Looking beyond the PhD: Applying for your first academic post

New year, new blog post! For our latest piece, DEPTH researcher Dr Sam Miles reflects on the journey from PhD to first academic job, and offers some advice to ECRs (early-career researchers) pursuing careers in academia. This blog has been adapted from The Royal Geographical SocietyPostgraduate Life‘ Series, which you can find here.

I was recently invited to write a guest blog for the Royal Geographical Society about my journey to my first academic job. I don’t have all the answers – in the piece below I reflect on exactly why this might be, and my concerns probably resonate with many of you – but I do have some ideas. Many of these came about after discussions with former students, current colleagues and other early-career researchers (ECRs) in the field, and notes of my own taken over the years.

It’s not as simple as a tick-list, though I cannot tell you how much I wish it were. I just hope that these ideas can be helpful to social science students here at LSHTM and in the wider job market applying for postdoctoral or lecturer posts. I was asked to write the kind of blog post I wish I’d read when I was starting to job hunt; with that in mind, here goes.

It’s one of those truisms that finding an academic job is hard. And it really is – it feels somehow unlike finding any other kind of job, and the specific knowledge around academic job hiring processes is something you’re also somehow expected to know, maybe by osmosis. It’s no wonder Imposter Syndrome strikes so many of us. Take for example academic CVs, where longer is better. It goes against every fibre of my being to go over the 2 pages I was always told is the maximum you should fill. Even the listing of education/jobs/experience is differently ordered in an academic CV to CVs in every other job in the world. Job adverts themselves can be confusing in terms of terminology and contract type, or arcane or unclear working conditions, or freighted with acronyms without explanations. On top of this, salary, contract length and expectations of entry-level posts can be vague, missing or intimidating.

It all results in a task that feels unclear and applications that can feel rather uncertain. Usually, that’s through no fault of your own (as evidenced when you’re several applications in, facing radio silence from each institution. Are you even doing it right?) Obviously, the offer of an actual job would answer that question, but academic posts are so competitive that your empty inbox may be more of a testament to a stricken job market than your own application – and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a precarious market even worse. You will often be rejected without any feedback from the hiring institution. The standard response to requests for feedback is that feedback is only feasible at shortlist stage, but it is invariably difficulty to get to shortlist and interview if you don’t gain feedback on what you need to finesse! In the absence of clear direction from institutions, you may need to utilise a few different approaches. I’ll lay out some that I used.

Here’s what my own journey looked like: In the final year of my PhD, I applied to several lectureships. The applications I submitted were for posts that normally required a PhD, completed or near-completion. I took this to mean that they were open to nearly-there or newly-minted PhDs as much as anyone else, but have since recognised that the field of candidates is routinely so huge that many will have progressed a long way beyond this milestone. From asking more established colleagues at my institution, talking with early-career-researchers at a conference that spring, and looking out for the hiring announcements of successful candidates (people increasingly share job successes on Twitter), I realised the reality was that new PhD finishers rarely get these jobs. The market is crowded with brilliant and highly-qualified candidates. Vacancies are limited (and by some accounts, dwindling further).

It is now much more common for PhD finishers to work on one or several assistantships or postdoctoral posts before lectureships become a possibility. Even then, that post is often fixed term.

During my own job hunt, a Research Fellow post at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) caught my eye. It required a PhD in public health or related discipline, including social sciences. Alongside my own research covering some (but certainty not all) elements of sexual health via a PhD researching the mapping of queer male relationships on location-based dating apps, I made sure I researched reproductive health, which was the other component of the post and an area where I was less experienced. The specification emphasised qualitative methods, which matched my experience, and co-produced research outcomes with communities. My doctoral research was participant-centred and I had been reflecting on making a safe space for sensitive topic discussions, but I wanted to develop this more in future work. The LSHTM post would specifically engage participatory research, so I took my knowledge of participatory action research (PAR) from my own work and brought myself up to speed on co-production and PPI (patient/public involvement) in health.

