Open Access Conundrums

Open Access Conundrums

I have been thinking a lot about open access lately (note the brief discussion in a recent post of mine). Who hasn’t? It is a hot topic, with all sorts of organizations popping up that advocate for it (e.g., Open Access Button, OOO Canada Research Network) and entire conferences devoted to it (e.g., OpenCon).

There are overwhelmingly fantastic arguments for it, as are convincingly laid out by high-profile proponents such as the passionate and fearless Erin McKiernan. For the full run-down by an expert, check out an excellent talk of McKiernan’s on the issue here; I remained enthralled throughout its entire 45 minutes.

In response, I have been taking note of open access journals for my own future submissions. In fact, I even went so far as to tweet my relief upon realizing that the journal of our own national organization, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Canada (the journal is CJSLPA) is entirely open access.

But the issue does not seem so straightforward as to say that all journals should become open access.

I am and have always been a law-abiding, authority-respecting person, to a fault. I was raised to assume that the police and government were doing everything in the best interest of the public and have only in recent years begun to question this logic. This has also lead me to assume that the journal authorities who set prices for their product may have good reason for doing so. I continue to have this niggling concern: people need to be paid for their time and companies need to be paid for the resources that they provide. Everything can’t be free in this world.

This was highlighted for me recently when I contacted a small journal asking about open access. I wanted a potential submission to be accessible to teachers, clients, and people in several different fields but a paywall would have likely prevented that. The journal editor replied that, no, it is not open access because there are costs to running a journal and they cannot afford to do it for free. So who pays?

A part of the issue may be that journals have not traditionally expected individuals to pay. Institutions pay and if you’re not affiliated with an institution then too bad.

However, this model may need to change with the increasing uproar for accessible research output and knowledge translation directly to those who may apply the knowledge, the “end user”. If open access is not a financially feasible option then at the very least prices need to be reduced for individuals. Do we not bemoan the fact that policymakers and professionals don’t refer enough to evidence during decision-making and practice?  Currently, if one of these individuals actually chose to seek out interesting, current and relevant articles to support decision-making and practice, this is what they may be faced with:

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 12.41.54 AM

One article for US$40, which translates to a hefty CAD$52.34! Or how about this for the right to download the PDF of one article in a small Canadian journal:

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Let’s be honest. We really don’t think too hard about spending a few dollars online. Look at the recent Pokémon Go craze. The game is making $1.6 million a day through in-app purchases that start at $0.99. The low prices are made up for by the large numbers of people all around the world doing the purchasing. This is how these free games make money (not to mention the advertising revenue). I will admit that I have spent a few dollars here, a few dollars there, on mindless games. It gets me nowhere in my life but it provides a bit of entertainment. The same applies to music. I occasionally spend a whopping $1.49 to download a song that I enjoy and I don’t think too much of it.

This does not only apply to entertainment. There are countless free websites and apps out there that we can use to be more productive, organize our documents, and collaborate more efficiently. The way many developers earn money is by offering limited functionality for free and charging small monthly or yearly fees for more features. If I really like an app, I will certainly cough up the $5/month to upgrade to better features. However, when the cost of something goes above $10 the purchase becomes harder to justify. Why aren’t academic journals getting on board with this high volume, low cost payment model? 

The latest great idea offered by journals is that if authors would like their article to be available open access, they pay an exorbitant $1000+ fee. In other words, the onus is on the researcher to pay for the accessibility of their article to non-academics. Just because some people or departments can afford it doesn’t mean that it is the right model.

Software developers have figured out that the end users of their products will not pay the prices set for institutions. In fact, this high volume, low cost model has proven to be quite lucrative. If our goal is truly to have research be accessible to the end users, the public and professionals who may apply the research, then maybe we should be marketing directly to them at a reduced cost. I wonder what potential market is out there for journals if the price is right? And would reaching this market make our research even more accessible to the people who need it the most?

Would this low-fee, high-traffic payment model work for academic publishing houses? Perhaps there is a place where the financial needs of journals and greater access meet.


