Are traditional publications the only way to contribute to science?

As many of you know, I will finish my PhD without any publication…in the traditional sense! Call it bad luck, bad timing, what else? I didn’t manage to produce any positive result during my PhD, the only kind of results accepted by scientific journals. First of all, let’s unravel some myths. Negative results or results that don’t produce a positive outcome aren’t failures! They are the vast majority of science and equally if not more important than positive ones. It is a great shame that they don’t make it to a scientific publication because their value to one’s research, and potentially to the whole scientific community, is immense!

Could you imagine if you surveyed the literature and found all the negative results that someone else had already done? How much time and public money would you save by simply not repeating these experiments? What would be the impact on the students’ mental health if they knew that, no matter the outcome of their experiments, they are still contributing to science? Back in the past, I suggested that one can use preprints (1) to publish results that don’t lead to a positive outcome. Preprints are open-access, non-peer-reviewed publications that aren’t looked down by the scientific community because they are published by well-know editors.

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Oral and poster presentations as well as a PhD thesis are publications too!

If your PI isn’t keen on the idea of an open-access publication or even a publication on a low impact factor journal then you shouldn’t worry much about lack of publications. Poster and oral presentations at regional, national and international conferences are publications too. For big events, you even get a reference for this kind of UNCONVENTIONAL contributions. Of course, the latters aren’t peer-reviewed but still a great show off of your hard work! Ultimately, a PhD thesis is a publication too! In my university, all PhD thesis are available on the university website and accessible for everyone to read.

Oral and poster presentations as well as your PhD thesis are publications too!

Public research is funded with public money and the only way to pay back your scholarship to tax-payers is through conventional publication!“. Have you heard that too? You are not alone! Science communication is one of the best ways to pay back your scholarship to those who actually support financially your research. First of all, many traditional publications are not even available to the general public, unless you pay very expensive subscriptions to publishing editors. Secondly, scientific publications use loads of jargon and technicalities which make them literally not understandable to anyone who is outside the field. To say this in simple words, my range of expertise is in organic chemistry, I have a degree in chemistry I am doing a PhD right now. You would be surprised to know that I would not be able to understand a paper in stem cells or chemical engineering, for example.

Science communication is becoming a requirement for many PhD programmes as one of the criteria to get grants (public money to pay research) is writing a lay person statement. There are several ways to do science communication. Volunteering your time and taking part to a science festival as demonstrator, writing an article for a magazine about your research or a current and controversial topic about science, creating your own blog and talk about science or how it is like to be a scientist are some examples and activities you can do to get started.

Myself and many people that I connected too through social media brought science communication up to the next level and they are using their creative side to communicate science. How cute are those embroderies that represent neurons for example?

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Ultimately, when we stop the narrative that traditional publications are the only contribution to science?

(1) Nguyen, T. N.; Chem. Eng. News, 2019, 97(3).