I revised (and revised, and revised) my academic CV, highlighting teaching experience as well as research outputs to date. I wrote a targeted cover letter which addressed each of the candidate specification requirements listed in their ‘essential’ list for the vacancy. I addressed each criteria only briefly, keeping the letter to the point, but then noted down longer answers to consider for a potential interview stage. The hiring panel requested academic and non-academic writing samples, so I included a published article but also a blog I had written about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida and its impact on LGBTQ space. I was shortlisted for interview(!) and prepared obsessively. I read articles, chapters and media pieces from the hiring team, and took them up on their invitation to produce a slideshow to present in the job interview. I tried to make sure I could highlight the ways in which my research experience matched their goals and I matched up every item in the person specification to a demonstrable activity, role or expertise. This is so key:

You need to show how you fulfil each and every ‘essential’ criteria to progress to shortlist. If you cannot show this, or don’t effectively communicate how you show this, your hiring panel will not be able to ‘get to’ other elements of your application that are lower ranking in priority.

And… I got the job! It was only a one-year contract, but with hopes of renewing this pending funding. That happened at the end of year one, and then again six months later, and again a few months later. Three years later, and I’m still hanging on. We are now embarking on a very exciting project, after which point I will again need to think about new grants, funding and tenure.

This brings me to precarity. One thing I was asked to reflect on in my blog post was worries I had when applying for academic posts. To be honest, it’s not a past tense concern: I’m funded for now, but then I’ll need to generate grant money for future posts. What started as a temporary position became less precarious, but I’ve yet to secure a permanent position, and know strikingly few ECRs who have managed it. Over half of all UK lecturers are now on fixed term contracts. I worked for several cash-strapped NGOs before my PhD and yet have never experienced precarity like I see in academia.

It’s not a personal failing of mine – nor of my colleagues, my line manager or even my Faculty. It’s the predictable result of the neoliberalisation of universities. ECRs are good value and high output, and the incredibly high requirements of REF and general institutional reputation require in turn workers who can relentlessly publish lots of high-quality, peer-reviewed research. In this context, the idea of ‘slow’ co-production in research sadly becomes a luxury, even as my colleagues and I have shown its value.

Some final tips:

  • Find academic jobs advertised on jobs.ac.uk and Times Higher. Jobs.ac.uk is better in my view because it allows tighter filtering by salary level, city and discipline. You can also ask it to direct new job alerts straight to your inbox.
  • Twitter is an incredibly useful tool, not just for academic networking, but for getting to know an institution and who works there (many staff now have Twitter profiles – DEPTH even has one). It’s also useful to catch job alerts from departments in case you’ve missed them on your job hunt.
  • Write a blog. It’s a tip I bet you’ve heard before and probably rolled your eyes at, but it’s true. Writing your own blog as a PhD student is invaluable. I may not keep up a regular blogging schedule, but writing a blog, especially at PhD level, has been useful for thinking ideas through, for connecting with other people online, for publicising my work. My hiring committee told me that they read writing samples closely to check that candidates can articulate ideas, and they judge generalist and academic writing equally. Writing a blog allows hirers to witness your skills already in action as a form of public engagement.
  • My PhD supervisor, who was relatively early into their academic career themselves, was a source of invaluable advice, and I would definitely recommend asking to speak with your supervisor in your final year about your job application plans. Ask to do this separately from your normal supervision slot if that’s what it takes to really get your head in the job hunting zone. Talking your plans over with a supervisor is doubly useful if you have sent them your CV in advance for them to review or comment on.
  • Your supervisor has been in your position themselves, and so their advice should be invaluable, but I also know that many supervisors haven’t been on the job market in years. Even if they have, the reality of today’s academic job market may be totally different from their understanding. They also may not have time to help you with cover letters or CVs. If this is your experience, ask around to see if another staff member – perhaps your head of department or research lead – would be willing to look over your application materials.
  • Find your university careers service and book a CV appointment. Be clear when booking that you are applying for academic jobs and need guidance on an academic CV and cover letter – the advisor is unlikely to be specialist in that area but at least you’re giving them the chance to check up on the conventions in order to offer you tailored help. In my case at QMUL they didn’t have anyone relevant in-house but hired a specialist for PhD students as and when required – the consultant was excellent, and free for students.
  • Take some precious days away from thesis write-up to rehearse how you can show your interview panel specifically how you are the best matched candidate for the role. I’m always surprised that most people I know don’t do this, which surprises me (they also tend not to rehearse conference presentations either – horses for courses, I guess). It seems obvious that the rhythms and flow of public speaking aren’t perfected on your first run through, and that goes doubly for a speech or presentation. Do I hate it? Yes. Do I force myself to set time aside for the activity anyway so that when it comes to the real thing ‘out there’ my flow mitigates my wobbly voice or mumbling? Absolutely!
  • When universities hire a candidate for a post, they need to fulfil these criteria to be shortlisted and need to demonstrate their fulfilment of these criteria again in interview, so taking time to really read and think about how you match to these criteria is crucial. Think about it: you need to minimise their labour in matching up what they are looking for when it comes to interviewing their candidates. You need to prepare some of this work for them, so they aren’t having to find ways to invite you to show how you match up – because you’ve already laid it out concisely and persuasively, on the page and in person. Good luck!
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Alumni Profile: Maiko Hirai

