Global communities and shared values

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In time for International Women's Day Caroline Birkle, vice president of research operations at Clarivate Analytics, spoke to us about flagship brands, research data services and metrics

Tell me a bit about your career. How did you get to where you are now?

Family is very important to me and it all stems back to advice from my Dad! I had set myself a challenge to speak fluent French and was intending to study French at university but he told me: 'Study chemistry, as you can live in France and learn French, or any country and language you set your mind to, but for chemistry you will need a lab.' He was right. 

My career in STM started with a degree in chemistry. I completed a Masters at Sheffield University, with a final year project in synthetic organic chemistry under the kind and watchful eye of Dr Lance Twyman.  Thanks to a scholarship program and the Erasmus European free-mover project I spent a full year as part of the course at L’Université Paul Sabatier, France, as well as having the chance to study at the William and Mary College in Virginia, USA.  These international study experiences were incredible opportunities and heavily influenced my perspective on the power of global communities, and what diversity of thought is really about. 

On graduation, it was Dr Twyman that supported me in finding an internship in STM publishing at the Thieme Group. At Thieme I realised I adored being part of the scientific process, without being confined to a fume cupboard! Once working in STM publishing I had the good fortune to meet thoughtful, insightful and motivating people, both colleagues and external editorial boards who always encouraged and pushed me to push myself as we all grappled with the digital transformation era, explosion of publications output and open research.

In the companies I have worked for in my early career, I have always looked for a sense of shared mission, values and drive reflecting the communities we worked with and for. Thieme Group, Holtzbrinck Group and Royal Society of Chemistry are places I feel I have been extremely lucky to have worked, and through those mission-driven organisations I have been exposed to world-class networks of academics and research professionals.  

On International Women’s Day, what advice would you give to other women in the industry? 

I would say, 'If you think everyone around you is talking nonsense, they probably are'. Be confident, and have a voice. 

The second piece of advice is from my mum – who is a formidable and brilliant person, still working hard to inspire and encourage girls to enter STEM through her work at the Bawdsey Radar Trust. She has said to me at many points in my career, 'make sure you are looking after you'.  Particularly as a leader, you are not helping anyone if you are not taking care of yourself, eating well, sleeping and exercising. It sounds simple, but sometimes we need a small reminder.

What does your current role as vice president of research operations at Clarivate Analytics encompass?

I am responsible for the three flagship platforms and research integrity functions at Clarivate across academia and the life sciences, which includes more than 100 scientists, journalists, academic consultants and data scientists working for the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), the Centre for Innovation in Regulatory Science (CIRS) and BioWorld magazine. I am also responsible for the academic services team, covering data and consultancy delivery to academic institutions and governments worldwide. I have an incredible leadership team working with me, and they deliver insight and perspective on developments within the company, within in the markets we serve. They challenge the status quo for both Clarivate and the broader research community on a daily basis.

What does it mean to be the Geschäftsführer for Clarivate GmbH?

It’s another word for managing director – I am the regional signatory within the corporate structure for Clarivate in Germany. In practice, it means I take care of regional operational affairs within the corporate matrix, supporting our central legal and finance teams.

What does ‘thought leadership’ mean to you?

Thought leadership in my mind is about understanding the status quo, and having the breadth and depth of knowledge as well as the confidence to challenge it with new concepts and new ideas. Across Clarivate we are lucky to have thought leaders within the ISI, CIRS, and BioWorld, which have a very clear editorial voice and produced the Drugs to Watch publications this year. Beyond those established platforms we have thought leaders working in every part of our organisation, resulting in ground-breaking new products such as Publons and Kopernio.

What is the biggest challenge facing STM research and publishing?

To my mind one of the biggest challenges facing not just the industry, but society more broadly, is increasing scrutiny relating to the way public funds are spent, and how this scrutiny is approached.  The ramifications of decisions being made today will impact many generations to come and we have a shared responsibility to make sure there is fair, representative evaluation across all subject areas and recognition across STM and into the social sciences is absolutely critical. 

The important role social sciences and the humanities play is all too often overshadowed by the dominant technical industries.  But I am not sure any of us would want to experience a world where science, technology and medicine operate in the absence of ethics, robust political systems and policies.  Policy makers, academics and publishers tackling the challenge of defining common success collaboratively is going to be critical if we are going to add long term, sustainable value to society for generations to come.

Lastly, what inspires you?

I genuinely still feel every day that it is an absolute privilege to be entrusted with the work of researchers and academics -  whether as publisher or now working in bibliometric indexing - to handle the work of the greatest minds of our generation is inspiring. In the hustle and bustle of office life, that can get lost, but it is what I always come back to. I feel great pride and responsibility in what we do.  

Specifically at Clarivate, the bibliometric metadata underpinning the Web of Science and other datasets that we are the guardians of, represent literally thousands of years of passion, ingenuity, intellect, excellence and academic perseverance. The academic and research community have the ability to speak truth to power, to influence Governments, to protect the weak and influence society and culture. It is inspiring and humbling to play a small role in that landscape.