In focus: Jon Tennant

On open science and life as a nomadic researcher

IGDORE
Aug 21 · 6 min read

Starting off our new series of written interviews with researchers at IGDORE: Dr. Jon Tennant, rogue paleontologist, nomadic open scientist, founder of PaleorXiv and Open Science MOOC, originating from the UK and currently residing in Paris, France, after several years in Germany. We asked Jon to describe a typical workday as a nomadic researcher, and we asked what he would like to see more and less of in the current movement for open and replicable science.

Jon Tennant

I make sure to take a lot of personal downtime, reading, writing, and meditating. This means that when I have my uptime for work, I am at my absolute best and work more effectively than if I were doing a 9–5.

1. Tell us a bit about your professional background.

It’s weird. Many moons ago, I was a simple geologist, and spent most of my time falling in love with rocks. In an attempt to diversify my skill set, I started getting more involved in science communication alongside my studies and research. This eventually led to a position working in science policy at the Geological Society in the UK. Here, I was fortunate to learn more about how science and policy interact, and put my communication skills to practice. This proved to be very useful, as I began to engage more with the evolving scholarly publishing and higher education landscape at a time when Open Access and Open Science were really taking off in the UK. After working here, I started a PhD in Palaeontology, and these additional skills and knowledge helped me to be quite effective in disseminating my research, and I became an active member of the growing open science community. After my PhD, I worked at a tech startup called ScienceOpen, based in Berlin, which gave me a deeper understanding of how the scholarly publishing and communication worked. Now though, I have sort of gone rogue or independent as a researcher. I divide my time now between palaeontological research, studying elements of the publishing system such as peer review, as well as challenging the privatisation of scholarly research. Oh, and writing kids books about dinosaurs. Right now, I’m based in Paris, and quite excited about where the future of this adventure lies!

2. Why did you join IGDORE?

IGDORE feels like good organisation, with its mind and mission in the right place. It seemed like the perfect home for researchers like me; sort of wanderers who know that academic culture isn’t really something for them, but still have an innate passion for research. It’s nice to be part of a like-minded community for sharing knowledge and support. The fact that the campus is based in Bali played a small part too.

A lot of the debates happen on Twitter, which is not a good place to have civil, constructive, and thoughtful conversations. One consequence of this is that it looks like there is a lot of in-fighting among whatever the ‘open science community’ is, which is not a good appearance.

3. You have a quite nomadic lifestyle. How do you combine that with your scientific work? And how does a typical work day look like?

There really is no such thing as a typical day! I wake up every morning, check out my to-do list, and see what I feel like working on. It’s really quite liberating. These days, it is quite easy to do things like research, writing papers, community building and communication, from remote positions. I find the lifestyle gives me the personal freedom to work in a way that allows me to feel freer, more creative, and more in control. I value this sort of freedom quite highly, so it works well for me. As long as I get things done, I don’t mind where I do them. Most of the ‘nomading’ I do is for invited talks at conferences, and I usually like to add extra time on around them so I can explore new places, and find neat little places to work from.

4. The movement for open and replicable science is growing quickly, in particular in some disciplines and some countries. Is there anything you would like to see more or less of in this movement?

A lot of the debates happen on Twitter, which is not a good place to have civil, constructive, and thoughtful conversations. One consequence of this is that it looks like there is a lot of in-fighting among whatever the ‘open science community’ is, which is not a good appearance. So, I would like to see more care from people in how they treat others in online forums, but I guess this is the same for the whole internet really. In terms of more of, I would like to see more empowerment. There are countless numbers of people who could be designated as leaders in this space, and I would like to see more them being more courageous and inspiring for others, to help build a really strong, thriving, and sustainable community. I would also just love to see more communication across communities. Often it feels very isolated, with publishers, policymakers, librarians, students, and researchers all having their own conversations. Open Science for me is primarily about breaking down walls, so let’s make sure that we do this and focus on building bridges too.

Jon Tennant’s workdesk for the day — in Paris, France.

5. How would your ideal work life look like? Where would you live, where would you work, and how many hours would you work per week?

Free! I would live wherever my mind and heart took me, without restriction on travel. I would love to work from anywhere, as long as it is comfortable, with good people, and great coffee. IGDORE campus, for example! As for hours per week, this really varies. I make sure to take a lot of personal downtime, reading, writing, and meditating. This means that when I have my uptime for work, I am at my absolute best and work more effectively than if I were doing a 9–5. I think that we should be able work when we feel like it, and also relax when we need it. Doing nothing sometimes is beautiful.

6. What are your professional plans for the next few years?

I honestly don’t have that far planned ahead yet! A few years ago (don’t laugh), I started a personal adventure that I call my ‘journey to nowhere’. I don’t know where all of the things I am working on, personally and professionally, are going to end up. But I am more focused on the adventure and the process than the end point or goal. It’s not the most stable life, but I feel it’s something I have to be doing — for myself, my work, and those I interact with. So, I’m spending a lot of the next few months bouncing around the world to give talks on open science, which I really love. I’ll be moving to Denmark at the Southern Denmark University after to help light an open science fire there. After that, I’ll probably come to Bali to see you all, and then touch back down in Paris. Here, I’ll continue working on developing the Open Science MOOC, and whatever research projects I feel like working on. The fun never stops! After that, well, uncertain, and I’m okay with that. The temptation is to go ‘full nomad’ again and keep traveling the world while doing this stuff. But that can be financially stressful. So I might look into setting up a research group, or joining one, probably somewhere in Europe, to continue working on the future of open scholarly communication.

7. What would you like to see more or less of by (or within) IGDORE?

More people joining, and embracing freedom as part of their research lives. Who knows where it might take you! :)

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