Maiko Hirai (MSc Public Health, 2014) is an Associate Partner for McKinsey, the Global Public Health and Healthcare practice. Here, she describes how her work has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, how LSHTM gave her long-lasting connections, and advice for current students.

I spent my childhood in Thailand during the AIDS epidemic. I witnessed the fragility of its healthcare system during that period, and from a very young age, I knew I wanted to improve healthcare access, especially for those in need. I joined LSHTM after completing my degree in medicine and working in HIV/AIDS research at an international organisation. I applied to LSHTM because of its reputation, knowledge repositories and network, not only in Europe and Africa but also in Asia.

After I graduated from LSHTM, I joined McKinsey. My work focuses on strategy development for international donors, government, and pharmaceutical companies to improve outcomes of their portfolios, investments and projects. I am currently co-leading the Asia Global Public Health Practice focusing on infectious diseases and R&D. Since the pandemic, my work has been shifting towards response and redesign of COVID-19-related topics such as government COVID-19 strategy development, and COVID-19 regional response design. McKinsey has been involved in more than 1,500 COVID-19 related projects across 70 countries both with public and private sectors. I have been involved in COVID-19 related work through our client work and research. I am grateful for the opportunity to create change that matters, while living up to our purpose of helping to create positive, enduring change in the world.

I am still in regular touch with my LSHTM classmates and tutors. It is common to meet our alumni at work if you work in the public health space. I actually just had lunch with my classmate yesterday who works at the Ministry of Health to exchange thoughts on COVID-19 vaccine supply and chain.

My advice for current students is that LSHTM and public health is about more than just books. Try to learn not only from books and classes, but also from interaction with your classmates, professors, and other experts. Also, immerse yourself in the city. London provides incredible growth opportunities, both as a professional and as an individual. For example, when volunteering at a local clinic on Christmas Day, I met a homeless lady who also happened to be a former swimmer, like myself. She told me her story, how she developed a substance addiction after suffering from burn-out syndrome. This made me realise the importance of systemic support and individual empathy which is the foundation of becoming a public health specialist.”

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19 story, please click here to find out more. Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

 

Obituary: Professor Adetokunbo O. Lucas

We are greatly saddened to learn of the death of Professor Adetokunbo Lucas, renowned global health leader. Professor Lucas passed away on 25 December 2020 at his home in Ibadan, Nigeria, at the age of 89.

His connections to LSHTM were many. He spent the period October 1959 to February 1960 completing our School’s course in tropical medicine; he was Heath Clarke lecturer in 1978, awarded LSHTM’s honorary fellowship in 1983, and was the honorary president of the alumni association between 1991 and 2002. The Lucas room in our Keppel St building was named in his honour in 2004.

