This is the fifth post in a new series of perspectives from some of Publishing’s leaders across the non-profit and profit sectors of our industry. How did these leaders get into publishing? What excites them? What is their vision for the future of publishing, and indeed for the business and careers of all those working at their organization? We rarely gain these insights so we are excited to give voice to some of the key leaders in the academic publishing world.

Judy VersesToday, we talk to Judy Verses. Judy is President Academic and Government Markets, Elsevier.

What was your route into publishing? Could you tell our readers a little about what drives you as a leader of Elsevier?

I was in education technology for eight years and telecom prior to entering the scholarly publishing world. To be very candid, when a recruiter contacted me about a role heading the Global Research business at Wiley, although I knew who Wiley was because of their higher education business, I knew very little about scholarly publishing. What really excited me once I learned more about the opportunity was the purpose and impact of global research, as well as the opportunity to help a large, low growth business manage through disruption and find new ways to delight customers and deliver growth.

It is exciting to now be part of Elsevier, continuing my journey in the world of research publishing, having the opportunity to take research to the next level by showing the real-world impact of the knowledge that was created through our data and analytics business. What drives me as a leader are people and purpose. It is such a privilege to work with smart people who care about each other and our customers, as well as be part of a culture that is very focused on things that are so important to me like inclusivity and diversity and climate change. Working with colleagues who care about helping researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and patient outcomes continually inspires me. I feel like I learn every day from the communities we serve by having this amazing front row seat to their discoveries that have a direct impact on our world.

As a leader in academic publishing, what most excites you right now?

The research community that we serve is working to solve some of our world’s grand challenges like climate change, energy crisis, health inequalities. I was at Falling Walls science summit in November. There were so many awe-inspiring examples of discovery and innovation, like implants that turn brainwaves into words, or a breakthrough drug for Alzheimer’s. As academic publishers, we are here to help the innovators, those who push the boundaries of knowledge. The opportunity to support them by ensuring high quality research is shared and built upon by others, that it accelerates innovation, or to help academic leaders evaluate the societal impact of their research – this is incredibly exciting and motivating.

How is Elsevier positioned to serve the next generation of students, researchers and professionals?

Every time I meet early career researchers or students, I am struck by how purpose driven they are, and it fuels my optimism about our future world. I am also reminded that they are digital natives operating in a global ecosystem and they have a very different view of their future and their needs. I think we have such a tremendous opportunity to help them in several ways. As an industry, continued technology enablement is key. We can help make the workflows of researchers simpler, more intuitive. We can help them connect the dots more effectively, whether that is finding the right information, funding opportunities, or others with whom they can collaborate across disciplines or geographies.

The next generation of researchers have grown up in a very different environment and I believe their expectations of how they conduct research, leverage technology tools, network and communicate is very much based upon their experiences as consumers. That kind of ease of use, simplicity, information how you want it, where you want it and when you want it is incredibly important in how we support them.

What do you anticipate the major challenges will be for Elsevier, and indeed the publishing industry, over the next five years?

As people who work with me know, I like to focus on opportunities. The communities that we serve are making great advances for people everywhere. In that context, we need to do much more to drive innovation that helps researchers, do everything humanly possible to make them successful. As a team, we constantly think about how do we really take the scholarly publishing ecosystem to the next level? What more can we do to remove friction from the day-to-day experience of researchers, help them be as effective and efficient as they possibly can, both in the research as well as the publication process so these great brains are focused on doing their pivotal work, driving progress and positive change.

We also want to do everything possible to help funders make the right decisions about and get the most from their investment in research. When we look at the sustainable development goals, for example, research will fuel so many of the outcomes. Data-led insights are essential for evidence-based policy decisions and action. Data is also critical for tracking progress because, if we can’t measure something or don’t measure it, how would we know if we are making progress?

At Elsevier we try to support researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders and governments by combining quality information and data sets with analytical tools to facilitate insights and critical decision-making. Science is increasingly more multidisciplinary, reproducible and transparent. The volume of research continues to grow, and researchers are increasingly sharing their datasets. These trends mean we have a clear opportunity to help the research community with our journals, our platforms, analytics capabilities, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to surface what is relevant, make connections and make smart decisions.

 What does open access / public access mean for your business?

Open access is an integral part of our commitment to a collaborative, inclusive, and transparent world of research where authors, researchers, and academic institutions can share knowledge and build on each other’s work to advance outcomes that benefit society.

We have an extensive open access offering that now includes more than 700 gold OA journals and transformative deals that serve over 2000 institutions around the world.

What publishing innovations are you most proud of?

I’m super impressed with the amazing job our journals do — reviewing and publishing the highest quality, cool science that pushes the boundaries of our understanding of important challenges. For example, Environment International, published one of the most read pieces of research in 2022 on the worrying discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood. The Lancet, our iconic medical journal and number 1 in its field, published in December a special edition on racism in science.

I’m very proud, in particular, of how our publishers, editors and journal teams have committed to advancing inclusion and diversity in scholarly communications and research. They are actively increasing diversity of editorial boards and transparently demonstrating progress on their home pages. Our overall representation of women on editorial boards grew from 15% in 2016 to 28% in 2021, with The Lancet at 50%. Collecting self-reported identity data on gender, race and ethnicity provides a helpful basis for moving the needle, and for research to benefit from diverse thought and perspectives. This is an area I am very passionate about, and I am so proud of the work we are doing.

What is the future of hybrid/remote working at Elsevier?

The experience of the last few years has shown that we, and our communities, can operate in a productive way while working remotely. But, we have all missed the human interaction and the serendipitous ideas that spark out of people talking and engaging in person.

We are embracing a hybrid and flexible working pattern at Elsevier, balancing the needs of our customers and the preferences of our colleagues. In many ways, it is still a great experiment that we are collectively working on. We have established a principles-based approach, instead of a rule-based approach; constantly taking stock of what works and what doesn’t so we can continuously improve our approach in a way that supports connections, belonging, idea generation and innovation.

What do the next generation of academic publishing jobs look like to you?

The volume and speed of information generated in our world right now is astounding. It can be hard for research professionals and the public alike to know what is credible and what is not. Alongside that, we see more and more expert knowledge required within academic publishing jobs and key skillsets to solve problems for authors and customers. Technology will play a huge role in our future. I think figuring out the right balance of how we leverage technology like AI together with the great brains of researchers, editors and publishers, will be a key feature of research and of academic publishing jobs.

Robert Harington

Robert Harington

Robert Harington is Chief Publishing Officer at the American Mathematical Society (AMS). Robert has the overall responsibility for publishing at the AMS, including books, journals and electronic products.