Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Betsy Donohue, the VP of Publisher Business Development for Digital Science. Before joining Digital Science in 2013, Betsy worked in a variety of marketing, sales and business development positions, including at the Ingram Content Group, Scope eKnowledge and SWETS.

I had an idea

I was probably about 25 years old. I was working at a non-profit publisher, in a marketing/communications role. Before one of our monthly meetings, with a large group that included my boss, the super boss and a number other higher-level colleagues, we were warned that the boss’ boss was not in a good place, so prepare your notes and keep your head down.  

As the meeting began to get heated, I suddenly had an idea that I very much wanted to share. But I felt paralyzed.I’d never spoken more than two or three words in this meeting previously; it was a place where I felt my voice was not welcome,where management were the people in the know, where other people’s suggestions were shot down fairly aggressively on the regular, and where I was expected to just show up and take notes.  

School kids in classroom

Finally, there was a pause in conversation long enough for me to say something. Even though I could hear my heart beating out of my chest and my voice was shaky and seemed far away, I managed to stammer out my idea.  My colleagues’ faces softened and they asked me a few more questions to clarify, which I answered much more confidently, but took my action points down on my legal pad with a shaky hand.

I will always remember this meeting as it was a real turning point in my career – this is the story of how I found my voice.

Twenty years later…

Fast forward twenty (or so) years later, and I found myself in line for lunch, at last year’s Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Fall Seminar. I overheard the woman behind me mention something about The Scholarly Kitchen (TSK), and how informative it is but how it could do so much more for students and people new to scholarly publishing. I’d been thinking along the same lines, so (this time without hesitation!), I turned around to introduce myself and to second her observation. Jasmine Wallace, Peer Review Manager at the American Society for Microbiology, and I then got to talking about what it’s like being a newcomer in the scholarly publishing industry, how difficult it can be to “find your way,” and the lack of resources to help. Jasmine specifically mentioned reading TSK regularly, and how it had been challenging for her, when she first started out, to fully understand the topics discussed, as they are often written for an audience that already understands all the nuances.

I agreed with Jasmine wholeheartedly on these points. Just as it took me so long to speak up during those monthly meetings in my 20s, there are likely many TSK readers out there who would like to post a comment or question. But they don’t, either because they don’t feel welcome, or they are just too intimidated. If you’ve been reading TSK for even just a few years, no doubt you’ve witnessed some strong interchanges in the comments, more than most people would care to face.

A call to action and a few ideas

So, how does TSK evolve into a place where younger colleagues can engage, newer people to the industry can learn, and more diverse opinions are welcome? This is the call to action I’d like to make specifically to the TSK Chefs:  please don’t forget that your audience includes a breadth of people across the industry, many whom are just starting out, or are in the earlier stages of their career. If we can provide ways for these people to better understand what you are writing about, and welcome their questions and feedback, I believe that would go a long way. In other words, what can Chefs to do make TSK a more comfortable place for all of us “non-experts” to do more than show up and take notes, so to speak?

I am reminded here of Alison Mudditt’s recent post Breaking the Silence: the #MeToo Moment in Scholarly Communication” where she specifically calls on men to:

Create space for and amplify women’s voices at work – sit back in meetings and let a woman ask the first question. If a woman is being ignored or interrupted, speak up to support her and create space. 

I believe TSK can take on its own version of this as well: empower the new and underrepresented voices in the vast readership of TSK to ask questions, share their opinions and start to try out their own voices.

As noted on TSK’s “About” page, while the mission of the SSP is “[t]o advance scholarly publishing and communication, and the professional development of its members through education, collaboration, and networking,” TSK‘s aim is:to help fulfill this mission by bringing together differing opinions, commentary, and ideas, and presenting them openly.”

With this aim in mind, and in the spirit of looking forward to TSK’s next decade, here are a few other ideas I’d like to throw out:

  • Engage early-career editors – to review pending posts and identify which references need more explaining, which terms need defining, where hyperlinks would be useful, etc. And then perhaps all of this could be wrapped up in a blog post sidebar, or “101” abstract of some sort.   
  • Sign on more line Chefs – (HT to Jasmine) to write their own blog post and/or work with an existing Chef to co-author a blog post. See also David’s anniversary post encouraging more writers (guest and regular).
  • Mentor/mentee coverage —  interview new mentor/mentee pairs from SSP’s Mentorship Program – as discussed by SSP President-elect Adrian Stanley here – or invite them  to co-author blog posts.
  • Survey readers – create an open survey where TSK readers communicate which topics they’d like to learn more about or hear the Chefs’ opinions on. Ideally, the results of this would be accessible via the TSK website.