Professor Lucas was a huge contributor to global health through his research, leadership and mentorship. He was the pioneering director of TDR – the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases – which is co-sponsored by the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank.

His distinguished career also included positions as Head of the Department of Preventative and Social Medicine at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria), Professor of International Health at Harvard School of Public Health, and the first chair of the Strengthening Human Resources in Developing Countries Program at Carnegie Corporation of New York. His research has contributed new knowledge on the epidemiology of malaria, schistosomiasis and other tropical infectious diseases.

LSHTM’s Professor Sir Brian Greenwood said: “I first met Prof Lucas when I started my career in Africa in 1965 at University College Hospital Ibadan. Prof Lucas was very supportive of this inexperienced young researcher and continued to provide encouragement during the rest of my time in Nigeria and afterwards. Many others across the world could tell a similar story of the way he supported them in their research and career.’’ 

Professor Anne Mills, LSHTM’s Deputy Director & Provost, said: “I had the huge pleasure of interacting for a number of years with Professor Lucas in the international advisory committee for the Prince Mahidol Award. He was hugely erudite, and kept up to date with global health research and development well into his eighties.”

In his professional career, Professor Lucas sat on various advisory boards of the Rockefeller Foundation; Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; Carter Center; the Wellcome Trust Scientific Group on Tropical Medicine; the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Children’s Vaccine Programme; the Governing Board of the Global Fund for Fighting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the Governing Board of the Centres for Agriculture and Biosciences International. He chaired the Global Forum for Health Research when the new entity was established to promote international health research.

His work was recognised through many awards and honours including the Harvard Medal, the Carter Humanitarian Award, the Mary Kingsley Medal of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Honorary International Fellow of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, and the Harvard School of Public Health Alumni Award of Merit.

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COVID-19 Alumni Stories: Osa Rafshodia Rafidin

Osa Rafshodia Rafidin (Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, 2016) is Head of Department of Disease Control and Prevention at the Health City Office of Samarinda, East Borneo, Indonesia. Here, he describes how he has worked with communities to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

We had to change the way we worked with social and physical distancing in effect; many management decisions are now taking place online. We also had to change most of our current public health management strategies in primary and secondary care. Until mid-2020, as the nation tried to cope, we increased our testing, tracing and treatment capacities. The biggest challenge was managing human resources. As with physiological problems, the hardest hit were the health workers, whose mortality rate increased at the provincial level.

Since early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Borneo island where I worked, we had minimal and limited resources, including tracing, tracking and treatment. Strategies included community-based surveillance, where there was active reporting of suspected COVID-19 cases. These were reported to one channel of communication – 112 via phone. 82% of cases were reported from 112. Of these cases, 91% were mild symptoms. For nine months, our office tried to increase communication directly to the community via a community leader. This strategy is very useful for finding new cases and helping the community access trusted information and avoid hoaxes.

For ten months, we worked to try and respond to every changing situation. There were many government-led changes, from national to city level. Management responses changed unexpectedly as the situation needed response immediately, and delays could worsen the situation.

“The LSHTM community allowed me to network, which is very important. We have many channels of communication with other alumni. Discussions meant bringing one view to another. This is a very valuable resource as we deal with the pandemic.”

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19
story, please click here to find out more.

Information about how you can support, promote and share
LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

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Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Exciting opportunity at LSHTM – Brass-Blacker Professor in Demography

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is seeking to appoint a senior academic as Brass-Blacker Professor in Demography. This is an exciting opportunity to join a well-established and highly regarded group of demographers and population scientists embedded within a world-leading School for public and global health. This is an endowed Chair, funded through a bequest to the School by John Blacker. The role offers an opportunity to shape the future of demography at LSHTM, taking forward the research agenda and teaching programme of a discipline so vital to current global health concerns.

