Continuing our Kitchen Essentials series of interviews with leaders of infrastructure organizations, today we’re hearing from Jennifer Gibson, Executive Director of Dryad, an international open-access repository of research data.
Please tell us a bit about yourself — your role at Dryad, how you got there, and why you embarked on a career in research infrastructure?
Hello! 👋 I’m the Executive Director at Dryad, which means I have oversight of all our operations (including research data curation, publication and preservation, technology maintenance and platform development, community engagement, member recruitment, finance, administration, and board relations – and maybe more, but that’ll do for now!). I’m also charged with developing a strategy (what we should do, why, and when) to achieve our vision for the open availability of routine research data with the Board of Directors and team – and then make it happen. Thanks for reading, if you’re still with me; it’s good to have the chance to express what a big job this is!! : )
I joined Dryad after about 10 years at eLife . By that point I had spent 16 years of my career championing open access to the research article, mainly.
Confession: Yes, I’m an open research advocate. I’m also a champion of multi-stakeholder collaboration and feel we’re most effective when we work together – regardless of our access models and where we find funding.
Joining Dryad in 2021 was exciting to me as I would have the chance to advocate for – and realize – open access to the objects and events underlying the research article. I can contribute to research integrity and transparency by helping to ensure the data underlying the research article is readily available to readers, including peer reviewers, and that it is interconnected with all the other objects needed for another individual to recreate and interrogate the finished report.
What do you like most and least about working in research infrastructure?
It all feels quite new to me, only being in this corner of the space for two years. Still, I’m struck by the opportunities to collaborate, and how folks work together to take on the challenges we share. Having just attended my first meeting at the Research Data Alliance, I was left with a keen sense that I am not alone; there are at least a dozen people out there who will understand what I’m working on and would be ready to help. I like that a lot.
What do I like the least? I can’t say metadata, can I? (I’m joking! I know I can’t say that…) Honestly, I’m not sure. Even with the most technical aspects of our work, my colleagues are patient enough to help me to understand, to articulate technical topics in plain language, and to express how important accurate metadata and persistent identifiers (PIDs) are for elevating the data we publish to the global open research infrastructure, where they can be accessed and consumed by other researchers – for example. If I had one apprehension about working in infrastructure it might be that we rely so heavily on the big, commercial players for our use of Cloud services. In time, I expect I will want to know that we aren’t over-leveraging any one provider.
Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give someone starting, or thinking of starting, a career in research infrastructure?
Coming to infrastructure at this (later) stage in my career, I’ve found it really powerful and motivating to be able to connect our work at Dryad to the broader initiative for open research. We’re not a data repository, where carefully organised data go to sleep; we’re an open data publishing platform and core contributor to the global open research infrastructure. Dryad is an instrument of change in research advancement, research integrity, and research assessment. The care with which we curate and publish research data is essential for these downstream impacts to materialize. For folks who are motivated by grand ambitions, my advice would be to learn from other spaces before working in infrastructure. But that’s, of course, just based on my own experience.
What sort of infrastructure does Dryad provide, and who are your users?
Dryad is an open data publishing platform and destination for research data reuse. We publish curated research data openly, taking steps to enable its usability for further research. We are a trusted partner to journals that want to ensure the data underpinning reported results is readily available; to research-performing institutions and funders that want to see the results of their investments shared (and to support researchers with emerging policies); and to individual researchers independently seeking to have their data curated, shared, and preserved. As all our data are published openly, we can support a very broad user base – in research, analysis, teaching and studying in many fields, and much more.
How is Dryad sustained financially?
Dryad is supported by a combination of membership fees (from institutions, societies and publishers), data publication fees (from members and individual researchers), grants, and program service revenue. Dryad is an early signatory of the Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructure (POSI) and has goals to cover service costs with earned revenue (i.e., without grants) and to be able to dedicate grants to particular projects, like program service revenue.
As one of the leaders of a research infrastructure organization, what do you think are the biggest opportunities we’ve not yet realized as a community — and what’s stopping us?
I would personally very much like to see infrastructure providers collaborate on supra-service functions like administration and marketing. There is an extensive cast of open infrastructure providers that provide distinct services to the community and could potentially save a lot of time and money if we consolidated those aspects of our operations that aren’t core to creating distinct services. Raym Crow and Kristen Ratan shared this idea with me and I think it has real legs. What do we need to make it happen? Time and money!
Looking at your own organization, what are you most proud of — and what keeps you awake at night?
I am incredibly proud of the team we’ve assembled at Dryad in the last two years. I only joined in October 2021 and, since then, we have attracted some of the industry’s most talented individuals (in my semi-biased view!) – individuals with notable track records in building and growing community-supported and open initiatives. I’m so proud of the manifest impact the team has had in helping Dryad, and its 16 years’ service to and trust in the community, to be seen and appreciated in all its glory.
I know we have the right pieces in place; we have the right team, a fabulous service, and a community that needs us. What keeps me up at night is developing and modeling healthy and balanced economics to support core services like Dryad in a way that is sustainable for our member investors. This is something we’re actively working on — and it’s an exciting time to be taking on this challenge. We have so many lessons to build upon from financing open access to the research article. And, there is much stronger dialog with policy makers about how to make all this work collectively. It’s an honour to have the chance to lead Dryad during this time.
What impact has/does/will AI have on Dryad’s work?
There is so much potential here. We’ve already found that AI-supported tools can expedite the work we do outside data curation and publishing. We’re optimistic but much more careful about introducing these tools to our core processes, because we want the changes we introduce to be sustainable and to help maintain our high standards for quality.
We might imagine AI accelerating the curation and publishing process by replacing manual steps, for example. And we might imagine adjusting our processes to make the data we publish more accessible as an input to AI, as described in this blog post.
What changes do you think we’ll see in terms of the overall research infrastructure over the next five to ten years, and how will they impact the kinds of roles you’ll be hiring for at Dryad?
I’m hopeful that growing support among funders and institutions will result in more community-supported open-source infrastructures being better supported – that purchase decisions for systems like Dryad will be informed by values-alignment as well as cost and return on investment.
I’m also optimistic that the infrastructure providers, like Dryad, will find more and better ways to work together, to break down silos between us and help the data and metadata travel fluidly across the network, to where it can offer the greatest benefit.
For the Dryad team, this would mean more work for relationship-builders (to engage with funders, institutions and other providers), a higher demand for technical fluency across the team (to envision and design collaborations), and additional capacity for contributing to higher-level conversations.