Reach out to The Scholarly Kitchen

Most importantly, I’d like to wrap this post up with a call to all the thousands of TSK readers who do not consider themselves experts but would like to be a part of the conversation: let TSK know what you think. Do any of these ideas work? Do you have any other suggestions or ideas of your own? Please add  your thoughts in the comments section — and watch out for The Scholarly Kitchen‘s 10th Anniversary survey, which is launching tomorrow (March 2)!

And remember, the next generation of TSK Chefs are among you. Now’s the time to start finding your voices…so please feel free to contact scholarlykitchen@sspnet.org or to reach out to any of the Chefs individually. They’d love to hear from you.

Betsy Donohue

Betsy Donohue is the VP of Publisher Business Development for Digital Science. Before joining Digital Science in 2013, Betsy worked in a variety of marketing, sales and business development positions, including at the Ingram Content Group, Scope eKnowledge and SWETS.


28 Thoughts on "Guest Post: Finding Your Voice: The Scholarly Kitchen as an Educational Resource"

A tresure trove of excellent ideas Betsy, which could only serve to improve the bredth and depth of SK. In particular, I welcome the suggestion that readers views should be surveyed on a regular basis, and the results of those surveys should be distributed to SK readers. It is my impression that rather serving as a conduit to express new and progressive ideas regarding academic publishing, SK editorials often serve to defend a rather conservative status quo. Opening up this forum to new and refreshing viewpoints, in particular those identified by Betsy, will definitely help to realise SK’s mandate “to advance scholarly publishing and communication, and the professional development of its members through education, collaboration, and networking”.

Very well said Betsy, thanks for taking to time to write and share this example/experience on the kitchen. Too many times I have noticed (and thought) opinions have been shared in a dismissive or negative tone, that wasn’t necessary, or welcoming. I doubt the same tone would have been used if talking in person and for example sharing opinions during a break at the SSP annual meeting. It takes courage to put your hand up, ask a question, or make a comment (particularly for younger colleagues), and I hope there are ways to raise the awareness, and make the Kitchen a more friendly place not just to share thought provoking ideas, but also to allow open and productive discussion around them. Let’s all aim to be more aware, open, and brave !

Great suggestions! I especially like the idea of engaging early career editors to review posts before they go live in order to help identify if further clarity could be added through reference links, a 101 sidebar, etc. It gets more people involved in TSK community and would provide valuable insights for future posts. The mentor/mentee post would also be an interesting read and potentially lead to greater interest in SSP’s mentorship program.

The issue with having posts reviewed and revised before they go live is that it would actually require us to be organized and do things well in advance. Often times, the post you read in the morning was written the night before (or earlier that same morning). But the crux of the idea is a good one. Maybe it would work better retrospectively — a weekly or monthly wrap-up with additional resources?

I think there might be more advance timeline to writing than it might seem. Every post I’ve made thus far (and on my on my personal blog) have been read and commented upon by others. Or, maybe I’m just unusual because I carry forward the value of peer review/comment from academia? Anyway … I’d have no problem accommodating having a reader in advance … in fact, Betsy’s post here helped me further conceptualize a practicum in scholarly publishing/editing that I have been thinking about for an LIS master’s student at Illinois – adding in a role as reader/editor/etc. for my posts.

Clearly you are new to The Scholarly Kitchen and have not yet abandoned all hope…

I want to note that many of these ideas have been attempted, with little success, some quite recently. I don’t want to go into details, but after a number of attempts to get posts from participants in the SSP Mentorship Program and similar parts of SSP focused on early career professionals (and with some tremendous attempts at making the lift), we have seen very few posts even make it to the draft stage. Maybe the person has no ideas about what to write, doesn’t have the time, or has management barriers when it comes to writing outside the organization.

Chefs working with outside writers on posts have about a .400 batting average, and this work can be a huge time-sink for the Chef. The efforts do result in guest posts every now and then. But keep in mind for every one you see, probably another one or more has bitten the dust, consuming hours and hours of time from a Chef to the frustration of everyone involved. In addition, ideas are not crossing the threshold that often. Those that do often smack of self-interest.

There are threads here worth pulling on, but each one takes time, effort, and a tolerance for failure from people who are working on a volunteer basis, with posts they write being their main contribution to SSP and the community.

Maybe a better way to test the viability of these ideas would be to start a separate blog (they’re easy to start) focused on early career professionals, with the ability for selected posts to make their way to the Kitchen (syndication), while the bloggers there could comment on our posts as they wish. An organization like ISMTE, which has found a particularly good niche in the market that SSP, CSE, PSP, or STM don’t address well, illustrates the benefit of diversifying rather than overloading. Having one brand or venue forced to carry the entire load doesn’t seem feasible or advisable. I’d like to see more outlets for thinking.

The Kitchen has a pace, legacy, and pitch of experience to it, for better or worse. It’s part of the brand — a “seasoned team” tone. I’d like to see another property with a different pace, tone, and pitch as a complement. Anyone willing to dig in and start that new legacy now?

