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Research Context and Research Chemistry: Information Literacy, Scholarly Publishing, and Data Management in the Chemistry Curriculum

Exponential growth in the number of chemistry publications [1] produced each year has made sorting through research topics increasingly difficult. This growth does have the advantage of exposing some of the flaws in the publication process that future chemists might be able to improve. Issues such as lack of reproducibility [2–4], overemphasis on citation metrics [5,6], data falsification [7,8], and predatory journals [9] will have to be addressed by the next generation of scientists. To that end a new type of chemical literature course in the undergraduate and graduate curricula at Vanderbilt University is being introduced. This course will be divided into three sections.

The first half will focus on information seeking and literacy by covering contentious topics within chemistry (e.g., fracking, nuclear energy, thalidomide, and research related to the supposed vaccine/autism link) and teaching students about the databases and techniques that can help them identify trustworthy information.

The second portion will focus on the history, present, and future of scholarly publishing. Students will learn about current practices by hearing from a journal editor and an acquisition librarian that frequently negotiates with publishers.

The final portion will be on data management as a potential solution to some of the issues with publishing. Students will learn how to manage, find, store, and share data related to their research. Other scientific literature or information curricula will be compared to this course by distributing a survey to faculty and staff at colleges and universities and student learning will be assessed by using a pre/post test to determine their confidence and comfort with finding, describing, publishing, and sharing research articles and data.


Joshua Borycz PhD, MSIS started his academic career studying computational chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. His research involved performing quantum mechanical calculations to determine the utility of various materials for applications involving magnetism, carbon dioxide capture, and catalysis. During his work in the PhD program, he noticed that there were some important gaps in the research process that few people noticed. For one, researchers tended not to care much about preserving or organizing their data, which resulted in a great deal of wasted time redoing work and made it difficult to reproduce results. There was also little to no education about the actual research and publication process in the undergraduate or graduate curricula, so many students did not understand how to read, write, or present academic information properly and few understood the economics of the publication process.

As such, Mr. Borycz decided to study information science at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, to work with Carol Tenopir, who has done a great deal of work studying the data management attitudes and practices of scientists. He recently took a position at Vanderbilt University as a Librarian for STEM Research, where he is consulting with research groups on data management, teaching information/literature courses, and teaching basic programming and versioning skills to staff and faculty.