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New effort will help trans researchers update their names in published works

The current process for transgender researchers to do so in academic journals can be administratively and emotionally burdensome.

Scientific researchers who come out as transgender face a number of obstacles, but at least one of them — updating their names in all their previously published works — is about to get easier.

This process has historically been burdensome and could take some academics months or even years to do, depending on their body of work, said Lady Idos, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

"Individual researchers would have to contact each publisher, one by one," she said. "From what we've been hearing from our employees, not only is this administratively burdensome, but emotionally. They have to come out, they have to explain. Sometimes they feel like they have to validate themselves."

In most cases, a researcher has to do that over and over again, until their name is correct in every publication, otherwise, it can negatively impact their career, Idos said.

"Being able to claim that volume of work over time is really impactful," she added. "It allows them to maintain prominence in their area of research," and prevents them from feeling like they have to hide that past work.

In an effort to help reduce those barriers for trans researchers, the Berkeley Lab is coordinating a new partnership announced Wednesday among all of the Department of Energy's 17 U.S. national laboratories and many prominent publishers, journals and other organizations in scientific publishing that will streamline the name change request process in past published papers for researchers.

Under the partnership, a trans academic can now ask Berkeley Lab or one of the other 16 national labs for help, Idos said, and "we would pursue name changes directly on their behalf, with the publishers and journals, and that’s the process that we’re trying to establish now with the workflows for each one."

Idos said the Berkeley Lab began working on the partnership in December after Joerg Heber joined the lab as its research integrity officer. He was previously the editorial director and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal PLOS One, which is published by the Public Library of Science.

“We are supporting our colleagues on an important issue that is often taken for granted — allowing them to take full credit for their academic achievements with their name,” Heber said, according to a press release from Berkeley Lab. “It could not happen without our partners at the other national labs and in publishing. We’re grateful to be working in concert on this — it’s never been done before.”

Amalie Trewartha, a research scientist at Toyota Research Institute and a research affiliate at Berkeley Lab, said, "As a trans scientist, having publications under my birth name causes me to have mixed feelings about past work of which I’m otherwise proud,” according to a press release.

Amalie Trewartha.
Amalie Trewartha.Courtesy Amalie Trewartha

“I am faced with the dilemma of either hiding certain parts of it, or outing myself," she said. "Having my name updated on my previous publications would be enormously meaningful. It would allow me to make a first impression on my peers primarily through my merits as a scientist and it would allow me to unreservedly embrace and be proud of research from all stages of my career.”

There are a variety of other reasons — in addition to protecting themselves from being outed — that it's important for trans academics to be able to change their names more easily in past work, according to marine ecologist Leo Chan Gaskins, who is trans and authored an article on the subject for the scientific journal PLOS Biology in March.

First, he wrote, if they leave the name unchanged due to the time and barriers associated with changing it, it creates a public record on their curriculum vitae, in the publications where they're published and on online indexing sites like Google Scholar, which would out them as trans anytime someone looks up their past research, which could potentially allow "for discrimination during interviews, the tenure process, and from colleagues."

Out of fear of discrimination, some trans academics might choose not to acknowledge their past work. But in academia, "publications are the currency of a life's work," Chan and co-author Craig McClain wrote, so if someone chose not to claim their previous work, it "would not only damage career prospects, but also cause others to undervalue a researcher’s contributions in the field."

When researchers do decide to take on the task of updating their name, they have to navigate a maze of policies, which differ by publication. Some will only update a name by issuing a correction, which "draws attention to the former name and gender change," Chan wrote, increasing "the potential for discrimination and harassment."

"There is currently no systematic process to do this invisibly," he added.

Idos said that many of the publishers who are on board with the partnership have already developed policies that support trans researchers in updating their names, so she hopes that they can encourage other publishers and journals to do the same.

"For us, we want to encourage research institutions and universities to pursue this effort," she said, speaking of Berkeley Lab. "And then on the publishing side, for them to be able to join us and establish workflows to make things easier."

She added that participating laboratories will help the trans community with name changes, but also people who need to change their names after getting married or for religious reasons, among other cases.

“This partnership shows the power of scientific collaboration — not only to move the world forward with new discoveries, but also to drive inclusivity with impact,” said Judy Verses, executive vice president of Wiley Research, one of the largest online collections of journal articles and research, according to a press release. “Publishers have a multiplier effect when driving these positive changes, which impact the entire knowledge ecosystem — including the more than 16 million researchers Wiley serves.”

She said the Berkeley Lab created gender transition and identity guidelines back in 2016 to help the lab better support employees who transition.

"We see this as an extension of that support," she said. "So we want to support them in being able to change their names, being able to rightfully claim prior ownership of their work and make it easier and remove any barriers for them to be able to do that."

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