You make a valid point, Kent. The Kitchen does have a certain brand and a great deal of the responsibility and kudos for that brand lies with you personally as the founder of the blog.

On the other hand, it makes me slightly uncomfortable to write this, but we do as chefs collectively have a leadership role in the industry. As I’m sure that you’ll agree a big part of effective leadership is listening to the concerns of others and adapting to feedback. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to give that feedback, and that deeply concerns me. For instance, about a year ago somebody who I count as a friend told me that they’d been anxious about speaking to me at an event because of my status as a chef. I can’t help wondering how many important conversations with people who have interesting and helpful perspectives we’re all missing if people are literally to scared to talk to us.

So this isn’t just about fairness to me. Fairness and inclusion are important enough on their own but for selfish reasons, I also want to learn from as many people as I can. People who are new to the industry, people with different backgrounds, and even people who hold misunderstandings because there’s valuable insight to be gained by understanding how viewpoints develop in context.

My opinion is that the Kitchen’s brand is very valuable, but at the same time, the voice and opinion of the experienced and successful is only one facet of our community that could and perhaps does drown out other voices.

How about a compromise? How about instead of putting the onus on the underrepresented to find a way to make their voices heard, we help those people learn how to find our voice the way that we have done. Perhaps another channel that is separate but associated with the Kitchen so that we can use our privilege to amplify their voices. Perhaps we can also assist in terms of training, maybe editing or just offering a second pair of eyes when called upon without unduly steering the conversation.

Of course, we’d need an early career person to helm it, but we could absolutely support it and help it become successful.

I’m really warming to this idea — expanding rather than radically changing. When I think of the journal article, I think of a highly-evolved form, meant to be a conversation among experts. So when advocates demand that research articles instead be written for the lay public, they’re taking something away from the landscape in favor of something else. My response is always, “why not both?”

Over on Twitter, folks have been talking about creating “The Scholarly Lounge”, and I think there’s room for a Scholarly Cafe or even a take-out counter as well. We could think about seeding these new communities through the SSP’s mentorship or fellowship programs. Lots of great ideas to consider.

If people are talking about creating a Scholarly Lounge or whatever, we may be losing control of our brand. Happens to not-for-profits all the time. There is a case to be made for line extension (per Kent).

As for the smackdown between Phill and Kent, let’s do a mind experiment. We imagine two universes. In one the Kitchen proceeds along the lines Kent suggests. In the second, the Kitchen proceeds along the lines Phill suggests. Question: In five years’ time, which site has more traffic?

It doesn’t need to be a separate site. We’ve hosted Stewart Wills side dishes, and our podcast series. We could do these as a running series within the formal Kitchen.

I meet people all the time who are gobsmacked to meet a Chef. It’s an amazing and weird thing. Fortunately, most often they end their encounters with me unimpressed, so I’m doing my part.

I think we need to remember that the Kitchen has accomplished a lot of inclusiveness, even if it remains imperfect. We have more people writing here than anyone imagined could be possible beforehand, informing a larger audience than SSP ever was able to convene previously, and with 17,000+ Twitter followers to a scholarly publishing account receiving well-curated and interesting pointers about changes. The industry is much better-informed in some ways, and more of a community, thanks to the Kitchen and everyone’s efforts here, seen and unseen. So, while we can always improve, let’s not get too “sackcloth and ashes” and instead recognize that the Kitchen has made huge strides in inclusiveness and community-building on many levels.

I’d be happy to help another group get up and running with a Scholarly Lounge or Scholarly Dojo. Whoever leads such a thing just needs to repeat the event that started all this a decade ago — just do it.

A ‘third way’ here could involve annotation: the Chefs write their regular pieces, and we have a ‘Scholarly Serving Hatch’ contributor who adds an educational layer on top. This contributor would tag the text with explanations of historical context, jargon, and so forth, and readers could toggle this layer on and off as they see fit. The serving hatch contributor would ideally be new enough to the industry that they’d easily recognize when we’re being obscure, but experienced enough to know how to explain it to a newcomer.

I would love a 101 or introduction post(s). I just started in an academic library two months ago and I feel like a introduction to the field is very lacking. I picked up the ideas behind pediatric neurosurgery research in a few months at my last job but those terms and ideas were easy to google. I’m starting to feel disheartened by my lack of understanding. Anything you could do or point me to would be appreciated!

I have personally been working on a series of posts to be called Publishing 101, #___: [topic appears in subtitle]. It’s a lot of work, but I hope the first of these will dribble out soon. The topics themselves are to be taken from actual questions that have been put to me by clients, most of which are in the not-for-profit sector.

This is a great post, thank you Betsy. I have been on a similar path, I must admit. Now, I am a member of the STM Association’s Early Career Publishers Committee, and we have found people looking to enter, or new to, the profession to find there is a dearth of resources available to them (and indeed that committee is trying to take steps in this area). I find myself more and more often being approached on this topic and encourage more outreach in this vein – every little helps!