Reading Academic-y Jargon

Reading Academic-y Jargon

There are times when I stop and realize the absurdity of academic texts. The degree of awareness needed to understand what you are reading – of the field, context and terminology – can be so high… even for a topic that may appear so innocuous on the surface, like bilingualism. It seems like a discussion on bilingualism should comfortably include vocabulary such as “language”, “words” and “jobs”.

So, I innocently pick up the special issue in bilingualism in the journal  Applied Psycholinguistics (volume 35, number 5) and find myself sinking into a cognitive linguist’s dream-state of mambo jambo, such as in the following excerpt:

It is even more interesting that these global switch costs are asymmetric in that performance is significantly more impaired when bilinguals engage in an L1 speaking block that follows an L2 speaking block, compared to the reverse situation, when an L2 speaking block follows an L1 speaking  block (e.g., Meuter & Allport, 1999). Such asymmetries suggest that if bilinguals first speak in an L2-only block, they recruit executive control to globally downregulate activation of their L1 to maintain L2 fluency. Consequently, when they switch to an L1 speaking block, performance is lower than it would have been had the prior L2 block not been encountered. In contrast, when bilinguals first speak in an L1 block, there is less of a need to recruit executive control to globally inhibit the L2, as the L2 is less entrenched to begin with compared to the L1. Thus, when they switch to the L2, performance is the same as it would have been had the L1 block not come first.” (pages 860-861).

For the uninitiated, L1 refers to one’s native language and L2 refers to one’s second, or non-native, language.

I find that if I am not 100% focused while reading text like the one above, it loses me after I read too many L1s and L2s. Did you zone out partway through, too? At first, you think to yourself, “yeah, I got this, I am totally following this, if you first speak French, then speak English, it’s easier than if you first speak English, then speak French!”

But as you continue to read, you start questioning what you understand, “wait, but then if you switch back to English, no I mean, if first you’re speaking French, your brain needs to, wait…”

So I sit back, blink a few times and hope the brain reset button works. And try again. This time, it goes through and everything is clear. But I wonder, what kinds of hoops is my brain jumping through? Did I flip a cognitive switch?

Did I just downregulate activation of my L1* to regain L2** fluency?

Yes, yes I did. It is a magical academic-y jargon switch and I feel honoured and yet somehow slightly ridiculous to be able to switch it.


* everyday English

** academic-y English


Image credit: Alejandra Pinto

Is publishing a policy analysis article worth it?

Is publishing a policy analysis article worth it?

I am constantly hearing frustrated declarations that research evidence rarely impacts policy. Although researchers work hard to create and make sense of evidence in the hopes that it may shift the gears that run our society, that little seed of doubt constantly surfaces… will anything I do truly have an impact beyond the academic sphere? 

This past spring, I took a fantastic course called “Health Care Policy” with Christopher Simms at Dalhousie University. The course involved learning about the policy implementation process, how policy agenda is set, etc. We discussed current events and engaged in animated debates about how policy can possibly be influenced by non-policymakers such as ourselves. As a final project, we wrote a policy analysis paper and presented our findings to the class. I was interested in classroom acoustics policy in Canada as it is a topic that received much public attention in 2009, yet unfortunately resulted in zero movement onto the policy agenda. The issue has not been revisited in Canada since.

I met with my professor to discuss the idea that my paper could be revised into a manuscript for submission to a Canadian journal. This was a logical next step since the topic seemed to be of interest to the Speech-Language & Audiology Canada association, as determined through some email exchanges.

At this point, I am looking around for other articles on policy analysis to see how others have organized their ideas. As I search, I wonder…

Were any of these articles ever read?

Were they ever read specifically by policymakers?

Did any of these articles have an actual impact on the policies that they discussed?

Who might potentially read my article?

Should I even try to publish an article such as this one?

This made me stop and consider what the purpose of writing such an article might be. It would appear at first glance that the purpose of a policy analysis article is to make a recommendation as to the most viable and feasible policy option that should be implemented by policymakers. Technically, this is true. However, given what we know about policy implementation, I hardly think that my little article would ever achieve this purpose if that were the sole obective.

