Delivering on a Commitment: The NIH Manuscript Submission Team

If information is power, then the NIH Manuscript Submission (NIHMS) team is a super generator.

Every month, the NIHMS team receives approximately 6,000 to 8,000 manuscripts for submission to PubMed Central (PMC). It’s part of a mission to make government-funded research available to everyone, everywhere, at any time.

Managing the workflow efficiently is as complex as it is rewarding.

“There are about 65 different processing states through which a manuscript may travel on its journey to PMC that serve to comply with copyright, policy, and quality assurance requirements,” says Devon Bourexis, NIHMS production lead. “In addition to both hard and soft skills, many NIHMS team members also possess deep institutional knowledge. And we all depend on one another to fulfill the NIHMS mission.”

Bourexis’ team of 11 professionals supports customers as they navigate the NIHMS system; collaborates with submitters, authors, principal investigators, and external vendors to ensure accurate and complete manuscript processing; evaluates the submission method and cataloging status of associated journals; and, when necessary, provides PubMed with final citations for NIH-funded manuscripts.

Their work supports the NIH Public Access Policy, which requires authors funded by NIH to make publicly accessible in PMC any peer-reviewed paper accepted for publication. Since the NIH policy became law in 2008, more than 1 million NIH-funded papers have been made available to the research community and the public; of those, around 60% were processed by the NIHMS team. In addition, the NIHMS facilitates the submission of peer-reviewed manuscripts from other organizations, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the CDC, and NASA.

“This volume of publicly accessible, NIH-funded papers represents a clear return on investment for the public, but numbers alone don’t provide the full story,” says Kathryn Funk, program manager for PMC. Citing research papers on detecting breast tumors, identifying young people with suicidal thoughts by using machine learning, and exploring how maternal nutrition supplements may increase infant birth size, Funk says, “These examples illustrate that access, while essential, is not the Library’s goal. Improved health is.”

To learn more about this collaborative team, we introduce you to Eyitope Akinpelumi, Graham Andrews, Devon Bourexis, Lisandro Gonzalez, Lisa Hisel, Chris Hrobak, Rebecca Kelly, Jennifer Richardson, Pierce Smith, Miliana Solomon, Michael Taylor, and Rosa Warren.

Quick Q&A with Devon Bourexis, Lisa Hisel, and Pierce Smith
Question Devon Bourexis, Production Lead Lisa Hisel, Editorial Lead Pierce Smith, Customer Support Lead and Product Manager
  casual headshot of Devon Bourexis casual headshot of Lisa Hisel casual headshot of Pierce Smith
What was your path to NLM? My mom would say it began when she was called into my fifth-grade teacher’s classroom on charges that I had plagiarized my book report on Magellan “because 10-year-olds don’t write like this.” (Fear not! That was before the World Wide Web, and I was easily vindicated after a close review of my reference materials.) My professional path to NLM began with an editorial assistant position in the American Psychological Association’s [APA] Books department and subsequent promotion to production editor. I was later referred for an NIHMS editorial position by a former APA colleague, dear friend, and now NCBI literature alum, Genevieve Gillette. I spent many years in various editorial roles in association journal publishing before coming to work in NIHMS at NCBI. When I started at NIHMS 10 years ago, journal publishing was moving to use XML for digital publishing. I knew of the process but had no firsthand experience. I was fortunate NCBI took me on and was willing to train me in XML and the conversion process. I came to NLM from another customer support position. Even at that time, I was attracted to the mission of the NIHMS and public-access policy team.
What excites you the most about processing manuscripts for public access? Sharing PMC-participating funders’ research with the masses, of course! Also, as an editor I was energized by the manuscript-level detail work and feeling of accomplishment that comes with moving a submission forward on its journey to PMC. I enjoy the variety of our process, from submission through conversion. I have always found appealing the mission of helping to make heath research publicly accessible. I believe it is important to provide value and transparency to the people who are ultimately funding the research. I also believe in the accountability that public access brings to the research community.
What do you like best about working on the NIHMS team? The people! I’ve always preferred collaboration over competition, and NIHMS staff have a team mentality. Team members often work across areas to help each other accomplish NIHMS’ mission. I enjoy celebrating each other’s hard work with a potluck—affectionately referred to as “NOHMS” (get it? nom nom nom)—once a quarter at our weekly staff meeting. The answer to this question is the team itself. We are a great group, often working under stressful conditions. I enjoy working on a team of intelligent and motivated people who come together and actually want to work as a team to accomplish our goals together.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining the NCBI? As a new manager, I had to learn that I’m not expected to have all the answers. As a woman in leadership, I’ve learned the importance of remaining approachable while also defining expectations and setting boundaries. It’s a tricky balance I don’t always strike, but I think it’s essential to fostering a healthy work environment that leads to optimal results. As the sign in my office says, “WORK HARD and be nice to people.” It’s important to be flexible and adaptable, to do your job the best you can do every day and then go home. Balance is essential. I have learned many things since coming to NCBI, and I value all of them. Namely—and I am still learning—it has been a fun challenge becoming a leader on the team. I usually tend to prefer to blend in.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing? Either the performing arts or a helping profession, such as animal rescue or working with people with disabilities. Also, I like tea and interior decorating, so a founder/creative director for an Alice in Wonderland-inspired “sippery” would be pretty amazing. Any investors out there? I have a master’s in American history and certification in museum studies. I would have loved to have worked as a curator in a museum, but I gave that dream up several recessions ago. If I was not doing my current job, I would probably be doing analysis or application development work somewhere else. Since I have always been interested in technology, I would have tried to find similar work.
Tell us something surprising about yourself. I had great fun seeing George Carlin live several times and even attended the Kennedy Center’s ceremony honoring him with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Even if you’re not a fan of his comedy, you can’t deny the man was a wordsmith. I played drums in my junior high school band, ever so briefly. To this day, I love cadence.

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