What academics can do to reach 100% open access

Lenny Teytelman Oct 20, 2015

It is the 2015 open access week, and the progress of the OA movement over the past few decades has been remarkable. However, one important thing hasn’t happened – libraries have seen no savings from all this progress; they are continuing to pay all of the insane subscriptions for the standard journals where most of the research is still published. We need to get to the point where everything is published instantly OA, but that is hard because of the closed loop of the academic career depicted above.

I know many scientists, and virtually all of them support the idea of open access. Unfortunately, most are concerned that committing to publish only in OA journals will negatively impact their academic career. Below are simple suggestions that are easy to adopt, carry zero risk, and will greatly speed up the transition to full open access.

1. Students and Postdocs: the talk

Have a conversation with your advisor where you let them know that you personally care about publishing your research openly. As a postdoc, I told my PI:

I am deeply committed to open access and it’s personally very important for me that none of my work is published in subscription journals. I prefer eLife and PLOS Bio to Nature/Science/Cell; I prefer PLOS Genetics to Nature Genetics.

Very likely, the reply will be a list of reasons against the OA option. “Too expensive to pay the OA fee, no right journal for this work, we’ve had bad experience with lengthy review at PLOS Biology, your paper needs more visibility, bad for your career, your coauthors will be upset.” And that’s ok. You are not in the position to issue an ultimatum. But you’ve now had a conversation about OA and conveyed its importance. The more trainees have this conversation with your advisor over the next few years, the more likely the PI is to start paying attention to this. Most importantly, you still have #2.

2. Trainees & Junior Faculty: preprints

When your paper is ready for submission, put it on a preprint server (arXiv, bioRxiv, PeerJ Preprints). There is no downside to this. Whether or not your advisor cares about open access, every scientist cares about getting their work out to the public, and no one wants to wait 1-3 years before the manuscript is finally live.

*** Once your paper is published, make sure you add a comment to PubMed Commons on your record, linking to the preprint. Otherwise, it’s impossible to discover. ***

* Most biomedical journals explicitly do not consider preprints a “prior publication” There are still some journals that do, and if the one you need is one of them, write a note to the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher asking them to revise their policy. Many will.

3. Tenured faculty: explicit policy

It is true that you cannot suddenly tell the students and postdocs in your lab that they have to publish OA. However, if you institute an explicit OA-only policy and let people know before they join your lab, that is completely kosher. You are not forcing people into OA but are selecting for those who want it.

Yes, some will hesitate to join you because they are aspiring to publish in the high-IF journals. On the other hand, for others this will actually be an extra reason to join your lab.

* Let students know before they rotate with you. Mention it to the postdoc candidates before they come to visit your lab.


Whatever the stage of your career and regardless of the journals you choose, sharing your work on the preprint servers is crucial. I am convinced that this is by far the most important step in encouraging open access. I also love that this isn’t just a morally good step to take for openness, but it’s also pragmatic. Submitting preprints increases the visibility (it’s like you are in two journals!) and removes the publishing lag – in one easy step, you help open access and science, and make your life easier.


P.S. Depending on the university and country, a full commitment to open access can actually be a plus for all career stages. By rejecting the glam journals, you are likely to publish more and to actually publish better science. And because some of us forget: DOING GREAT SCIENCE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR FOR YOUR CAREER.