Then I thought, well, how does an issue get onto the policy agenda in the first place if not through the publication of research evidence? As we discussed in our course and as I hear all around me in discussions on the decisions made by our public servants, it is ultimately public awareness and pressure that seem to drive policymaking. Therefore, my little article should be geared to the public, that is, stakeholders not policymakers.

Stakeholders would be those who would be affected by a new policy designed to improve classroom acoustics. This includes parents of children who may benefit from improved classroom acoustics, classroom teachers, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and school administration. Ultimately, if those individuals are better informed then they can advocate for a change in policy better than I ever could through the methods that suit them best, such as social media posts, media attention and direct interaction with policymakers.

How does this affect my decision to publish? Here is what I think:

  1. Yes, I should go ahead and publish my little policy analysis article in a small Canadian journal
  2. The journal that I choose MUST be open access (i.e., anyone can read the article without need for a subscription to the journal)
  3. I should write in an accessible and interesting style
  4. The title must be clear and enticing
  5. Once the article is published, I should share the link on social media

In other words, I cannot write this article for academics. I cannot write this article for policymakers. I must write this article to empower and educate those who can advocate for change in policy. And if it happens to reach a policymaker who can make a difference, then that would be wonderful, but I won’t be banking on it.

Image: found through Google images search at

The Poetic Sequel: Lost in (Knowledge) Translation

The Poetic Sequel: Lost in (Knowledge) Translation

The Real KT


To translate what is believed to be known

Into another version of the same or similar



To swap perspectives

Adopt different viewpoints that may view the information from different points

With a different focus for a different person

Is not the same for one as for another


But translating requires


What is important to one

Is not the same for one as for another



what do you need?


this is what may not work


this is how research works


let’s do this together


here is what we’ve discovered so far


we’re finishing things up now


what could we do better?


To translate does not mean

To start at the end

Disseminate what we think we learned

It means to start at the beginning

To translate our understanding of what needs to be known for new knowledge to be useful


For knowledge to be used


We must translate our knowledge of how to do research



Image credit: C2E2 –

Project Management for a PhD

Project Management for a PhD

I am taking an online course on Time Management (offered by Mitacs Step here in Canada), which included a section on Project Management. The exercises are really useful and I would encourage anyone who has to coordinate any sort of large project to look into project management tools and techniques.

My first attempt at drafting out the Phases and subsequent Work Packages for my PhD study goal:

Work Packages - PhD


What do you think? Am I missing anything crucial?

The next exercise required that I list out the different activities involved in one of the work packages. I chose the work package that is next on my agenda (Measures within my Study Design phase) and added notes on which groups of activities should be completed when over the next year.

Activities for Measures Work Package

Activities for Measures Work Package - B

This is just a first, quick draft of using these techniques. I plan to do this for the data collection phase once I get closer to its implementation. It really seems to set my mind at ease to know that I have a plan and that it is broken down into manageable steps.

It is suggested that you plan out the phases, work packages and activities into a timeline showing concurrent activities and duration. I may end up doing that on brown paper up on my wall in my room. If I do, I’ll share it here!


Photo header credit:


A Disinterested Employee?

A Disinterested Employee?

Today, I cleaned out my documents folder. You know, the one we all have (at least for those still working within the hard copy paper era) for our bank statements, bills, receipts and other paper paraphernalia. In the far back, within a compartment simply labelled ‘Documents’, I found a performance review from a summer job back in 2001. That was 15 years ago and I was 21 years oldIMG_1979

It told an interesting story and I’m grateful to the supervisor who completed it at the time. It helps me to keep perspective on the work ethics of others, especially those in their late teens and early 20s.

Let me tell you a story about a préposée à la clientèle des parcs (parks monitor) in Montréal with aucun enthousiasme (no enthusiasm at all).

The job in question was created by the government of Québec to generate work for students. It consisted of riding a bike around an assigned group of parks to check for needles/condoms, verify that water fountains were working and basically just monitor that park users were aware of park policies. This was accomplished in pairs and I was paired up with a young woman of 17 years.

