In focus: Stefaniia Ivashchenko
Founder of Open Science TV
Continuing our series of written interviews with researchers at IGDORE: Dr Stefaniia Ivashchenko trained as a biophysicist in France and is now a journalist promoting Open Science and academic reform. Stefaniia tells us what she likes about the Open Science community and why academia needs independent media.
In academia, if you do not get nice publishable results, you cannot succeed, get funding, a job, a tenure. The discontent about this unfairness was growing in me, I felt the real lack of independence and obligation to follow rules I did not agree with.
1. Tell us a bit about your professional background.
I have a Master’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry which I got in Odesa, Ukraine. Having always dreamed to go for studies abroad, suddenly I became interested to study in France. I come from the middle class, my parents are retired and were unable to fund my foreign studies. So the question about funding was crucial, I applied and got a 2 years Erasmus Mundus grant to study organic chemistry in Bordeaux, France. During the classes of physicochemical analysis, I was introduced to the technique called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) which I really liked! Basically, this is a tool chemists use to find the exact molecular structure of chemical synthesis products. However, more information can be extracted from biological molecules, as they are much bigger compared to synthetic molecules. And this becomes very exciting to study a protein’s structure and its dynamic behaviour and function by NMR. That is how I found a PhD program in Grenoble, France, where I worked with flexible proteins from Paramyxoviridae family (Ebola, measles, mumps viruses). Maybe I would have stayed in academia to learn more about this technique and its applications, but I started to worry about the conditions me and many other scientists work under. I did not like the way the academic system functions, it does not let us focus on science itself, instead, it is all about self-promotion and CV-oriented activity. I like it when any effort and work are acknowledged, but in academia, if you do not get nice publishable results, you cannot succeed, get funding, a job, a tenure. The discontent about this unfairness was growing in me, I felt the real lack of independence and obligation to follow rules I did not agree with. So I decided to leave academia as well as NMR research and focus on academic reformation, journalism and the Open Science (OS) movement.
2. Why did you join IGDORE?
While discovering more about the OS movement, concepts and personalities, I found the IGDORE community. I joined it because I appreciate independence. Independence from paperwork, from prestige, from location, from origin, from income, from opinion, from class, from sex. Of course, as long as my activity and research practice meet the Code of Conduct policies. IGDORE gained my confidence as a place where I could not be worried about the cancel culture or the different, non-popular opinion. After following social movements, I realised the importance of this feature and I am happy to see other scientists are following a similar concept. I also appreciate that IGDORE promotes openness and reproducibility in academia, which actually fit with my interests.
3. You recently founded Open Science TV, can you tell us a bit about what motivated you to start this initiative and what you hope it will achieve?
The idea to create a startup or something like this was in my head a long time ago. In the past, I was an entrepreneur, so during my work in academia, I always wanted to found an independent project which would let the non-scientific world be closer to science, to participate in the research process and to become more educated and less manipulated. So, when I learned about the OS movement, everything I was thinking about before just went in the right direction. The project Open Science TV as a media platform came to my mind as there is no media talking about OS specifically. If there is content linked to OS or reformation of academic culture, it is usually published and discussed in commercial scientific journals which are certainly responsible for creating conditions of hyper-competition among scientists. Of course, how could scientists criticise publishers they are writing and volunteering for? There is a conflict of interest. That is why, the OS community needs its own media outlets which are independent, international, accept pluralism of thoughts, promote openness in academia and social life.
Increasing awareness in OS is extremely important in the view of future generations of scientists which will join academia. These young scientists can be inspired by science communication and popularisation content which unfortunately does not show the real state of the current academic environment that suffers from a replication crisis, unfair ratings and increased influence of political and commercial interests: the cruel reality the scientific world faces. At the same time, Open Science TV is not only about scientists; it is about the way the different actors of society which often fund scientific research can learn how to benefit from scientific discoveries.
When I stepped into the OS community, I felt that finally, people are thinking the same way I am! Finally, people are considering the need to change the old system. This is a huge step forward for scientists to unite!
4. The movement for open and replicable science is picking up pace. Is there anything you would like to see more or less of in this movement?
From the very beginning when I stepped into the OS community, I felt that finally, people are thinking the same way I am! Finally, people are considering the need to change the old system. This is a huge step forward for scientists to unite! However, even inside the movement, I still observe scientists who are sceptical of the new ideas and propositions and continuously criticising them. Of course, reviewing, scrutinizing, doubting is a scientist’s normal behaviour but I would advise any person to let other opinions and hypothesis to enter into their routine. We are in the 21st century, which is full of fake news, but also full of ideas, solutions and alternatives. The current academic system does not appreciate the collective work which is also partially transferred to the OS movement. Scientists are still too concentrated on themselves and their own interests. When the world is falling and changing due to pollution, climate change, bad management and aggressive exploitation of natural resources, we should all come together and work for the future of our planet and society.
5. What would your ideal work-life look like? Where would you live, where would you work, and how many hours would you work per week?
For me, the ideal relationship between work and life certainly exists, but I would not divide them definitely, for sure. First of all, I will prefer to work remotely so the exact location does not matter much. I do not mind working on weekends or to have a non-organized day, I cannot be productive all the time, as a working week suggests. I have a list of tasks, goals and deadlines, so I can organize myself in the way I like. While my current work is mostly about writing scripts, researching information, preparing interviews or thinking about video content, I need inspiration for writing, which can come in the middle of the night (because in the morning I need to have everything done!).
Open Science TV will function as a proper media platform. I truly believe that our project will have its audience, not only among scientists but also among people that seek to support this initiative for better science and academia.
6. What are your professional plans for the next few years?
I will concentrate on Open Science TV development, searching for partnerships and creation of collaborative projects. We have started Open Science TV by producing videos on YouTube, we invite scientists and talk about the definition of OS, problems in academia and how OS practices can help to make academia work in service of society. We plan to add more content as video newscasts, documentaries, special investigations, also to move on the web platform and add more features such as a TV stream with OS and #scicomm content and a space for the publication of articles from OS activists. Open Science TV will function as a proper media platform. I truly believe that our project will have its audience, not only among scientists but also among people that seek to support this initiative for better science and academia. As a member of the steering committee of Open Science MOOC, an open educational resource, I will work on making the education in OS available for everybody.
7. What would you like to see more or less of by (or within) IGDORE?
On Science and Academia forum made me closer to people from IGDORE, there I found a lot of topics and ideas which I want to highlight in our next Open Science TV episodes. I will be happy if IGDORE can organise activities and engagement for members, maybe online festivals or events; it would be my pleasure to volunteer for them.