To OA or not

Jun 15 2015 Published by under Careers, Life

Today on the twits it was twitted:

This is an important issue facing those currently on or about start on the tenure track (TT). The problem with asking this question is that the resulting discussion tends to devolve into arguments between open access (OA) evangelists and the rest of us* as to the necessity etc. of OA. Phrases like "moral imperative" and "OA wackaloon" get bandied about. I don't really want to get into all that again. Bottom line is:

Moral imperatives won't get you tenure.

So, do T&P committees care? Yes. No.


It's going to depend on the institution. The make up of the committee. The culture of the department you're in (letters from your chair and senior faculty carry weight). The field you're in (outside letters also carry weight).

What the T&P committee should care about is the science, not where you've published it.

[Brief pause for tenured readers to catch their breath after laughing.]

We don't live in that world yet. GlamHumping is still a thing remember. As is IF-lust.

My advice? Look to see what recently tenured folks have done. Maybe push that limit a little if you're very pro-OA. But mostly, publish in a variety of places.

But firstĀ do good science.


* For the record, I like OA. I've published in OA journals and will continue to. I don't see it as a moral imperative though and don't do OA exclusively.

11 responses so far

  • qaz says:

    In my experience OA is completely a red herring when trying to determine whether your papers are going to get counted for awards, promotion, raises, etc., or not. The issue is Glamour. eLife is an OpenAccess GlamourMag. As is PLoS Biology. There are dump journals that are not open access. Most book chapters are not open access.

    On the other hand, I would second your recommendations. Find out what successful people have done in your department, your school, and your university. (Don't forget to check all levels. It really sucks to have your department vote you through unanimously only to find some nasty #$$@#%! on the P&T committee has a problem with the journals you've published in.) And publish in diverse places. It shows general strength. Besides, publishing in multiple journals is good, because more people will see your work since we don't all read the same journal(s).

    • odyssey says:

      There are certainly Glam OA journals and publishing in those (generally) wouldn't be pooh-poohed by T&P committees. I should probably have qualified by limiting things to non-Glam.

  • newbie PI says:

    The question is flawed. It has nothing to do with open access...

    Cell Reports, PLOS Biology/Pathogens/Genetics, ELife, BMC Biology, Genome Biology....These are all open access and considered glam or at least close-to-glam by certain fields. If you published multiple papers in the journals listed above, you'd be competitive for tenure at my university. If you published only in PLOS One and PeerJ, you would have very little chance of becoming tenured. It's about perceived quality and impact, not open access.

    That said, I am making a concerted effort to publish all of my lab's primary research articles in solid open access journals. I believe it's beneficial to the scientific community at large and that there are benefits for me as well (more visibility, more citations, another point of interest to add to my tenure narrative) without any real downside.

    • odyssey says:

      It has everything to do with OA. You even qualified with "by certain fields" for the GlamOA journals. What is reasonable (hopefully) in your situation is not necessarily so for everyone. Hence my advice.

      • newbie PI says:

        My spin on your advice: If you're pro-OA, then publish in OA journals with impact factors similar to or better than the journals the recently tenured have published in.

        I don't necessarily see why OA is "pushing the limit" or why "publishing in a variety of places" can't all be OA. Do you think a tenure committee is going to view a Plos Genetics paper (IF 8) any differently than a Nucleic Acids Research (IF 8) paper? So why not go for OA first? The only real reason that I can see is that if you truly have a Nature or Science-worthy paper, there really is no OA substitute yet that will have the same positive effect on your career.

        • anonymous says:

          Interesting example, since NAR is also an OA journal. Maybe the OA designation fades into the background after a journal has established its reputation.

        • odyssey says:

          I don't necessarily see why OA is "pushing the limit"

          It may be pushing the limit if you're at an institution or in a field where OA is not yet well accepted.

          Do you think a tenure committee is going to view a Plos Genetics paper (IF 8) any differently than a Nucleic Acids Research (IF 8) paper?

          I know some people who would view these differently. Chances are you do too but don't know it.

          I assume you've done your due diligence - looked at what others at your institution and in you field have done and are doing, talked to senior colleagues, run your strategy past your chair - and that your approach will fly where you are. That's great. Just don't assume it will work everywhere and in all fields.

          • Amboceptor says:

            There are people who would look at two journals that are similar in every way, except that one is OA, and view the OA one as worse because it's OA? How do these people's brains work??

          • drugmonkey says:

            The same way people's brains work who think that JIF says anything about the importance or quality of the paper published within it.

        • thorazine says:

          First, there's not actually a huge overlap in subject matter between NAR and PLOS Genetics. They are not scientific substitutes.

          Second, partly because of different subject matter, these journals are seen very differently. They are also not substitutes in terms of the sociology of science.

          And this, really, is the important point. Depending on your subfield, OA may well be pushing the limit of credibility. Yes, if you're in a field served by PLOS N (for N>1), you are probably not doing yourself any harm at all by publishing there. But if you're not, and your OA choices are PLOS one, or Frontiers, or PeerJ, or others on that level, then you are taking a risk by publishing only in those places.

  • Rheophile says:

    I've noticed a certain weird convergence between Glam (at certain levels) and OA. Right now, choosing based primarily on my perception of prestige, the top journals (I can hope to get this paper into) are all open-access: eLife, Nature Communications, Science Advances, PLOS Biology. In addition, most of the newly spawned glammish journals in my field are OA - Phys. Rev. X. comes to mind.

    This may not be the "everyone publishes in PLOS ONE and is judged on the quality of their science post-publication" utopia, but it seems like a notable step in the direction of greater access - OA is a selling point for starting up new journals.

    I have not, however, heard of anyone at the grant review, job application, or tenure review levels giving a shit about OA.