Nadja Neumann tells us about her journey from molecular biologist to research advisor and podcast host. With a PhD in Molecular Biology and a strong commitment to scholarly communication and open science, Nadja is keen to find ways to bridge the gap between the research community and other stakeholders to create an open, equitable, and efficient exchange of knowledge. Currently living her passion by working with research support at Karlstad University, Nadja’s areas of expertise are strategic publishing, bibliometrics, data management, and scholarly communication. In the podcast Forskningspodden, Nadja and colleagues interview Ph.D. students about their research projects; sometimes in Swedish sometimes in English.

Personal profiles

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7178-1823

Website: kau.se/forskningspodden

Twitter: @kaubibl

Instagram: karlstadsuniversitetsbibliotek

Linkedin: nadja-neumann-8766711/ 

Nadja Neumann, ice-skating on Lake Vanern

Which researcher – dead or alive – do you find inspiring? Aristotle and Johan Rockström

What is your favorite animal and why? The sloth. They are irresistibly cute and I love how they take slow living to a whole new level.  

Name your (current) favorite song and interpret/group/musician/artist. Impossible to pick a specific song. Really anything from the Red Hot Chili Peppers

What is your favorite dish/meal? I am a total foodie and love to eat. One of the most exciting dishes I had in recent years was a Ceviche in Colombia. I can still dream about it. 

Life at its best – Hiking in the [Dalarna] mountains with people I love. 

Transcript

Jo: Hello and welcome back, everybody. We’re here at Access 2 Perspectives Conversations. And I’m very glad to be joined today by Nadia Neumann, who is a long-standing friend. I was going to say old friend, but maybe that’s true and some years to come. We’ve met each other in Stockholm before that, but we worked together at the same time at Stockholm University when I was doing my undergrad. And you were doing your PhD studies. And ever since we’ve been in loose contact. And again, thank you very much for joining me today. And let’s maybe start by you explaining to us. Okay. So, Nadia, you started off as a PhD student in molecular biology where we spent some time together at Stockman’s University and are now working as a research supporter, research manager at Kalrstadt University in Sweden. And yeah, please tell us a little bit about your journey, what led you from there to here, and yeah, thanks for joining. 

Nadja: Thank you, Johanna, for having me. This is really fun. So my journey is quite a long journey. Like you, I’m from Germany in the beginning and I love to import to Sweden because I met my husband in Germany and moved to Sweden where I, as he said, did my PhD in molecular biology. And already at that time, during my PhD, I felt a little bit like there was a very big gap between science and the public. And whenever people asked me about my work, I found it really hard to explain what I’m doing. And during that time, I tried to get better and better at that. And I was also taking classes in scientific communication because in my mind, science is here for everyone, and everyone should know what’s happening at the universities. They’re not Ivory towers that no one has access to. So this is when my interest was born in scientific communication. And once I had finished my PhD, I felt like I wasn’t really ready to continue for different reasons with research myself. But I wanted to be a link between research and the public and also between politics because there’s a lot of politics in that area, too. So this is when we moved to another city to Karlstad. I found a job first in the communication Department. It was like a little project I had there. And then I finally got a job at the library where we had quite free hands actually to fix our job the way we want it to be. And at that time, there was not much talk about scientific communication or even talking about the publication strategies for research. There has to be some work done in that area to be successful in research. So this is the area I landed in, and this is where I’m still at today. So I work with a lot of different open science questions, like open access, open data, and also, like I said, publishing strategies with researchers. I think that we have a little podcast which I really love. It’s our little baby where we interview. 

Jo: Yeah. I think that was also one of the triggers for me to start my own podcast, because also, like you explained what your mission is with the podcast. It’s called Forskningspodden the part about research or how would you translate it to English? 

Nadja: Research podcast. Yeah.

Jo: And you meet with researchers from Karlstad University, and I encourage them to explain about their research and to share what they’re actually doing to a wider audience, to the listeners, to other stock University students and staff employees, but also for the general wider public. And that’s also what I felt because you said you felt a need for the unearthed for that during your PhD studies. And the same was true for me. For me, it was always important to find a way to explain to myself, but also to my family and friends. And I also felt like the public deserves to know or needs to know. And that’s also the essence of open access, especially when it’s taxpayers money that goes into research. Most of the funds come from governmental subsidies, and hence the knowledge that’s generated through research is morally owned by the public. So it’s on us researchers to extend to the public what we do with that money and what the benefits are from our work. But then it’s also fair that maybe it’s not for everybody. And I think there’s different breeds of researchers, those who are keen to work on the intersection and those who want to dive right into the molecular world and are fascinated by that. And I want to hear and see anything else. But yeah. So that’s also, I think, how we take it similarly in that sense. And this is what I think also inspired me when I listened to your podcast. 