Halfway through the summer, we sat down to receive a performance review, which I do not recall in the least. I know it took place only because I came across this document. In general, my review was mediocre. I apparently did not require any monitoring and was seen as having superior ability to make logical decisions.However, the majority of my abilities were marked as average (learning, taking initiative, quality of work, leadership, emotional stability).

The one exceptional multiple choice item that stood out was my enthusiasm for the job, in which aucun enthousiasme (no enthusiasm at all) was selected. This stands out for me today because, if you know me, you know that I am a person who is enthusiastic, passionate about my work and driven. So… Aucun? Like, none at all? To understand this statement better, I turn to the comments at the end of the review. They are rather illuminating.

Points faibles (weaknesses)

  • Bonita est un peu réservée face au reste de l’équipe de préposées 
    • Bonita is a bit reserved in interactions with the other monitors
  • elle semblait de plus en plus fatiguée et quelque peu désintéressée au fil des semaines 
    • she seemed increasingly tired and disinterested as the weeks went on

Yes, this is truly what was happening here. I was disengaging. The other monitors were mostly younger than me with different priorities in life, such as using their pay for shopping instead of rent. For example, I overheard gleeful admissions of non-work-related activities during work hours: bringing extra clothes to wander the downtown as civilians, slipping into movie theatres for a 2-hour break and sitting in one park hanging out with the drummers for the entire day. I would never have done these things. I don’t have the tendency or willingness to buck authority. This despite the fact that I recall becoming increasingly disillusioned with the job. We felt more like a forgotten government initiative than an essential spoke in the gears of the city of Montréal.

I see the person I am today more in the comments on my strengths.

Points forts (strengths)

  • remplit les tâches reliées à ce poste avec beaucoup de maturité
    • completes work tasks with much maturity
  • son ouverture d’esprit la rend plus efficace pour ce travail
    • her open-mindedness makes her more efficient in this work
  • semble vouloir en faire plus
    • seems to want to do more
  • possède un certain caractère “travailleuse sociale” face aux gens problématiques
    • possesses a certain “social worker” approach to working with difficult people

I believe the above points really illustrate better why I may have appeared to have no enthusiasm towards my work. I knew what I needed to do and I did it efficiently. I wanted to do more. In other words, I was completely and utterly bored! I remember feeling that I could have learned more and done more in a different job that summer. The city created a job that was not really needed, certainly not on a daily basis. In looking for other things to do, I began noticing and reflecting further on the customer service aspects of the job. This was particularly challenging in the inner city where our “customers” included people with no fixed address, sex workers and outcast wanderers.

If you work with individuals who do not appear to be engaged in their work, remember this young park employee who was bored. It clearly was not the right job for me nor was I given a clear purpose. That disinterested employee may just need to feel that their work is valued and valuable. Ask deeper questions and take observational notes. If my supervisor had simply stopped at the multiple choice aptitude items, the full story of a young employee who wished to make a difference in the world would have been completely missed.


Lost in (Knowledge) Translation

Lost in (Knowledge) Translation

This article was originally published on Speech-Language & Audiology Canada’s blog, Communiqué, on June 16th, 2016. It has been republished here with permission.

Part 2 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me

By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)

I am still in my first year of doctoral studies, which at Dalhousie University means that I am undertaking graduate-level coursework. In addition, I am attending as many relevant talks and workshops as my eager eyes and ears can pick up on, presenting as many talks as I can handle and spinning my thoughts into manuscripts for the academic think-tank of peer-reviewed publications (as you already know if you read my last post on writing). Meanwhile, I am also beginning to focus my thoughts around a vaguely-defined intervention study I plan to implement. While thinking about knowledge creation, a little voice in my head keeps feeding me seeds of self-doubt. Is the knowledge I would like to contribute needed? Who will ever use this knowledge? Thanks to that little voice, many of the talks and workshops that I have pursued addressed these concerns directly, through the study of what is known as ‘knowledge translation’.

