Three Questions with Jannon Fuchs

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Three Questions is an initiative to share the value that our faculty, students, and others in the UNT community derive from using The Portal to Texas History at UNT Libraries.

1. How important are Unique Collections in your teaching, learning or research?

2. How have Unique Collections changed the way you approach your research, teaching or learning?

3. What do you want others to know about your research, teaching or learning?

Libraries are vital to biologists and other scientists, especially the electronic subscriptions component. I access electronic journals and/or the database Qinsight several times a week for my neuroscience learning, research, and teaching. Many of the students in my lab (I would like to say all…) find these to be essential resources which are useful on a weekly to daily basis. We use electronic journals through the UNT library so that we can keep up with the latest on topics and methods that impact our research. Biology is extremely diverse yet highly integrated, and the literature is expanding exponentially. Biologists’ universal complaint is that there isn’t enough time for the monumental task of “keeping up with the literature.” For biologists who fall too far behind, the prospect for writing fundable grant proposals is dismal.

I remember too well the 1960s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s, when computerized articles and databases were but a dream. We searched the library’s shelves and paged through the latest journal issues. I took notes on a 3X5 card for each article I read, and filed cards and articles by subject and author. On Tuesdays the library would receive the latest issue of Current Contents for Biology & Medicine. It contained the table of contents of all journals, listed by subtopic. About half of the journals we needed were not in the library, so we sent our postcards to request reprints. Some authors sent reprints only to people at prestigious universities in the U.S. As authors, we purchased stacks of glossy reprints (black-and-white, of course), and when we got postcard requests, we addressed envelopes, figured out postage, and proudly stuffed the mailbox. I have many reprints left over, so if you would like some, please send me a postcard.

Yes, we have come a long way. Today, the literature is much more vast–and so is the repertoire we are expected to process. It is the age of burgeoning information. Now what we need are innovations to streamline how articles are reviewed and published, and to facilitate how we obtain, extract, and synthesize pertinent information.

Not everything has come up roses. Although journals are now online, and many are exclusively online, electronic subscriptions can be prohibitively expensive for libraries. We are privileged that UNT does so well in providing electronic journal subscriptions, yet some have a 1-year embargo period, and while we can procure any article through Interlibrary Loan, this is also costly for the library. Not surprisingly, tenuous bootleg sources of electronic articles are out there trying to serve the information age. A new problem is that most respected biomedical journals are charging authors upwards of $2500-3000 to publish, often with additional charges for color images or for Open Access. Sadly, I’m sitting on manuscripts largely because I lack the funds to publish in appropriate journals. Solutions have not caught up with the problem. Imagine a global system where all scientists could receive in proportion to their ability to give? That is not how it works.

In classroom teaching, as in research, I often ask students to prepare in-depth reports. I demonstrate briefly how to access journal articles through the UNT library website and how to research a topic using Qinsight and PubMed. These skills also come in handy for understanding medical diagnoses. By the way, if you have a question in biology or medicine and have not tried Qinsight, you are in for a revolutionary treat. It is our go-to “big data artificial intelligence platform for discovering hidden insights from the biomedical literature,” so thankfully, UNT subscribes to it. This database does many things, but its main value is that by entering a couple of terms, you retrieve all of the references using both/all of these terms within the same sentence, and those sentences are presented with both/all terms highlighted. There may be no faster way to see whether there is a relationship between, say, smoking and Parkinson’s disease.

We sometimes read books concerning our research interests, usually as e-books or through Interlibrary Loan. Books are perfect for a quiet, contemplative afternoon perusing a topic from the comfort of a hammock. Highly specialized books are very expensive, and may consist of chapters by an assortment of authors, and containing redundant material that is not timely enough or not properly reviewed. But some chapters are prized for their clear explanations, new insights, or uniquely detailed lab protocols. I always consult books when preparing to teach courses on science writing and on science presentation (making illustrations, giving seminar talks, etc.). Science communication technology advances quickly, and I’m on the lookout for new books to recommend to the library and to students. Occasionally, I access publications in science education to see what is new and to pick up more tidbits of advice. I also admit to checking out scores of novels, children’s books, foreign language books, and sheet music, to enrich those other important aspects of life!

My research program is in “hot” areas of biomedical research, and we face major challenges to compete with labs in medical schools with superb facilities, cutting-edge technologies, and a plethora of expertise just down the hall. I’m continually looking for unique niches and angles that no one else is likely to think of, so that my lab has a few months of lead-time before other labs have a chance to propose the work that we are already doing. To do that, I try to be broadly well-informed, current, resourceful, creative, and limber. I could not strive to do that without the library!

Dr. Jannon Fuchs is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of North Texas. Her research interests include developmental neuroscience with a focus on primary cilia in the birth and survival of cells in the nervous system.