He created an open access journal from scratch — here’s how

Research Director DBRK Gupta Udatha tells how he launched his own OA journal and shares his best advice

By Libby Plummer - April 8, 2021
DBRK Gupta Udatha quote
DBRK Gupta Udatha, PhD, is Director at Oslo Cancer Cluster in Norway and co-founder of the Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal, an open access journal published by Elsevier.

Deciding to launch your own journal while still studying for your PhD is a highly unusual step, but that’s exactly what Dr DBRK Gupta Udatha did. Now Director at Oslo Cancer Cluster in Norway with a focus on digital and EU initiatives, Gupta spent two years planning and learning the mechanisms of publishing a journal and sparking enthusiasm among researchers before launching the gold open access title Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal (CSBJ) in 2011.

Originally from India, Gupta moved to Sweden in 2009 to complete his PhD at Chalmers University of Technology. From the start, he knew how important it was to maintain high standards:

When you launch an open access journal, the first thing is you should focus on the quality of your editorial team. That is very important, as is the quality of the articles that you're accepting.

It was at Chalmers during the first year of his PhD that he quickly discovered that there were very few open access journals in his chosen field. Working on a project focusing on the interface between computational biology, chemoinformatics and biotechnology, he found that there were few journals with such a niche focus that were available to him.

Spotting a clear need for an open access journal in this area that would also present the real-world use case studies in the biotechnology field, Gupta took the idea to his thesis supervisor, who asked him some tough questions:

He said, ‘Do you know how to launch a journal? Do you know the infrastructure involved? How much work it takes?’ And I said, ‘No, maybe I should learn.’

Gupta spent the next two years learning everything he could about running a journal, from HTML and CSS management to indexing. At conferences, he told scientists about his plans to launch a journal, and the reaction from the academic world was enthusiastic.

After careful planning — and founding the Research Network of Computational and Structural Biotechnology association — he launched the journal in 2011, with the first issue published in 2012. Gupta explained:

Recognizing the need for a forum for like-minded individuals in the field, we created a society. Then we collected the editorial board, and then launched the journal. In the beginning, I used to dedicate eight hours of my time for my PhD and an additional eight hours for the journal, because I was doing everything, like production of the articles, indexing, and talking with the authors and reviewers. It was a hectic period.

After completing his PhD and starting on his postdoc, Gupta realized that he no longer had the same amount of time to commit to running CSBJ and the full range of resources and expertise to enable the journal to reach its full potential, so he began looking for publishers he could collaborate with. Impressed with the overall proposition and the level of support offered, he eventually opted to work with Elsevier over another major publisher in 2014.

Access to ScienceDirect was one of the key factors in Gupta’s decision to enter a publishing partnership with Elsevier, due to the huge reach and credibility it offers. He also cited Scopus, Mendeley and Elsevier’s support for third-party software as important reasons for the decision:

All these kinds of software tools help to increase the readership and also to increase citations and, of course, the Impact Factor.

Also vital to the decision was the ability for the Research Network of Computational and Structural Biotechnology to maintain ownership of the journal as part of the agreement:

With Elsevier, the discussions were much more collaborative, and I knew that they would help us to grow our channel with the maximum support based on their existing infrastructure.

Since launch, CSBJ has steadily grown in credibility, hitting an Impact Factor of 5 for the first time in 2019, four years after starting to work with Elsevier. In 2020, the journal reached an impressive IF of 6.018.

Learn about OA publishing at Elsevier

Gupta is a strong advocate for open access, and while the CSBJ charges a flat Article Publishing Charge (APC) for accepted articles, a number of discounts are offered on a case-by-case basis, such as when institutions in developing countries have exceptional research but do not have the funds to publish it.

The importance of open access is especially relevant in this particular field of study, Gupta said:

Computational biology and structural biology papers normally contain a lot of data. If this is behind a paywall, then it is very difficult for researchers from developing or low-income countries to access it. For me, this didn't make sense, especially for publicly funded research.

Gupta believes that the new generation will accelerate the shift towards open access.

Those born in the ‘90s and 2000s — I think they have a different way of thinking. The new generation, the ones that I have been talking with during the past 15 years, are very oriented towards open access. Also, new regulations from governments and funding agencies are increasingly saying that you have to publish open access to secure funds, so this will also drive a shift towards open access.

Advice for launching new OA journals

Other than keeping an eye out for underserved, niche areas in the scientific world, does Gupta have any advice for other societies launching new journals adopting the gold open access model?

Quality is absolutely key,” he said, adding:

The most important points are having a good editorial team in place that can support you, and also to maintain a high level of quality for all published articles. Moving to Elsevier helped me as it freed up my time for my job and also to dedicate more time to creating special issues with the editorial team.

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Libby Plummer
Written by

Libby Plummer

Written by

Libby Plummer

Libby Plummer is a freelance journalist and copywriter specializing in tech, science and space. Based in London, Libby has nearly two decades of experience working across a wide array of business and consumer publications in print and online, as well as working in several fast-paced newsrooms. Libby has a bachelor’s degree in communication and has also completed a course in Astronomy and Astrophysics with the University of Oxford Department of Continuing Education. During 2020's lockdown, she used the extra hours gained to complete an additional course in Aerospace Engineering, Astronautics and Human Spaceflight through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's MITx online learning initiative.

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