First conference: any advice?

On Monday I’m going to my first conference! It’s titled Continuous Flow Technology in Industry (more detailed information here if you’re interested). I’m not presenting anything, just attending.

I came across it on a Royal Society of Chemistry mailing list and thought it’d be good as it’s quite closely related to my group’s work (four of us are going). It’s relatively small in size (no parallel sessions) so I thought it’d be a reasonable choice of first conference. I hope to pick up some ideas that will help solve a few particular problems in my own work.

I’ve been wondering whether there’s anything I should do in preparation. I’ve consulted my trusty guide The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research but, aside from networking (which I’m fairly happy about), it doesn’t have that much to say on the topic unless you’re presenting.

I’ve looked up all the speakers to have a quick look at what they do, but the majority of them are from industry so they don’t have a web page summarising their work like most academics. I’ve got myself some Imperial-branded business cards.

I’m unsure whether to take my laptop. I’m leaning towards no, as I think it’s a bit rude to sit typing away (and it won’t do my hands any good either). I could always read a couple of papers if a particular speaker is really that bad.

Does anyone have any advice? Please let me know in the comments.

DIY open access for chemists

Never before have I had the urge to start writing a blog post on the tube on a Monday morning, but after reading a post about the do-it-yourself open access Journal of Machine Learning Research, I have now.

To summarise the post by Stuart Shieber (although I encourage you to read it for yourself): the Journal of Machine Learning Research formed after the entire editorial board of Machine Learning quit. Since October 2010, JMLR has peer-reviewed and published over 1000 open access articles, at no cost to authors. It’s successful and well-respected—it has the highest impact factor of all journals in its category on Web of Science.

How do they do it? Volunteers. The same volunteers that peer reviewed for Kluwer’s (now Springer’s) Machine Learning and helped the publisher to make huge profits.

There are some costs, of course. The domain name—about £10 a year for .org. Hosting is provided free by MIT, but you can get fairly decent hosting for about £10 per month. Their biggest cost was a tax accountant! So far it has cost them about $10 per article—a far cry from the thousands of dollars most publishers want to publish OA.

This makes me think what on earth are publishers doing (aside from profiteering) charging at least $1500 per OA article? The JMLR demonstrates that the whole argument of scholarly publishing necessarily being an expensive process is patently false. Publishers rely on academics for their entire publishing process. The Internet—and backing of a university like MIT (which would cost them far less than a typical journal subscription)—provides academics all they need to take control of their field.

Computer scientists have the advantage over chemists of being highly proficient computer users and hence find it a lot easier to sort out typesetting with LaTeX and the installation of one of many available open source journal publishing systems. But with a bit of assistance, most chemists could submit articles in LaTeX, which is really quite straightforward. Furthermore, you only need a couple of people to get the web site going and maintain it.

The whole DIY ethos of JMLR is brilliant. Academics put so much work into their research, give it all up to publishers and then pay to read their community’s work. It’s great to see scientists publish their work themselves.

I would love chemists to start a DIY OA journal, though I think chemists, out of physicists who have arXiv and biologists and medics who have PLoS, are a conservative bunch. I’m not sure why. Shieber wrote that computer scientists are used to volunteering; I don’t think chemists are. Nonetheless, I think it could happen, especially with the backing of a department or university (I think libraries are in a good position to help here). I think this might be the way scholarly publishing moves in the future. I’d be more than happy to help get a DIY OA chemistry journal going.