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Women making science more open: Veronique Kiermer

Women making science more open: Veronique Kiermer

Veronique Kiermer is Chief Scientific Officer at PLOS, a role she has held since the beginning of the year. She has worked as an Executive Editor at both PLOS and Nature Publishing Group. We asked her about her career, her thoughts on open access publishing and the importance of women in leadership roles being visible and inspiring others.

Vronique Kiermer

Could you tell us a bit about your career in publishing?

I started in publishing as founding editor-in-chief of Nature Methods. It was the first Nature journal not selecting papers on the basis of biological advance, instead focusing exclusively on method development. I was motivated by the possibility to make a difference for methodologists, giving them the chance of a paper in a Nature journal. Of course, years later, I became convinced that we pay undue attention to journal names but at the time, it was a thrilling journey to fill what I saw as a need in the scientific community. I moved on to other roles at Nature Publishing Group, eventually becoming Executive Editor for the Nature journals in 2010. Soon, I was swept up into the reproducibility debate. The countless discussions with researchers, funders, and editors sharpened my thinking about open research and the responsibilities and limitations of journals. I moved to PLOS in 2015, as Executive Editor, and I’m now Chief Scientific Officer, overseeing the Editorial department and developments of policy and products related to Open Science.

You have worked in open access publishing for many years. Why is opening up research important? 

Opening up research is essential to provide more equitable access to the benefits of science, and this in itself is sufficient justification for open access. But it is also critical to allow science to work according to its norms. Science functions because scientists apply critical scrutiny to each other’s claims and build on each other’s results. For this to happen effectively, all investigators must be able to access their peers’ research. Importantly this expands beyond access to articles, to all the underlying research outputs including data, code, methodologies and also potentially competing interests. Transparency about how results are generated is essential for trust, for reproducibility and for the rapid advancement of knowledge. 

What do you think is the next big shift in open publishing? 

I think the crisis we are living through now is providing a new perspective on Open Science. Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of barriers to the practice of Open Science today; mostly they have evolved from a flawed incentive system and personal imperatives that researchers understandably feel they must consider. But the urgency and stakes of fighting a pandemic, I think, make researchers reconsider any hesitations they may have had about embracing Open Science. To win this fight they need to collaborate, join forces, share their work rapidly, build on others’ experience, reuse data, review each other’s code, etc. And we are seeing amazing collaborations and research progressing at incredible speed. I think there is a good chance that this change in behavior will outlive this crisis, and publishing will adapt. I hope it will. Having experienced more open ways to do and communicate research, one will ask – if this was good for COVID-19, why not for cancer, diabetes, malaria?

What advice would you give to researchers who are interested in stepping sideways into research-related careers? 

Remain a scientist at heart! Continue to think like a scientist and to put yourself in the shoes of researchers; don’t lose track of their aspirations, their challenges and their needs. I think that trained scientists who are not interested in a career in research can contribute enormously to the research community by using their talent and their insights in different ways as long as they stay connected to the scientific community.

As a woman in science, do you use your role or profile to inspire young women? If so, how? 

I think that it’s not necessarily about inspiring as an individual, but it is very important for young women to see women occupy a wide range of leadership roles in science and research-related careers. At PLOS, for example, our executive team is made up of a majority of women, and many young women among our staff say that it influences them and encourages them to develop their own careers. That certainly keeps me on my toes! We talk with journals editors about ways to ensure better representation of women on editorial boards. And whenever I have the opportunity, I recommend women as speakers for conferences.

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY. Veronique's profile picture via her Twitter account.   

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