Researchers on site: How Springer Nature’s Researchers in Residence programme builds bridges

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Wed Feb 28 2024

Author: Guest contributor

To researchers, publishing houses can seem like mysterious black boxes, leaving them to wonder about the inner workings. And on the other side, those working at academic publishers — even when they are former researchers themselves — can feel disconnected from the challenges researchers (especially early-career researchers, those from the global south, or under-represented groups) face in their daily work.  

To try to bridge the gaps between authors and publishers, in the Autumn of 2023, Springer Nature launched its Researcher in Residence programme. With a special focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the programme’s inaugural year brought in two early-career researchers to spend three months working alongside Springer Nature staff.  

At the conclusion of this year’s programme, Arend Küster, the project sponsor, interviewed one of the Researchers in Residence, Taijrani Rampersaud Skorka, about her experience helping bridge the gaps between authors and publishers. Read the interview below.  

1. Starting the Researcher in Residence programme, what were your initial expectations, and how did the actual experience align with them?

One piece of advice I received during my doctoral studies was that I needed to become comfortable with the unknown and to tamper my expectations – if I had already set my mind with expectations then could I be truly objective when gathering, analysing, and presenting my data? Now, I think I do this by default – I do not get into expectations. 

Therefore, I did not really come into the programme with expectations of Springer Nature. A better way of stating it is that I had a goal: to personally advocate for change in the academic publishing world - to make it more accessible for researchers like me from developing countries with limited resources.

The resulting conversations, information sharing sessions, and interactions have led me to believe I did achieve this goal. I was able to use my voice and speak to an engaged audience as I shared challenges that researchers face to publishers, and as I shared possibilities of making te publishing world more accessible. 

2. Can you share the most surprising insight you discovered during your residency, and why was it surprising?

My first post on the company intranet highlighted that Springer Nature is a truly innovative and forward-thinking company. In line with this, the biggest surprise for me was the Dimensions Autosummarization Tool being developed by the Books Publishing Solutions team. The use of Artificial Intelligence to help researchers complete an otherwise tedious task, freeing up more time for actual research, is amazing! I know it’s currently being developed, but I’m excited for the version my peers will see and get to use and hear about their thoughts! 

3. As you transition back to your role as a researcher, what key insights will you carry forward, and how might they influence your perspective?

Firstly, communication is key to building and maintaining meaningful relationships. The publishing world and those who operate in it should not be put on a pedestal that we do not interact with. The publishing world comprises individuals – human beings, who would love to hear from us. They want to know what they are doing well and where they can improve to make all stakeholders more comfortable.

Secondly, while publishers could implement changes to help researchers, there needs to be a supporting infrastructure within our own communities to facilitate this. For example, many libraries have agreements with publishers that provide access to content behind paywalls. However, many libraries – especially in developing communities, do not have the resources (such as sufficient number of computers with internet access) to truly foster knowledge sharing to all.

Finally, we might not be aware of everything publishers are doing – we are limited to the platforms we use, and therefore we might think nothing major or new is being accomplished. However, many publishers are truly trying to ascertain the best methods and tools to reach their audiences in order to provide the required services and tools

4. How can we as a publisher better support researchers?

  1. Create a directory of contacts – especially for the different publications, that is easily accessible to those in technologically dark areas. Springer Nature is HUGE and a researcher – an outsider, trying to navigate the infrastructure to find information could easily get disheartened.
  2. Find synergies among departments - I believe there are too many ‘islands’ at Springer Nature with confusing similarities. For example, I was trying to figure out who to contact regarding the ‘Media and Communication Studies’ portfolio. Upon checking the Books department, I came across Humanities and Social Sciences, Social Sciences and Education, and Humanities – which is correct?
  3. Develop a publicly available journal suggester – there are hundreds of possible publications under the Springer Nature umbrella across all imprints. Which one suits me best? A well developed tool that goes beyond just keywords, considering disciplines, sub-disciplines, in addition to keywords, would be very helpful. This kind of tool wouldn’t just assist researchers who are not familiar with the variety of publications, it could also help those with limitations in connectivity to find information faster, easier, and without stress.
  4. Fees for subscriptions and publication should consider the cost of living disparities worldwide.  For some, a hundred euros might be disposable income, for others it could mean putting food on the table for a week. Therefore, pricing should reflect this. Maybe there could be different prices for services and products based on regional differences.
  5. Consider technologically dark areas – while there are amazing projects using technology and artificial intelligence, not everyone has access to this. Focusing on this area and ‘updating’ content to reflect the advancements could unintentionally  marginalize already disenfranchised groups. While focus is on the digital, how do researchers, authors, and prospective consumers of content access and use the products and services of Springer Nature if they have inconsistent power supply, spotty internet, and cannot afford laptops and desktops or even tablets and are restricted to small, sometimes outdated, smartphones?

5. In connection to this, what five improvements could be implemented within the program to make it more exciting?

  1. Arrange targeted meetings with editorial teams from journals and books within the researcher’s discipline as they would be more equipped to address specifics that could later be extrapolated to the wider editorial teams.
  2. Similarly, arrange targeted meetings with publishing teams,distinct from editorial discussions, as the diversity of perspectives could result in confusion.
  3. Arrange collaborative  sessions where the Researcher in Residence engages with peers from different areas to seek their input,  which can then be relayed. Sometimes a conversation with a peer can be less intimidating and lead to a  more comprehensive exchange of information than with an outsider.
  4. While everyone has been very friendly and helpful, I think that there was some ‘holding back of opinions’ in the interest of being listeners only from the side of Springer Nature. Healthy debates about what we are suggesting – sharing reasons why it might not work, would help us to rethink and reframe our suggestions. 
  5. … I cannot think of a fifth right now. 😊

6. Do you have any final recommendations
Taijrani Skorka © Springernature 2024
or suggestions for us moving forward?

I selfishly say, “Keep the programme.” It has been a wonderful opportunity for me and I am sure with my (and Tetyana’s) inputs, you will be able to refine it and make it even more powerful in the second installment. As interest in the programme is generated, you can only get more motivated applicants who will probably be more innovative than I am.

Thank you. 😊

Find out more about her time at Springer Nature and her insights and learnings by reading Taijrani’s opinion piece on Research Information. Learn more about Springer Nature’s Researcher in Residence programme.


Author: Guest contributor

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