The incredible #WomenInTech who are Changing the Academic World alongside Wingravity in 2019

Even though tech is still a male-dominated industry, there are numerous #WomenInTech who are pioneering success with empathy and vision. 

The Wingravity team was lucky to meet and work in 2019 with two incredible women: Dr. Alexandra Freeman – Executive Director at Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication, Cambridge – the creator of Octopus and Daniela Saderi – Ph.D. in neuroscience, the Co-Founder and Project Director of PREreview. 

We decided to write this article so that other women who are considering joining the tech industry know that there are software companies that support women in bringing their ideas to life.

We truly admire both of them for the ability to speak their mind and for bringing a unique perspective that no one else previously had in the academic world.

They are not only a source of inspiration for us but also for many women across the world because they have shown remarkable determination and self-belief in their actions.

We asked them to share more about their products, along with the advice they offer to women getting started in the industry and both of them agreed to put their cards on the table. 

OCTOPUS 

Octopus is designed to be the new way scientific researchers share their findings and take credit for them. At the moment, they choose one of thousands of scientific journals and write a ‘paper’ for them – and a ‘paper’ might take years to prepare and tell the whole story of their work. There is far too much pressure on these ‘papers’ to tell a neat, easily-digestible narrative, glossing over or spinning any research that turned out in an unexpected way, and claiming to have wide implications – because those are the papers that are published in the most general (and hence widely-read) journals. This is hugely skewing scientific research – meaning there is little incentive to share detailed work, specialist work, or work that had ‘boring’ results.

With Octopus, researchers will publish their work in smaller chunks, meaning that they can share things faster, and without any pressure to tell a narrative. Unlike papers, this work will also all be free to read and publish, and digital-first so that it is much easier to find and translate into different languages.

Corina: What challenges did you face in creating this product?

Alexandra: It’s a very novel idea, and designed to provide an alternative to a multi-billion pound global industry. Most people – even though they think it’s a good idea in principle – doubt that it will actually be able to disrupt the current, deeply embedded system. Having said that, many people agree with me that fear of failure shouldn’t prevent us from trying, and building the basic platform to run Octopus is not a huge technical issue, so I have had support to help me initiate this.


C: You have been on the market for 2+ years. What is the current status of the project and what does the future hold for you?

A: It’s taken me longer than I’d hoped to get to the point where I have a version I can properly user-test, but I think we’re nearly there now. Whilst we’re user-testing with volunteers to make the interface slick, we are hoping to do more work behind-the scenes to create a framework of all the existing ‘Problems’ in science, which will help organise all new publications in Octopus. If we can do that over the summer, then we should be ready for a launch in September when we’ll be ‘on the market’ (although we’re a free platform, funded by philanthropists and charities).


C: What does it really take to be a successful woman in tech?

A: Well, that I don’t know! I think it’s probably about

forgetting the labels of being a man or a woman – you’re just you, with your ideas and experience.


C: Which female entrepreneurs inspire you the most and why?

A: I’ve really struggled to answer this one – not because I can’t think of female entrepreneurs, but because I don’t think they’re the people who have really inspired me. I think my real inspiration comes from my mother, who was one of only 4 women to study physics at Oxford University in the 1960s, and my grandmother who was one of the first women to collect a degree from Oxford University in 1927. I grew up with them having no gendered expectations of what I would do in my life.


C: From your experience, what advice would you give to a young woman entrepreneur starting out her career?

A: I would say 

don’t get hung up on gender, and don’t think about the label ‘entrepreneur’ either. You are who you are and you don’t need a label. Just do what you think is right, and learn from what doesn’t go so well to do better next time.


PREreview 

PREreview is an open and free platform for crowdsourcing reviews of preprints. Our goal as a project is to help bring more diversity and collaboration to the peer review process by empowering and supporting communities of researchers across disciplines. 

On PREreview any researcher with an ORCID iD, the lead unique identifier for researchers around the world, can request or write a review to a preprint published on any preprint server.

Preprints are early, yet complete, versions of scientific manuscripts made freely available online before journal-organized peer review. Authors can rapidly share their research with the whole community for free, while retaining full control over the copyright of their work. 

At PREreview we recognize that preprint offer multiple opportunities to both train and diversify the pool of peer reviewers, and to do so transparently:

  1. community peer review can be harnessed to provide early feedback from a large and diverse pool of experts
  2. writing and sharing reviews helps train early-career researchers in the norms of constructive peer review,  and
  3. as citable objects, both preprints and their reviews can be used as proof of productivity and engagement for career advancement

Corina: What challenges did you face in creating this product?