Nadja: Thank you. 

Jo: Because now with this podcast here, my intention is to also trigger discussion about the topics that I’m passionate about in research, which all relates around open science, but also and also what open science can allow us to do in terms of leveraging research results for societal benefits across all disciplines. Really and for any stakeholder of society. Really. Please tell us a little bit about the conversations you have in your pot. And is there, like a recurring theme or common denominator that you experienced over the years? 

Nadja: Well, our podcast is quite specific, actually, because what we do is in Sweden, you can have two different degrees during a PhD studies, the first one is the license, which is about two and a half years into your PhD studies, and then you defend your thesis and you get your PhD degree. So what we do is that we approach the PhD students specifically in our podcast and ask them if they want to join us in Fortling Spoton. And that is actually for two reasons or maybe even more. But when we decided to start cleaning spots. And we felt that PhD students there’s too little light on PhD students in general and the work they do. So we wanted to encourage them and give them the possibility to have an outlet for their research and talk to the public in that way. And we thought also that this would be a good means for them to get some media training because they get to talk to us. We record the podcast, but if they’re not like in a live radio program when they say something wrong, it will be wrong and it will be out there. But in the podcast, we can repeat the question and you can tell us again if you stumbled upon different things. So these are the two aspects. And what we do is that the podcast are approximately 20 minutes and we ask the PhD students about the research, what they have done, what they experienced, their main results, and we try to answer within the podcast, we try to help them package their research so that it’s understandable for the general public. So it’s not very detailed. It shouldn’t be too detailed, but more like the back cover of a book. It should tell you about the thesis, but in a very general way. And it’s really fun. 

Jo: Yeah, I can imagine. And also when I reflect back on my own experience, that’s usually the case when I had to design a poster for a conference or towards the end of my thesis, when I write the actual thesis or research paper, that’s when you again have the time and the necessity for generating headspace to step back and look at your research and contextualize it based on the findings and the learnings that we’ve done as researchers. And I think science communication does that more frequently if we are open to it. Did you also see such in Germany would say, AHA moments. I think that also works in English, where the students that come to you to present their research in the podcast, they have like small Eureka moments where they go like, oh yeah, this is why I do it again. Sometimes we get lost in the details and then when we step back and see the bigger picture by explaining to somebody else, it puts our research on things and some new perspectives.

Nadja: I don’t know if I could say they had this Eureka moment where we were podcasting, but we got some feedback from the PhD students where they thought this was really helpful to just get them thinking because they had to say tell their story in a short amount of time and they really had to think about if the public would ask what’s in it for me and package it. So I think those are maybe the two most important Eureka moments. And then we usually have a question about what the PhD students would recommend to other people who want to become a PhD student. I think that also tells things because there’s so many different opinions. It’s amazing actually. We have I think 87 episodes now. We didn’t post the question in all of them, but in most of them and almost everyone had something else to contribute. So that was maybe for me a Eureka moment. It’s so multifaceted the whole thing and so many different experiences baked into it and a very complex experience, so to speak. I hope that was a question to your answer. 

Jo: Yeah, I think it was a difficult question to answer that I posed to you, but yeah, you answered it beautifully. 

Nadja: Thank you. 

Jo: And is there like one example you could share with us? Like one story that resonated with you, especially maybe because the topic was still to your heart or because it was so important for the researcher to share about the research? Is that something that comes to mind? 

Nadja: Well, close to my heart, I’m not sure, but I’m so happy to see the PhD students how well they do, how well they present their research and how much they have considered different things and all the thought they have put into both the research and then also in presenting it. So I’m really proud every time we are finished with the podcast and it feels like wow, we really wrapped it and they are doing a really good job with it because it’s resentful. As you said, it’s taxpayer money most of the time and they are giving back to society. And also what really is nice is that this podcast is completely voluntary. But in the beginning when we started it, we thought maybe some people would say yes, but it’s a lot more people saying yes than we ever expected. So this is really nice too. That’s warming my heart. So there is definitely an interest in meeting the public and getting the research out there. 