The closing date is 1st March 2021.

For more information, please visit:

https://jobs.lshtm.ac.uk/Vacancy.aspx?id=2251&forced=2

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Alumni Profile: Majekodunmi Omololuoye

Majekodunmi Omololuoye (MSc Public Health for Development, 2017) works as a Senior Technical Officer for FHI 360. He has oversight responsibilities for PMTCT, paediatric and adolescent HIV, and cervical cancer integration in HIV programs. Here, he describes his best memories at LSHTM and his career path since leaving the School.

LSHTM is a great place to study, and while I went there because of the reputation, the knowledge repository I encountered was awesome. I came back from the degree and started in a higher position. The Master’s degree also provided me with the tools and concepts that I deploy today to achieve results.

“I am still in regular touch with my LSHTM tutor, Professor Brian Greenwood. He has provided advice on some issues. I also contact some of my course mates and other students I met during my study year to rub minds and tap into their knowledge resource (Rifa, Kyeba and Victor). I have also connected with the Nigerian LSHTM alumni chapter. I interacted with different alumni, and I requested to be added to the alumni association.

“One of my great memories was meeting with Professor Piot alongside other Chevening scholars. Working in HIV/AIDS before and after the Masters, Professor Piot is a giant and meeting him was memorable. My advice for current students is that LSHTM is about more than books. Immerse yourself fully in the School. Interact with faculty and students. Learn from them. London is cosmopolitan, roam freely, and study hard.

“Since graduation, I feel great knowing I have contributed to improving outcomes for mother-baby pairs in PMTCT settings. I have also contributed to improving the quality of service and outcomes for children and adolescents living with HIV by improving virologic suppression for clients enrolled in the HIV program I work on. Since October 2019, I have coordinated the rollout of cervical cancer screening services to female PLHIVs accessing HIV services. Furthermore, I have contributed to the integrated national guidelines for HIV prevention, care, treatment and support, and the child health policy document.

“Currently, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on my work. Personally, a lot of the work I do is conducted remotely. It has also changed the way services are provided for PLHIVs. In the future, I hope to acquire a PhD and contribute to both evidence base and support policy initiatives to improve maternal and child health.”

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19 story, please click here to find out more.

Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated catastrophic financial burden: a tragedy still in the making

Rakesh Parashar, Ankita Mukherjee (Oxford Policy Management, Delhi)

In this blog series we are giving a voice to practitioners, implementers and policy-makers involved in national COVID-19 responses in low- and middle-income countries.  These posts seek to facilitate timely cross- learning by sharing opinions, insights and lessons on the challenges and actions taken by those on the COVID-19 front line.

Lost in the discourse and politics of containing the pandemic through strict implementation [1] of COVID-19 guidelines, producing vaccines, creating public awareness, and an endless push and pull on the drugs to treat COVID-19, we seemingly have neglected something- the everyday people. Health systems are made for people, yet this pandemic is worsening social inequality. People living through the pandemic are more likely to fall sick and without health cover they face severe financial hardship. In a low-resource setting – amidst limited income, no health protection, and caring for the family -availing health services is a conscious decision, and often a low priority.

Any discussion on universal health coverage is incomplete if private health payments are not accounted for, yet this is largely missed during the biggest pandemic of modern history. Many additional families are now more likely to face catastrophic health expenditures (CHE)[2] due to COVID-19-related expenses. Seven months into the pandemic, we are yet to estimate the additional productivity costs of COVID-19 incurred by different population groups. Therefore, we remind the global health community to prioritise health financial-risk protection of families, failing to do so could potentially derail the economic-wellbeing and impact their future. In this blog we highlight the case of India which has recorded the second-highest reported cases of COVID-19 globally by November 2020.