Daniela: The number one challenge with this project is that we are trying to change the way science is evaluated, when it is evaluated and by whom. Peer review has been traditionally managed by journals behind closed doors and with time from submission to publication from six months to a year. But it is still done by us, the researchers, who for the most part contribute with their time and skills for free and anonymously (i.e., unrecognized). 

We want to open up peer review to all researchers, including those who have been largely excluded by the journal-organized process, such as researchers in their early career stages, researchers from under resourced institutions and countries, women, and marginalized communities across the world. 

Achieving this requires not only researchers’ buy-in into a new process of scientific dissemination (preprints) and evaluation (preprint reviews), but also a coordinated collaboration across emerging tools and open practices so that the process can be trustworthy and smooth for everyone.

Another related challenge is with the actual platform design and development. We are researchers ourselves and we want to develop a workflow that works for all researchers. However, in the process we quickly became aware of the challenges (and dangers) existing with finding a one-fits-all solution. Researchers across different communities have different priorities and needs that can’t be all met by one platform. That’s why we decided to continuously seek the input and feedback of researchers from communities that we most would like to engage, early career researchers and other underrepresented research communities in scholarship.


C: You have been on the market for more than one year. What is the current status of the project and what does the future hold for you?

D: We are not really on “the market” as we are a free tool developed with a non-profit model. But yes, PREreview as a project has been around since October 2017 when thanks to the Authorea platform we were able to give users a place to host PREreviews. 

But it’s only since September 2019 that we launched the beta for the PREreview platform. With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we designed and developed this platform around the needs of the communities we want to serve. Several of the features that we have implemented are functional in this MVP, but there is still a lot to be done to continue growing our usership and to make this tool practical and easy to access.

We are now working on compiling the first round of user testing and research together with new ideas to make the tool more interactive and engaging for the community.


C: What does it really take to be a successful woman in tech?

D: I would love to know the answer to this question myself. I honestly don’t know. It’s surprisingly hard for me to even accept that that’s what I am, a woman in the tech space, at the crossroad between academia (my home) and open-source software development.

The truth is that being in this role is really hard as I have not been trained by my 10+ years of studying to become a scientist to project and product manage, to deal with different stakeholders, to build a healthy and diverse community, to fundraise. Arguably, I should have, but I was not. 

It’s because of the support of the people I work with and the experiences of other women I look up to every day that I manage to stay afloat and improve myself in these areas of work. 


C: Which female entrepreneurs inspire you the most and why?

D: There are too many to mention here. But there are a few who have really impacted my work and the way I think about problems.

In my transition from academia to team leader in the space of open scholarship, I have been inspired and mentored by women such as Danielle Robinson (Co-Executive Director at Code for Science and Society, our fiscal sponsor organization), Robin Champieux (Open Science Scholarly Communication Librarian), and Naomi Penfold (Community Manager at eLIFE). I particularly admire their unmatched ability to build community, gather people together and channel diverse expertise and backgrounds towards a common purpose. 

I am inspired every day by Georgia Bullen, Executive Director of Simply Secure, for her outstanding ability to connect people, to stimulate thoughts and discussions that challenge one’s assumptions on a project or a product, redirecting the conversation to the needs of the end user, to the people.

I’m inspired by Yeshimabeit Milner for the incredible work she did and continues to carry on at the organization she founded, Data 4 Black Lives, at the forefront of challenging systems of oppression rooted in history and everyday’s technology.

Finally, I am inspired by the awesome women in my team, Samantha Hindle and Monica Granados, without whom PREreview would not be what it is today and without the support of whom I might not have ended up being in this role.


C: From your experience, what advice would you give to a young woman entrepreneur starting out her career?

D: My advice is to

stay connected with other awesome women in this space, without being afraid to reach out for a 30-minute call. It can be isolating to work on a project with a large scope, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. And the reward, to me, is proportional to the community around it. People want to help. Don’t be afraid of asking for help or advice.

My favorite motto is 

To go fast go alone, to go far go together. — African Proverb


Conclusion 

Alexandra and Daniela are “standing out” because they didn’t take no for an answer in their mission to build two amazing digital products meant for scientists from all over the world who are ready to embrace a radical new approach for scientific publishing.

Tech is full of extremely interesting topics as long as you keep the passion strong and overcome all the obstacles with kindness regardless of gender or the things coming your way.

The Wingravity team is honored to be working alongside these two amazing #WomenInTech and help them build platforms that the world has so far never considered. Thank you for choosing us. 

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