How AuthorAID offers you the chance to be a mentor

In an article published on the Wiley Exchanges blog last week, INASP’s AuthorAID director Julie Walker explains the AuthorAID mentoring process and how learned societies can encourage their members to get involved

AuthorAID workshop Source: INASP

At this time of year, many of us turn our thoughts to how we can make positive changes in our lives and the lives of others. Some of us long to provide practical help and support, but feel we lack the necessary skills or time commitment. For experienced researchers, editors and librarians there is a great way that you can give practical, hands-on support to others and one that doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time or require you to travel. You can support a researcher in a developing country through INASP’s AuthorAID project. The support and advice of people who are more experienced in research communication can make a huge difference in helping these researchers to publish their first papers or develop the confidence to present their research findings at a conference.

AuthorAID aims to support developing-country researchers to publish and communicate their research. Mentoring is one of the key components of the project and volunteer mentors play an essential role. Mentors come from diverse backgrounds and include journal editors, science communicators, librarians, senior researchers, retired academics and postdoctoral students. They can decide on the level and nature of support they want to give, whether it’s short-term, task-based support or longer-term, mentoring support. They can also choose the tasks they want to accept and decline any they don’t have time for, or don’t feel comfortable with. Support could be as simple as answering a query or proofreading a manuscript, or as complex as guiding a researcher through the whole publication process. Some mentors also provide support through the AuthorAID discussion list where they can share knowledge and expertise in an ad hoc and informal way.

Through mentoring support, AuthorAID researchers develop the skills and confidence needed to publish in reputable journals, to win awards and scholarships and, vitally, to disseminate and increase the impact of their research findings both in their own countries and globally. Much of the research being undertaken by AuthorAID mentees is development focused and has real implications for economic growth and health in developing countries.

A great example of the potential benefits of the process is the story of AuthorAID mentee, Rhoune Ochako from Kenya. She is carrying out research on maternal and child health issues and first joined AuthorAID in 2010. She wrote “My experience with AuthorAID has been great! … My advice to young researchers is that there is help out there, go look for it; it will not come knocking on your door…” Since joining AuthorAID she has published six papers in high-quality journals, has been promoted to Senior Research Manager within her organization, and is now a mentor herself.

Although the satisfaction of giving back to the academic community is a key reason mentors join the programme, a recent survey that INASP carried out of AuthorAID mentors revealed that they feel they get much more out of mentoring than they were anticipating. Mentors also get a chance to refresh or expand their existing publishing skills, add to their own research knowledge, and make new academic contacts across the globe.

Dan Korbel, an AuthorAID mentor, explained, “…being an AuthorAID mentor goes beyond a conventional teacher-student relationship – it is a really stimulating and worthwhile learning process for both mentee and mentor.”

We are also delighted to announce a new partnership with Wiley to work with the company and its society partners to recruit new mentors. To support this partnership, we have developed a society toolkit (see links below for any society wishing to promote the programme to its members).

To find out more about AuthorAID, or to sign up for the mentoring programme or discussion list, please visit: www.authoraid.info. You can also find us on Twitter.

Wishing you all very happy holidays!

AuthorAID society toolkit
AuthorAID A4 mentoring ad
AuthorAID A5 society leaflet
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Understanding researcher needs is key to success of African research

For African research to prosper, access to information is vital, and libraries play a key role. But to really advance research, we need to go beyond providing access and work more closely with researchers to understand what they need to read, argues Jon Harle

When the problems facing research in African universities are considered – as many reports and conferences have done over the years – access to the latest journals often features high up the list of constraints.

Contrary to popular belief, the data suggests that many universities now have very good journal collections, thanks to a range of access initiatives (including INASP’s own). But actual use of these collections is often disappointingly low. Why is this?

The obvious problems are well known: IT networks that are not well configured to deliver good internet access to the desktop (we have a pilot project that is looking at this issue); poor awareness of what is available; researchers and students lacking the skills to effectively search or navigate scholarly collections (INASP offers training to help with this); and poor links between libraries and academic departments.

Collective action

Solving such problems requires the collective action of two groups: the librarians who are responsible for ensuring access to journals and books on the one hand, and the academics and university managers who are responsible for research and teaching on the other. But all too often, the two groups, and the two sets of issues, aren’t brought together in order to tackle these challenges collectively.

I have a chapter in a new book published by Brill that attempts to bring these two sets of issues together – ‘Dazzled by Digital? Research Environments in African Universities and their Implications for the Use of Digital Resources’. A pre-print copy of the chapter is available on the INASP website, but, for details of the full book, see ‘African Studies in the Digital Age: DisConnects?‘ My chapter builds on a presentation at the 2012 SCOLMA conference.

The environment for research

The issues of IT infrastructure, access and awareness of resources are undoubtedly important considerations. But, as my chapter discusses, there are some more fundamental underlying problems that relate to the way research does or doesn’t take place. These underlying issues have been confirmed by several recent visits to the countries in which INASP works.

Some problems require structural solutions that have to be driven at institutional, if not national, level. These include the shortage of research funding and the over-dependency on short-term consultancies, which can erode the dynamism and perceived value of scholarly research generated by academic departments.

Pressures also include the huge growth in student numbers, which means that many academics spend a great deal of their time lecturing to ever larger classes, and attending to the extra administration that this entails. There is less time for academics to explore the literature, to do research, and to stay up to date with what is happening in their subject.

Learning what to read

Even where there is research going on, there is often a real shortage of staff with PhDs, trained in research, equipped to teach and supervise postgraduates and, in this case, to guide their students to the research they need to be reading. This is hardly surprising given the decades of underinvestment in higher education in many countries. Unless this gap is addressed, however, there is a danger that emerging researchers will continue to start their careers with a fundamental disadvantage compared with their peers in the north.

In short, if critical elements of the research environment are missing, and a culture of research is lacking, journals are likely to see little use. All the access to all the journals in the world isn’t going to transform research and teaching unless we can start working more closely with researchers and their supervisors, within particular subjects or fields of inquiry, so they can more clearly tell their librarians what they need to read.

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Research matters for developing countries

We would like to thank everyone who took part in our 6th Publishers for Development conference last week and hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. This year we wanted the perspectives of our presenters would help our audience to explore how participation in initiatives, such as access schemes, can help to make an important contribution to development. A vital part of this is in seeing and making the links between research, higher education and development. We aimed to provide insights into some of the challenges that remain, what is being done to help address them and also areas where we might collectively get involved.

So that you might easily share information from #pfd2014 with colleagues unable to join us – here are some useful information links:

  • Presentations from the day are now available in PDF format – video is on its way!
  • Twitter engagement via #pfd2014 was absolutely fantastic – we have produced a storify of some of the highlights, but please check out the # and follow @pubsfordev.
  • 2014 Press release is now available on the summary page.
  • We’ve also posted some photos of the day.
  • Finally, we will be following-up on the 5 questions we posed for you to consider during the day – and would like to thank those who have already been filmed for our vox pops!

If you have any other questions or suggestions you would like to make please contact us via: pfd@inasp.info or you can email Lucy Browse.

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