Nicely stated, Betsy, and thanks to Adrian for stepping forward with the mentor program. We all need to be good mentors, and I think the TSK is a wonderful forum for doing so.

Thanks so much for this, Betsy. You raise a number of issues that us chefs need to be more cognizant of. I couldn’t agree more with you (and Adrian) about the tone of commenting at times – it still puts me off engaging and if I find that difficult from a senior point in the industry and as a chef, is must be all the more intimidating for many others (and explains why our pool of commenters is so much smaller than our pool of readers). I’m all for being able to express opinion and debate constructively, but I’m disappointed that we don’t always meet that standard. Secondly, to your ideas around mentoring for TSK and the chefs. I understand the concerns Kent raises, but it may well be that some of us would be willing to work with one or two mentees in the capacities you suggest in a more limited way (say reading and commenting on a couple of posts, and co-authoring one). I would certainly sign up for that!

Thanks much, Alison. Having a few chefs willing to work with their mentees in some way within TSK – even just a few times a year – would be fantastic to see, and IMHO could inspire engagement from a wider group on comments, suggestions and readership overall.

Not to be a wet blanket, but for the sake of accurate perceptions — this has been tried, diligently and recently and repeatedly, and we have come up with nothing. In some cases, the mentees were too busy. In other cases, they had no idea what they’d want to write about. Sometimes, their managers wouldn’t approve what they wrote. So, yes, it sounds nice, but easier said than done here, and it’s not been for a lack of effort.

Seems like Learned Publishing are making some headways in this area with the appointment of a Student Editor https://www.alpsp.org/News/20180301lpstudenteditor … hopefully we can learn some lessons from the past, and figure out as a whole, what’s needed going forward, for the better of SSP and the community, especially those we are spending considerable time and effort encouraging and working together with, and seeing very positive effects in many areas including: mentoring, regional meetings, early career, private group chats, and volunteering on committees.

Great post, thanks so much Betsy! I agree that the Kitchen isn’t always an easy place to comment and that we could do more to welcome and support currently underrepresented voices. (Shameless plug alert) I strongly encourage everyone who reads it (or who might, but doesn’t feel welcome) to give us your feedback in the survey we are launching tomorrow.

Great post Betsy and some great ideas. Thanks for addressing the topic.

Hi Betsy, great post! Thank you for encouraging people to find their voice. Many times I’ve wanted to comment, even dispute certain posts but never do out of fear, so an offline conversation will start among fellow chickens. So, per our conversation earlier this week, you’ve gotten me to break my personal policy of never commenting on TSK (baby steps).

Great post 🙂

One group I’ve seen outside of publishing runs a new voices event every month or so to engage new people in public speaking. It’s aims to provide a safe and friendly (and controlled by an experienced organiser) setting for people to practice speaking and find their voice.

There is a private edge to it of course, as many don’t want to speak in front of 5 people, let alone 30 or indeed to a baying audience of 17,000 via Twitter.

But with baby steps, practice and experience, and moreover the right kind of support, it can be done.

I’d commend all on mentoring programmes (SSP, STM, or otherwise) to band together occasionally to share their learnings and questions, and maybe open up invites to others to join in.

Can take a lot to become comfortable in one’s professional skin and to opine freely in the public sphere, but starting out semi-privately with peers can definitely help.

I think there are many ways to help hear readers voices, and a wider discussion, not just via commenting on this thread or from reviewing the survey results, would be welcome, not that I’m saying TSK should follow Learned Publishing and appoint a student editor/blogger, but I’m drawn to the 3 comments and reasons noted below from the press release, just out last Friday … Charlotte Mauti is a master’s student in publishing at Oxford Brookes University (no doubt Oxfrord Brookes is a hot bed for readers of TSK, if not, it probably should be).

“Working directly with publishing students like Charlotte will both enrich our perspectives of today’s publishing industry and increase diversity within the voice of the journal itself – it’s a great opportunity to learn from each other”, Pippa Smart, Editor-in-Chief (editor@alpsp.org)

“This new student editor role formalizes our ongoing connections with higher education and our community’s legacy of mentorship, apprenticeship, and investing in future generations of publishers”, Lettie Conrad, North American Editor (US-editor@alpsp.org).

“This is an exciting opportunity I am looking forward to start. Peer review and editing have long been areas in publishing I’ve wanted to pursue. Being a part of ALPSP’s academic scholarly journal will allow me to share and develop new skills in publishing”, Charlotte Mauti, Student Editor

full release here https://www.alpsp.org/News/20180301lpstudenteditor

I hear your voice and I like it. Only through ongoing dialogue and exchange can we achieve a new ‘frequency’ that everyone can hear AND understand.
Talk on, Betsy!

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