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Image of Dr. Heyddy Calderon

Open access publishing is indispensable, says award-winning hydrology researcher

May 25, 2022 | 7 min read

By Milly Sell

Science can be democratized globally through open access, says Dr Heyddy Calderon, although funding opportunities remain a key challenge.

Pictured above: Dr Heyddy Calderon in front of a oil painting by Socrates Martinez of the city of Managua, Nicaragua. “Managua is very much affected by water resources problems,” Heyddy explains. “The city is located next to lake Xolotlan and suffers flooding during rainy season, and some population areas suffer water scarcity. Managua is under several types of risk —hydrometeorological, volcanic and seismic; this makes it an interesting study area for hydrology and hydrogeology.”

With a career focused on sustainable water management in Central America, Dr Heyddy Calderon has made remarkable achievements in a relatively short time. She is currently Director of the Institute of Geology and Geophysics at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua(opens in new tab/window) in Managua. Her academic attainments before this include a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the National University of Engineering of Nicaragua(opens in new tab/window), a master’s degree in hydrogeology at the University of Calgary(opens in new tab/window) and PhD in Hydrology and Water Resources at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education(opens in new tab/window) in 2014.

Her most recent research projects include analyzing groundwater occurrence and recharge across the little-studied Central American Dry Corridor, which spans the Pacific Coast from southern Mexico to Panama. About 10.5 million people live in this region, where cyclic droughts affect their livelihoods, based mainly on rain-fed agriculture. These droughts also cause social and economic stresses; 3.5 million need humanitarian assistance, and 1.6 million suffer from food insecurity.

For Heyddy, the appeal of hydrology comes to a fundamental question of roots:

I live in Nicaragua, which has water everywhere. The name of the country even has ‘agua’ within it, which is the Spanish for water. We live around water, we work with it.

Her professional focus on water first arose when writing her bachelor’s degree thesis. Dr Heyddy was investigating the passage of water through a Nicaraguan gold mine and the positive effect on water contaminants. She explains:

It was the first time I looked at how water works in the soil. I got very curious about that.

Scientific curiosity from day one

As an innately curious child, Heyddy was fascinated with science:

I think curiosity is something you’re born with. I remember annoying my mom, who was a schoolteacher, as I always wanted to learn more. She gave me a lot of books to help satisfy my endless questions! I read about all sorts, not only science.

Now, Heyddy tries to apply the intrigue of her own childhood to her students at the university.

It can be a challenge to keep the attention of undergraduate students, who are always on their phones! I look for ways to create curiosity. The students come from very different areas all around the country. I help them relate science to what they see in their houses and towns.

Dr Heyddy Calderon measures groundwater parameters in rural wells with an undergraduate student in northern Nicaragua (Photo by Armando Muñoz)

Dr Heyddy Calderon measures groundwater parameters in rural wells with an undergraduate student in northern Nicaragua (Photo by Armando Muñoz)

Working with communities

While Heyddy hopes to have an impact on her students, she also describes how they have made an impact on her:

Through the university, I interact with students, professors and rural community members where we conduct research. Because of this, from an early point in my career I started looking beyond processes to how people are affected. This involves not only physics or mathematics but also socioeconomic issues.

It's great to work with water because you have to learn about all these different dimensions to actually help communities.

Dr Heyddy Calderon discusses water scarcity and adaptation measures with community members in the Dry Corridor of Nicaragua. (Photo by Armando Muñoz)

Often, the rural communities Heyddy works with on research projects already have an innate knowledge of their surroundings, environment and how water functions. This leads to amazing opportunities for knowledge-sharing and improvements in water management.

We learn a lot from the communities. Some of the women struggle looking after families and getting water from remote areas, but they never complain. Their strength is inspiring. We don’t see ourselves as saviors; we just help provide some different perspectives. It's exciting to see how a community can change and improve their conditions.

Dr Heyddy Calderon does field work with a PhD student analyzing climate adaptation measures in the Dry Corridor of Nicaragua (Photo by Armando Muñoz)

Dr Heyddy Calderon does field work with a PhD student analyzing climate adaptation measures in the Dry Corridor of Nicaragua (Photo by Armando Muñoz)

Dr Heyddy Calderon does field work with a PhD student analyzing climate adaptation measures in the Dry Corridor of Nicaragua (Photo by Armando Muñoz)

Dr Heyddy Calderon does field work with a PhD student analyzing climate adaptation measures in the Dry Corridor of Nicaragua (Photo by Armando Muñoz)

The challenge of securing funding

Reflecting on her career to date, Heyddy considers herself fortunate to have enjoyed the support of superiors, along with a university and national environment that helps women to pursue success:

We’re very lucky in Nicaragua — women are encouraged to participate in all areas of society.

Even so, she has faced obstacles with research work, primarily due to challenges securing adequate funding and resources. For her master’s degree, the university was able to help her secure a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (now merged into Global Affairs Canada(opens in new tab/window)). But PhD funding was harder to come by. Finding a sponsored program from the Dutch government was a blessing, but as Heyddy notes, the costs of research in a discipline like hers can be extensive:

Field work requires expensive equipment for my area of research. For instance, for my PhD I had to drill observation wells in a very remote area. Just moving the machinery cost a lot of money. The university helped, allowing me to use a machine they had, but I still didn't have enough resources.

A grant from the Schlumberger Foundation(opens in new tab/window) was instrumental in helping Heyddy meet the significant costs of research work. As a condition of the grant, which is particularly designed to support women in STEM areas, she was encouraged to return to Nicaragua to apply her findings and further her research:

I think similar funding opportunities should encourage this. Developing countries need people to return, or who’s going to help improve things? We have to take responsibility. I'm grateful because these organizations helped me to get to where I am now, where I can help my country and my students.

Democratizing science through open access publishing

As a researcher, Heyddy feels she has been able to make an even greater contribution by publishing her work open access. She has used this approach for sharing research since her PhD in 2010:

Open access publishing is wonderful — it’s a way to democratize science. If you need to pay to access a paper — well, you’re talking about a lot of money. Open access is indispensable, especially in developing countries.

She also notes the great benefits for the scientists involved:

It helps you reach a much broader audience, which is what every researcher wants. We don't just want our paper to be published; we want to help science move forward.

It also helps make connections. I’ve had messages from people from different countries over open access articles, including young women who have been inspired to pursue similar scientific careers.

While open access publishing has great benefits for the end users, research scientists need to be able to secure the funds to publish. Heyddy notes the inherent challenges with this:

For my PhD, my professor had funding to pay the fees, but that’s not always the case. It can be very difficult to secure the funds. Sometimes, you have different rates for different countries, and that helps because science doesn't just come from the northern hemisphere. We need more funding opportunities to truly democratize science.

Elsevier’s support for open access in the developing world

As one of the fastest-growing open access publishers in the world, Elsevier enables open access publishing for nearly all its 2,700 journals, including 600+ fully gold open access journals. This allows researchers to share knowledge, data and findings with the wider community.

With the goal to effectively bridge the digital research divide and ensure that publishing in open access journals is accessible for authors in developing countries, all gold open access journals published by Elsevier are included in the Research4Life open access eligibility program, offering authors APC waivers or discounts.

As one of the six founding partners of Research4Life(opens in new tab/window) — a UN-publishers partnership providing access to academic content to the developing world — Elsevier contributes over 20% of the 194,000+ free resources available through Research4Life. Additionally, the Elsevier Foundation supports Research4Life with grants for information literacy capacity building, most recently through the Country Connectors program(opens in new tab/window).