The case of India

India is one of the countries that spends the least on healthcare. The enormous disparity in the wealth distribution between an urban and rural wage-earner adversely reflects their healthcare-seeking behaviours. The poor cannot afford to fall sick as it will only make them poorer- even in public facilities. 60% of the healthcare expenses in India are met by out of pocket expenditure (OOPE) by Indian families. OOPE in India is ranked as one of the global highest with the major contributors being private healthcare service providers and cost of medicines. Before the pandemic, 55 million Indians were pushed annually below the poverty line due to such OOPE. In April 2020, India’s employment rate plummeted to 27% (vs 39% in April 2019)  with a loss of 21 million salaried workers between April-August, invariably affecting the poorest.

The only way to access free or inexpensive health care in India is through the public health system, which can, unfortunately, cater to only about 30% of population needs at its current capacity. The COVID-19 burden was initially borne by the public hospitals; however, it negatively impacted the health service provision of non-COVID cases. Eventually, with incapacitated and overcrowded public hospitals, most of the large private hospitals also started providing COVID-19 treatment. The private hospitals and laboratories notoriously capitalized on the services provided and initially charged about USD60 for Sars-CoV-2 testing, USD1400 per day for ICU occupancy, and USD110 for ambulance services in some Indian states [3]. Although the government later capped the price, these services remains a luxury for many. While the Out-patient department continue to be under-utilised, In-patient department (IPD) fees for all illnesses have increased due to the mandatory use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Moreover, some private hospitals have been accused of charging disproportionately inflated prices for PPE leading to remarkably high medical bills. The failure of many private insurers to cover the cost of PPE for IPD hospitalizations, means that families must bear this cost.

Has the government found a solution?

Clearly not. The national health protection scheme of India, still in its infancy, is attempting to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment for families registered below poverty-line. However, the number of beneficiaries availing these services are not publicly disclosed. These numbers are likely to be very low given the poor utilization of scheme in the empanelled large private hospitals where the hospitalization costs could often be greater than the national health cover provided. This clearly indicates that most patients availing treatment for COVID-19, especially the ones with ICU or longer hospital stays, would pay hefty OOPE, many of whom would . Consequently, the vulnerable may avoid utilising healthcare services, unless critical, due to the fear of CHE and abject deprivation.

In effect, the financial cover, especially for those visiting private hospitals for COVID-19 treatment, has not been thought well by the government. Like India, many Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) are facing a similar challenge and this is a significant issue to have been overlooked by the mainstream global health discourse.

Way forward

The financial burden related to COVID-19 treatment can bar many families to seek care and can be an important reason for poor containment of the pandemic. This can lead to an excess wage loss, morbidity and mortality resulting in a vicious cycle of economic loss and a rising inequality. We hence argue that the governments should cover the COVID-19 treatment costs and offer financial protection to families at risk of CHE. Essentially, the governments should regulate and provide cover for OOPs incurred on direct and indirect costs of COVID-19 care such as transport, wage loss, OPD expenses, indoor expenses, tests, and medicines etc., while continuing the search for the highly contested vaccine and cure. The global health community must develop coherent strategies through necessary collaborations to mobilize resources and develop policies before many more of the everyday people are pushed towards or into poverty. The poor are already facing the brunt of the pandemic due to overcrowded public hospitals resulting in delayed availability and sub-optimal level of care that cost lives. More research is thus required to understand the social determinants of COVID-19 transmission, including financial barrier to COVID-19 care, especially in the in low-resourced settings.


Author biographies:

  1. Dr Rakesh Parashar is currently working as health systems and policy expert with Oxford Policy Management. He is a PhD in health systems studies and has a background in public health and medicine.
  2. Ankita Mukherjee is presently working as a Research Assistant at Oxford Policy Management. She has an MScPH from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and has interests in maternal and newborn health.

[1] Includes enforcement measures to prevent transmission such as lockdown, curfews, fines for disobeying physical distancing or wearing masks, etc by the government.

