowledge to take full advantage of OA in our discipline. My experience with journalists is that they can easily misinterpret or misrepresent research. OA may get a few people who don’t have access to the journal interested, so they can have a more informed response. Widening access to research is enabled through various schemes, for example much of Africa gets free access to many journals. 10 years from now, it might make more difference. Right now, it’s likely to have more resonance with the general public in Humanities and Social Science.”

Do you find Open Access easy?

“I like PURE, but platforms such as ResearchGate are preferred by many academics for their prompts and ease of upload”, says Alex.

“People should just be accepting that it’s part of the publication process”, says Derek.
“There is a need to get OA into our culture, as Open Data will be even more demanding; people have just got to get into the habit of doing it. There are anomalies such as publisher restrictions on abstracts, which are rather absurd.”


“We do all the work; we referee the papers, mostly unpaid. It’s [subscription model publishing] a disaster as a model. However, I think publishers are still going to have the upper hand in the end. What the publishers provide is a refereeing moment. Self-publishing, for example, wouldn’t work for research assessment and OA could potentially wash out all that impact factor stuff”

“As an Editor for Elsevier for 10 years I understand that more journals mean more profit, as the number of subscribers to individual journals generally never increases. Journal subscription costs are rising to cover increased costs. And there is also the problem of the Learned Societies who make more money from journals that from membership fees - there is a lot of fear factor among societies and publishers and uncertainty among academics.”

“But do you think it’s worth 5 minutes of your life? Because that’s all it takes. It’s not really a complicated thing*. I just don’t see why people wouldn’t do it.”

“We are going to be in a world where people are assessed. They should make a real effort from Day One, not just for the University, but for themselves. It’s just another form of networking. It’s just going to happen.”

“We need to up people’s interest in it. Some will assume they’re excluded from it. But there will be a moment when the EPSRC ask about papers that might influence whether we get £1M for a new piece of equipment. It’s not an immense amount of staff time. If they spent an hour on it one evening, that’s not too much.”


Derek takes up his role as Vice Principal Research in January 2015. The accepted manuscript of his article Isolatable organophosphorus(III)-tellurium heterocycles published in Chemistry A European Journal will be made available from Research@StAndrews:FullText 16 December using the University’s preferred Green publication route. However, you can access the paper now using the link above, if you have a subscription to the journal.

The Library Open Access and Research Publications Support (OARPS) team would like to thank Derek and Alex for their time and sharing their views on Open Access.

*To find out how to deposit your own work in Pure, contact the team open-access-support@st-andrews.ac.uk!


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