Open Science Week Pt 4: Jessica Polka, ASAPbio

DSC_6299For our 4th and last curator during Open Science Week, we’re pleased to welcome Jessica Polka (@jessicapolka), director at ASAPbio, a biologist-driven initiative to promote the productive use of preprints in the life sciences. Jessica is a cellular/molecular biologist who after her PhD and subsequent postdoc became engaged in scholarly publication issues. You can read more about her scientific background and her current work at ASAPbio below.

I was drawn to biology by the beauty of microscopy. During my undergraduate and graduate careers, I studied how cytoskeletal filaments (microtubules and bacterial actin-like proteins) move DNA around in mammalian and bacterial cells. In my postdoc, I moved into a synthetic biology direction, studying carboxysomes (bacterial protein “organelles” that capture carbon from the atmosphere to facilitate photosynthesis) and R bodies (comparatively enormous retractable protein spears that microbes use to puncture cell membranes). During my postdoc, I became increasingly interested in ‘meta’ issues affecting science – how our funding, evaluation, and career advancement mechanisms drive us to behave in the best interest of science as a collective endeavor (or not). At the center of all of these issues is publication, which functions as a kind of scientific currency. The current publication model in the life sciences rewards scientists for keeping their work secret until it is finally published in a journal, which functions both as the means to distribute the work and also as a kind of stamp of approval. For decades, we’ve had the technology to improve it, but there are important unsolved cultural and social issues that we need to address to enable widespread change.

ASAPbio (accelerating science and publication in biology) is a researcher-driven organization that is working to promote the productive use of preprints in biology. Preprints, or scientific manuscripts shared in advance of completion of formal peer review by a journal, offer a way for researchers to communicate their work rapidly to one another. In practice, this is done by posting a version of the manuscript (often the same version that is submitted to a journal) online at a preprint server. In many cases, a preprint can appear months or even a year or more before the final journal version. It also allows other laboratories to begin building off of the new discoveries faster, accelerating the overall progress of science. But preprinting has other benefits too: it allows researchers to gain additional feedback on their work and thus the chance to further improve it before final publication. This is good news from the perspective of increasing the rigor of scientific work.

For individual scientists, especially those early in their careers, preprints offer a way to demonstrate productivity when applying for grants or jobs. This can help young scientists attain new training roles or independence without unnecessary delays. Preprints are an important mechanism for speeding up the rate of scientific advancement, but they also have other benefits. They are free to read, meaning that they are instantly accessible to everyone around the world, and they’re a step toward modernizing and improving the efficiency of our scientific communication system. I serve as president of Future of Research, a non-profit organization that seeks to empower and champion early career researchers in order to improve the research enterprise. I’m also passionate about working to address other challenges facing young researchers through work with Rescuing Biomedical Research, the NAS Next Generation Researchers Initiative, and OpenCon.

Please welcome Jessica to Real Scientists!

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