Eight, and Still Counting

Josh Brown's picture

Tomorrow would have been the fifth anniversary of my first day working for ORCID. Sadly, today is my last day, but five years is a nice round number. That said, the real number is eight, and still counting. Let me explain…

I was working with ORCID well before it launched, starting in 2011 when my boss Neil casually asked if I’d mind leading Jisc’sResearcher Identifier Task and Finish Group’. That was optimistically named as it turned out: they still haven’t finished. (I might be being a little bit facetious there - since then we’ve moved on from asking ‘should we adopt an identifier for researchers, and if so, which one?’ to deepening the integration of iDs and working with the members of the group, system vendors and the team at Jisc to innovate and create new tools to take advantage of the connections iDs have enabled. So, definitely not ‘finished’, but that’s actually a very good thing.)

One of my last tasks for Jisc was to deliver a keynote at the ORCID registry launch in Berlin in 2012, then I was off to CERN. While there, I was still working with ORCID as a member of the then Outreach Steering Group, and engaging with publishers and repository staff as we collected ORCID iDs for the authors who published in the High Energy Physics journals which participated in SCOAP3.

When I joined ORCID on May 1st 2014, at the time I thought my itinerary for the first month was crazy. I didn’t realise how well it prepared me for what was to come. I was straight off to Rome for CRIS 2014, which was basically part one of my induction, watching Laure work the room and getting to know the team at Cineca who would go on to form the first of our ‘modern’ national consortia. (With a pleasing symmetry, my last trip as an ORCID staffer was also to Italy, starting in Rome to meet the team at ANVUR, then to Bologna to visit Cineca, and finishing with a visit to the 4Science offices in Milan.)

After that first trip, I got home for a weekend, and then headed back out - this time to Chicago for my first board meeting, my second ORCID outreach meeting, and my first face-to-face meeting with ORCID team. At the same time, this was when I started to get to grips with the ODIN project, starting with a phone call at some insane hour of the night (whilst jetlagged to bits) with colleagues at the British Library. We started writing a report that is still shaping conversations now. I remember that particularly, because one of the other people on that call was Tom “Amazing” Demeranville, who later joined us to work on the THOR project and is now our Product Director. (Just for the record, I now have almost as many photos of Tom on my phone as I have of my own children. Make of that what you will.)

During that call, I was watching the sun come up over Chicago and Lake Michigan, until a river of clouds flowed in and gradually devoured the Chicago skyline. As you can see from this photo of the view taken during the call, it wasn’t at all distracting:

After that first month at ORCID, things really started to speed up. Over the years, these are some of the things I have learned:

  • Packing: there is no way you can travel from 30℃ heat in Qatar to -10℃ cold in New York without somehow being dressed wrongly for both climates, but you can go an incredibly long way for several weeks on one small backpack’s worth of clothes.
  • Bureaucracy: is totally unpredictable. Who could ever have guessed that applying in Switzerland for a Saudi visa as a British citizen whilst living in France would be anything other than straightforward? (It wasn’t. I didn’t go to Saudi Arabia. My apologies again to our friends at KAUST.)
  • A conversation that begins ‘Could you pass by Tokyo on your way home from Sweden?” tells you that several weeks of your life are about to be used up. (I’m still not sure how they got used up, they just vanished into a blur of jetlag and waking up from unplanned naps and trying to work out which airport I was in from the language on the signs.)
  • When your monthly expense report reaches 90 pages, you could climb Schiehallion in the time it takes to annotate all the receipts.
  • When your plane catches fire, you’re going to be late for your workshop. Possibly even 33 hours and four planes worth of late… (I still made it though.)

If we’re going to talk numbers, here are a few more: since joining ORCID I have visited 29 countries, some of them many, many times (cough, looking at you France…). I have helped to launch 10 consortia, and to lay the foundations for several more. Between all the various projects and integrations over the years, I have worked directly with colleagues from 40 countries that I can think of without looking it up - so the real number is probably higher.

As well as ODIN, I’ve helped to write the final report from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation-funded Adoption and Integration Program, support the projects in the Jisc-ARMA ORCID pilot, design and deliver the THOR and Freya projects, and develop the bid that led to our biggest ever grant, from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust (that one followed from a call in which Laure asked me what I would do with a million dollars, which piqued my interest just a little). I chaired the program committee for the first three PIDapalooza festivals. Most recently, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a group of several dozen brilliant funding bodies on the ORBIT project. These collaborations have taught me that while ORCID is a vision and an infrastructure, it is above all a community: a global network of members, integrators, policy makers, contributors and researchers which taken all together makes that vision possible.

The experience of working with this global community has been one of the greatest privileges I can imagine. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve arrived at a meeting prepared to present a ‘solution’ only to listen to what the folks in the room had to say and think “actually, that’s a much better idea”. The travel and the work have been exciting, but the real adventure has been meeting so many brilliant, brilliant, minds. From Lima to Oslo to Singapore, the invention, energy, and commitment to making research better that I have encountered has been an inspiration. To everyone who has made the last eight years so electrifying, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Here’s to the future.