Patience may be a virtue… but 17 years?!

Knowledge translation is known by many names, such as ‘knowledge dissemination’, ‘evidence-based practice’ (and its counterpart ‘practice-based evidence’), ‘knowledge transfer and exchange’ and ‘implementation science’. It is a complex process that involves developing, implementing, communicating and applying research with stakeholders (in my case, teachers, parents, administrators and students) in a multi-directional, dynamic and iterative party of collaboration.

One discouraging fact that has motivated researchers to improve the current state of academic knowledge creation is that it takes on average 17 years to translate research to practice (Morris, Wooding & Grant, 2011). In any field this is too long but in the education of children who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH), this is completely unacceptable! The hearing technology and zeitgeist around sign language are morphing at such a rapid rate that I can’t keep up with them. And more importantly, there are children who are DHH who need the appropriate supports today, not long after they graduate from high school. I admit that being new to the field of academia, it is difficult to be patient. One thing I must remind myself is that if I follow the right steps in incorporating knowledge translation at the start of my research, then the gap from research to practice may not be quite so broad.

In the eyes of a stakeholder

Last fall, I attended a talk by the director of a community organization that works with First Nations clients. The most impactful moment of her talk was when she addressed the following slide: “Why We Don’t Call You Back”. She explained that she receives countless requests to be involved in research studies due to her organization’s unique access to First Nations clients. However, over the years, she has seen far too many researchers waltz in, use up her time and resources, collect data on her clients and then leave, never to be heard from again. She said she often wonders if she would even agree or disagree with the researchers’ interpretations of their findings. Consequently, she is no longer interested in working with faceless researchers who follow their own agenda and do not consider the needs of her organization.

Thankfully, she also took the time to describe the best researcher that she has ever worked with. This researcher got to know her first, became involved in the workings of the organization and collaborated closely with her and her colleagues. Admirably, the researcher incorporated the cost of administrative duties for the organization into research grant applications and required that research assistants spend time volunteering with the organization for months before collecting even one little data point. After the data collection was completed, the researcher discussed the findings with the organization and maintained ongoing communication. This is an excellent example of knowledge translation in action from initiation to completion, although whether knowledge translation is ever ‘completed’ is debatable.

Could I do that?

Well, first of all, I have the great fortune of already being affiliated with the organization that I would like to work with. I am not a faceless researcher. The next step, then, is to develop my research question with the needs of the organization in mind. I am already aware that they are motivated to work with me to further evidence-based practice and for that I am grateful. The difficulty lies in determining an appropriate research question and designing the study. In an ideal world, I would spare no expense in conducting focus groups, analyzing survey results and soliciting feedback from all stakeholders at every step of the process. Unfortunately, the reality is that research funding is limited and I need to be wise about how I spend my time.

I have found a mentor who has experience implementing interventions with school staff and I plan to reach out to obtain feedback from stakeholders in my research as often as possible. Truth be told, my dream is to become a clinical researcher — a clinician who also conducts research. If that’s not the ideal vehicle for knowledge translation, then I don’t know what is. I’m still trying to figure out where such jobs exist… speaking of which, keep an eye out for my next post discussing why a first year PhD student needs to think about networking.

Further resources

For further (and more scholarly) reading on incorporating knowledge translation into research, take a look at the following article, “Practice-based research: Another pathway for closing the research-practice gap” by P.J. Crooke and L.B. Olswang (2015). Also, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are invested in the value of knowledge translation. To see what they say and how they have integrated support for knowledge translation into their funding applications, click on the following link:


Crooke, P. J., & Olswang, L. B. (2015). Practice-based research: Another pathway for closing the research-practice gap. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 58(6), S1871–S1882. doi:10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-15-0243

Morris, Z. S., Wooding, S., & Grant, J. (2011). The answer is 17 years, what is the question: Understanding time lags in translational research. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 104(12), 510–520. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180

Feature image caption: Bonita does an assessment with a child at the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority. Photo credit: Daniel Abriel.