[2] ‘Spending ≥40% of non-subsistence as out of pocket expenditure or ≥10% of household income; how-ever the cut-offs are variable per country

[3] Ambulance charged an average of up to USD 15 before COVID; respiratory illness such as TB tests cost about USD23; and ICU per day occupancy in private hospital were charged ~USD 410 and USD20 in public hospitals

Plan S: an update

Open access baubles on Christmas tree

Well, it’s 4 weeks to Christmas and that means that it’s 5 weeks until the first funders commit to Plan S! On 1st January 2021, Wellcome Trust and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will officially be Plan S-ers.

What follows is a quick reminder of what this will mean to researchers at LSHTM, what you need to know, and some handy tools to help you out.

So, tools. Probably the best one in anyone’s toolbag: The Journal Checker Tool

The big news is that yesterday, 18th November 2020, cOAlition S’s long-awaited Journal Checker Tool (JCT) has launched! I’ve had a quick play on it, testing out imaginary publishing scenarios, and so far it’s easy to use and to interpret the results.

It gives all the possible ways of complying with Plan S, taking into account both your funder and your affiliation, giving you a tailored response: transformative agreement, fully open access journal, or self-archiving using rights retention.

What is Rights Retention?
#RetainYourRights hashtag

The Rights Retention Strategy is cOAlition S’s strategy to allow self-archiving (green open access) to form a compliant option for Plan S funders. They have written to publishers and notified them that, if you inform them on submission that “the AAM resulting from [your] submission carries a CC BY public copyright licence” then you can deposit the accepted manuscript in a repository (for example LSHTM’s Research Online) for immediate open access from the publication date.

If the journal objects, cOAlition S say they’ll argue the case so you won’t have to.

They’ve even made a handy PDF summarising this and giving an example of the statement you provide upon submission.

The Research Publications Team Plan S information and discussion session

We held a drop-in session for Open Access Week 2020 and recorded it. It goes into Plan S specifically at LSHTM, and answers some questions from viewers on that day. We’ll be holding more of these in the coming months and are also happy to answer questions via Service Desk, or come along to departmental meetings etc if you’d like an opportunity to pick our brains!

You can watch the recording here and we’ll also put it on Service Desk.

Other places to get information and guidance

cOAlition S are the driving force behind Plan S. Their website is the first port of call for all Plan S news and well worth a look. They’re on Twitter too.

The Wellcome Trust is continually updating their page: Complying with our open access policy

UKRI have announced that they will be following Plan S from January 2022 so they state that “you should follow the RCUK policy on open access and REF 2021 open access policy until further notice. No changes will be made to the REF 2021 open access policy” You can keep up with them here.

What should you be doing now to prepare?

The Wellcome Trust have said that 1st January 2021 is the cut-off date for submissions so anything submitted before this date will still be subject to the current open access policies. This means that if you are hoping to publish in a hybrid journal which is not under an LSHTM transformative agreement (at time of writing we have signed up to agreements with Wiley and Sage, but use the journal checker tool for more up-to-date information) then it’s time to think about submitting!

Familiarise yourself with the Journal Checker Tool, and other tools like DOAJ (the Directory off Open Access Journals, which could come in handy for ideas of where to publish) and Sherpa/Fact, the Funders & Authors Compliance Tool.

Chat to us! Ask us anything on Service Desk, schedule a phone call, or get us along to a departmental meeting. We’ll also be in touch with any more drop-in sessions we run.

Partnerships for Global Health: Putting theory into practice

For our latest DEPTH blog we asked LSHTM researcher Kimberley Popple to share her thoughts on NGO-academic collaborations as someone who has recently moved from the former to the latter. Thank you for your insights Kimberley – lots of food for thought!

Image: Dan Dimmock for Unsplash

Evaluation, Evaluation, Evaluation

Back in January this year I made the move from practitioner in the NGO world to becoming a researcher in the academic sector. I wanted to combine the skills I had developed in Public Health research with my knowledge and experience of programme implementation in the field.  It seemed to me that there were obvious synergies and opportunities for practitioners and academics to work together to improve global health. Certainly, from my own experience, the projects that I worked on could have benefited from drawing on people with specialist skillsets in data collection and analysis and with the time to conduct literature reviews, produce evidence maps, and test the change pathways that many of the programmes were built upon.