Jo: You think that the experience with the epidemic has triggered some of that, that researchers and especially young researchers, early career researchers feel a need that they owe it to society to explain what they do to avoid misconceptions about science. Irrespective of that many viruses or diseases like across the topics, there might be a realization for us researchers that we have to take ownership of the matter because we know the facts and as much as facts are always or hardly ever one-sided, which again makes it difficult to explain for non-researchers. But okay, so the question is, did you see an increase in early career researchers wanting to share their stories out of the experience and the uncertainties that the pandemic brought with how much we can trust science now? What is this without going too much into the Corona debate, I don’t want to go there. Is there a sense that we have to do better with science communication to avoid misconceptions in the future? 

Nadja: Honestly, no, we didn’t experience any of this so very shortly. It’s a very good question. But I don’t think we could see a difference so far. Maybe if we go further, maybe there will be exchange and will experience a change. But for our podcast at least, I don’t think there has been a different mindset or anything. 

Jo: Or maybe indirectly in the sense that many people had to reorganize their workflow from home offices and then also realized there is a benefit in sharing stories about research and the research project in different ways. I don’t know. But you don’t see a difference in the number of people wanting to come and share the stories. Cool. Okay. If you would put it in one or two sentences, what do you think is the purpose of science and research? We said also you kind of answered it already that there should be some societal benefit with it. But do you think research in itself can have a purpose or research is doing the work of research? It’s a little bit philosophical now. 

Nadja: Oh, yeah, that’s a difficult question. But what I think well, I would say for me, research is accumulating new knowledge that should be available for everyone who wants to know, and everyone should be able to use it the way they need to very short… I don’t know if…

Jo: That’s on point, actually. I’m thinking also because I work a lot on the African context. And when it comes to scholarly publishing, there’s now a dominance of publishing in English and there is a predominance of a way to describe research and research etiquette. It’s very much known as Western way to communicate. And you and I, we’ve seen well, maybe even more than me. I don’t know, likeI want to go towards multilingualism for once, like dealing with more than one language in research, but also cultural identity, because in my view, research should be described in the modern time because often there’s some cultural knowledge that’s associated which easily gets lost in translation into English or technical writing. Also from English, from spoken English to technical writing, English even there. Okay, I’m probably opening Pandora’s box here. In your experience as a researcher. During your PhD in Sweden, coming from Germany and working in an international lab, your PhD advisor was well, your PhD adviser was Swedish, but then your postdoc advisor was Australian, right? 

Nadja: No, but my PhD advisor was from New Zealand. 

Jo: Sorry

Nadja: But in the Department, we had very many different nationalities, so the main languages were English, Swedish, … Swinglish. 

Jo: Okay. What does open science mean to you in your daily routines and work? How do you practice open science or how do you support scholars in their approach to embracing open science practices? 

Nadja: Well, in my job, open science is a very central thing actually, especially the questions that touch upon open data and open access for publications. Because in Sweden we have the Swedish libraries have gone together to negotiate the different agreements with the publishers to make open access possible for as many people as possible because as you know, open access is usually paid by the one that sends in the articles.

Jo: In your daily routines and in your daily work. How do you support researchers in embracing open science practices? What does open science mean in your research or in your work context? 

Nadja: Okay, well, open science is very central in my work because I’m working with open access and open data. I think I might have mentioned that before. So we are supporting our research, for example, with different agreements that we have with the publishers on a national level so that they don’t have to pay the fees themselves for open access publishing. So I think we have currently 15 agreements with different publishers to cover the costs, article processing charges. And I’m also in the group that works with open data and we are still in baby shoes. I would say at Costa University we have worked a lot with it, but it’s a very complex question and it’s very many different issues that are involved in this from how do you make open data possible? But it’s also the question about general data management, which we have to work a lot more with in the future to make it more organized. And then there are so many different legal aspects in regard to that. It’s a jungle when you are there and we’re trying to navigate through that jungle to find the right ways and make the path ready for our researchers to be able to actually publish their data in the end and to make sure we only publish the data that is okay to publish and not anything that might identify people in the respondents in service and things like that. So it’s a lot of open questions. But in general, obviously, we want open science because open science is important both for the research community but also for the globe in general so that people can use and make the best of the results we have from research. 

