Why Open Access is Important to Grad Students


Primary research articles form the basis of scientific communication. Graduate students rely on these articles to provide background data, refine methodologies, and teach the scientific method to undergraduates.  You probably read most articles online or download copies from Web of Science or other databases.  Searching for these articles is often free (think Google Scholar or PubMed), but those free services link to UIC library subscriptions that provide the actual text of the article. 

Subscriptions to scientific journals cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the biological sciences alone.  No one university or institution can afford to pay for all the research that is being published.  What about all the students, researchers and scientists out there in the world who don’t have access to primary research articles?

Science is expensive. Whether in labs or on location, experiments can require sensitive equipment and experienced personnel. Science is also expensive to publish.  But does the traditional model of publishing in subscription based journals prevent the spreading and sharing of ideas that is essential to the nature of scientific investigation?

Open access refers to literature published online that is free for anyone to read.  Open access articles often have fewer copyright and licensing restrictions. The number of open access journals is growing as more professional societies and publishers experiment with different payment models.  One downside of open access is that authors often have to pay a fee to support the cost of publications.  Also not all open access journals have the peer-review standards and high impact factor of traditional journals that have a long publishing history (such as Science and Nature).

As a graduate student, open access is important, both in gaining access to articles necessary for your work and publishing your own research.  Funding bodies often include access requirements. Both NSF and NIH have mandates about public access and data management (think data sharing) for publicly funded research.  Be aware both of public access requirements and open access opportunities as you plan your research.

UIC is committed to supporting open access initiatives. U of I encourages all faculty to upload a copy of their publications into the campus repository (INDIGO).  Students and faculty can upload even unpublished theses and articles into INDIGO.  Researchers outside of UIC can find articles (and read them for free) in INDIGO because it is indexed by Google Scholar.

Open Access is important in the debate about how scientific research is shared and who profits from it.  There are many more arguments both for and opposing open access. Read more about UIC and Open Access.