Before moving into academia, I worked on a large portfolio of grants in Sierra Leone as part of the Ebola response.  Most of the data we collected was used solely for routine monitoring and evaluation of interventions at the project-level. Its purpose was to track progress against set indicators and to report on spending to funders. As a result, collecting data that could be easily quantified was prioritised, and quantitative data was assumed by funders to show a greater impact than qualitative data. Further, qualitative data tends to fall within the remit of the accountability teams – it is used and relied upon but not as an indicator of impact. In the Sierra Leone scenario, success of an intervention was often measured by a high number of medical consultations or a large number of attendees at a meeting, rather than focusing on data related to quality of services or patient satisfaction. I remember one example of a gender-based violence (GBV) project in Freetown which was categorised by the funder as “underperforming” as the target number of survivors had not been reached. The fact that that the women who had been reached had received high quality support across the GBV spectrum of services was seemingly less valued. 

In Uganda, I worked on a maternal health project which introduced a client-exit survey for women to participate in at the hospital after receiving maternity care. However, the survey was administered by NGO staff who were working with the marginalised populations, and in close proximity to the medical staff who had provided their care. There was little recognition of the power imbalance between interviewer and interviewee or the desirability bias that might be present as a result of the women’s fear of negative repercussions from medical staff.

Evaluations were often seen as a tick-box exercise for donors and their design was fairly rudimentary. By the time the evaluation report was written, the programme had already moved onto the next phase to align with strict funding cycles. This left little room to reflect on lessons learned and engage in a process of iterative programme design. A recent systematic review has highlighted the lack of evaluations conducted on epidemic responses in humanitarian and low-income settings, with only one tenth of responses evaluated and with large gaps in quality, content and coverage of evaluations, limiting the ability to improve future responses.

Image: Dan Dimmock for Unsplash

Is the landscape changing?

Over recent years, the international development sector has intensified its focus on evidence-based programming and evaluation.  Many NGOs have increased their research capacity with dedicated departments and research staff (for example Airbel Impact Lab at International Rescue Committee, and the Response Innovation Lab at Save the Children), giving them the expertise and space to test out new formats for implementation, and to ensure programming is based on the latest evidence of what works.

New funding streams have emerged for research in the humanitarian field, such as Elrha’s R2HC programme, and there is donor pressure to evidence learning and use data for decision-making. Donors like the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO, formerly DFID) have developed more in-depth guidance on how to develop and use evaluation frameworks to measure impact and ensure accountability, with requests to include qualitative indicators in logframes.

What can academia bring to the table?

So, is there still a role for academics to play in supporting the work of NGOs? I believe there can be, particularly in the evaluation of complex interventions. Universities train public health professionals who often go on to work in the NGO sector. Expert knowledge of process and outcome evaluations can be drawn upon to test change pathways in Theories of Change. Systematic reviews can be performed by academics with fewer time and funding constraints, reducing the need to reinvent the wheel every time to search for the latest evidence. As academics, we can add our voice to campaigns as advocates of change. And the humanitarian health sector can harness specific skill sets in conducting clinical trials and in disease modelling. My sense is that as both sectors continue to develop and evolve, it will be important to continue to reflect on the value of academic-NGO partnerships for global health.

Image: you-x-ventures for Unsplash

Host your own virtual class reunion!

We can help you reconnect with your old friends – virtually, of course. A video call is a great way to reminisce about your time at LSHTM, share stories and find out what your classmates have been up to.

All you need to do is email us (alumni@lshtm.ac.uk) with a date and time, and we will do the rest! We can contact your class, set up the call, share information and pictures of LSHTM and even an LSHTM mini-quiz.

If you would like to host your own virtual class reunion, email alumni@lshtm.ac.uk with your full name, course and year of graduation. Alternatively, if you have any other ideas we would love to hear them.