Jo: Yeah, I agree. And it’s also important. Thanks for mentioning that because as much as there’s now a big or allowed cry and call for open science and open science practices and open access and open data, especially when it comes to open data, as you just mentioned, it’s not as trivial and easy because we have in Europe we have GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation, which in other parts of the world, they also have their own super-regional level. And then each country has their own regulations. Besides that, which also need to be compliant with and for research, that’s usually what I as a researcher, I didn’t want to hear anything about legal stuff that’s for the lawyers and now we have to deal with so much. But I feel also at the end of the day, it’s not too complicated how to license the data set, but then to make sure to comply with national to license your data sets in a way that just shouldn’t disclose sensitive data of any kind, but also in the sense of Fair Findable accessible and operable and reusable. What’s usually recommended is to apply CC Zero and CC by either or preferably CC Zero, which then calls for make it publicly available and then online repository, and then you might run into national legal standards and regulations which wouldn’t allow you to do that as a researcher or University. So there we need a lot of stakeholders in the game to make these informed decisions. What of our research output can we actually make? How accessible? But the first and most important step is to comply with the FAIR principles, I think, to make it findable and that can be closed. It’s also a common misconception that I observe and also had myself not too long ago that fair does not mean that the data should be open, but it should be traceable and well documented. That’s basically what it boils down to, which is also not always as trivial as it might seem, because then also here we need to comply with Data Privacy regulations and so on and so forth. So it’s good that we have experts like you in positions to make sense of all of that. 

Nadja: I just want to say I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I really like it. But it’s the field of continuous learning. I’m not an expert yet, but it’s definitely a very interesting field to get into, and every meeting we have is a new learning step in that regard, I think.

Jo: I’m sure…

Nadja: Because it’s so complex. 

Jo: I think expertise starts for me with being aware of what needs to be considered into the equation. In the preparation for this episode, you said that your favorite band or the musician that came to mind was The Chili Peppers. And this is now also the title for this episode. Can you share with us what fascinates you with that? I don’t think you have to explain it a lot. 

Nadja: No, I don’t know. But their music Awakens something in me. It sounds really strange, but every time there is on the radio or somewhere, it gives me a happy feeling. And I just want to join their songs. And I really like their music. It touches upon something within me and I don’t know if you know this feeling, but it kind of triggers me. And it has done so for many years. I mean, I’ve been a fan for, I don’t know, 20 years probably, 

Jo: One particular song or just generally any song or many? 

Nadja: Oh, there’s many different ones. I like most of their songs, not any in particular. 

Jo: During the time when we were both studying at Stockholm University, I always connected you with Coldplay. Is that still a band you listen to? 

Nadja: Yeah, Coldplay I like too, but it’s more the Chili Peppers I would really identify with. So I still love Coldplay too. And of course there are different other bands too, but I would say the chili peppers are the ones closest to my heart, even if they’re old now too. 

Jo: They’re in your heart. That’s the most important part. And when you mentioned that you have two researchers that you find inspiring, who are these? 

Nadja: Yeah, because you asked me and you said they could be dead or alive. So I actually picked one that is dead and I picked one that is still alive and the dead one is I’m not sure it’s more or less a philosopher, but it’s Aristotle. So I would really like to have met him at some point or I would like to transfer him to our time now and see what he would say about that. Because what really inspires me with him is that he had all this great knowledge. I mean, he lived like 300 something years before Christ. And many of the things he had said are still valid. And many like office research in biology and physics are still valid since the 16th, 17th century. So in my mind, he must have been one of the smartest persons on the planet. And I would really have liked to have met him. Another one that is still living today is Johan Rockström. He is a Swedish researcher and he works a lot with sustainability issues, global sustainability issues. And I think he has a very interesting take. And he’s also one of the researchers or like a team of researchers that have been involved in the planetary boundaries framework, which like where they gave recommendations for maintaining a safe operating space for humanity. And also I have a cooking book that he has written. And actually, I think I have met him because he used to be, or maybe he is still doing research at Stockholm University. And I took a course in economic management. And I think I might have crossed his path, but I don’t know. And I would really like to talk to him because I’m really interested in these questions too, even if I’m not working with them. And I would love to discuss with him how we as individuals can help to save this planet. On what level? I think he would have a lot of smart things to say. 

Jo: Yeah. Maybe we can also get him on our end of this podcast in the future. 

Nadja: Yeah, that would be nice. I think he’s a very busy person, but it would be great to have him. I think he has important questions to answer. 

Jo: Thank you so much for sharing all of that with us. And it’s nice to see all the sparkles in your eyes when you talk about that. You’re really passionate about the work that you do now and also back then. And it’s interesting to hear, I guess, also not only to me, how a journey can take from the PhD and molecular to other placements inside academia and also an intersection to bridge to society and to ensure that science communication finds its way for science literacy also so that we can all learn from each other across cultures across countries and inside countries. Societal levels and stakeholders. Thanks for doing such important work and for joining me in this podcast today. And hopefully we’re here you’re most welcome back to the show anytime you want and I’m sure we’ll find other topics to talk about and hear more from you. Thank you very much, Nadja. 

Nadja: Thank you, Johanna.