illustration Dominique Fournier: a passion for the greater strategic good

3 min

Dominique Fournier: a passion for the greater strategic good

Dominique Fournier leads national bibliometric research at INRAE’s Directorate of International Relations. She also heads a team dedicated to scientific and technical information at the INRAE Centre of Occitanie-Montpellier. Her overarching desire is to transform her bibliometric expertise into strategic benefits for the entire INRAE community.

Published on 22 September 2021

“Why me?” Dominique’s reaction to having a profile written about her speaks volumes about her humility. Yet, her career at the institute cannot be called anything other than stellar. It began in 1992, when Dominique was hired as a research engineer to study fruit tree growth. Ten years later, she shifted gears to specialise in scientific and technical information (STI). She has gradually become more involved in shaping INRAE’s national scientific strategy. In this profile, we celebrate Dominique’s 30-year career at the institute, a period during which she has engaged in basic science, STI research, and bibliometrics. However, the central thread has always been an undeniable commitment to the INRAE community.

From fundamental research to information science

I would have loved to have had such tools when I was a researcher. That is why I am thrilled to share them with other scientists.

Dominique earned her thesis at INRA (now INRAE) in Montpellier in 1989. Her research focused on modelling tree architecture and growth. She was then competitively hired to work as a research engineer in her field of specialty. She studied the growth of apricot trees using techniques that were highly innovative at the time. “We made 3D models of the trees. We measured their fruits and branch diameters...I was the calliper queen!” Ten years on, this research shifted away from the field and towards genomics. She experienced a thirst for novelty and movement, which led to a change in career directions. She became involved in STI by accepting a single, well-defined job responsibility: helping her research unit’s librarian manage databases. In this moment, the fruit tree specialist turned into a documentalist. In 2002, she joined the regional STI team in Montpellier. To do her job better, she decided to obtain a post-graduate diploma in STI (a DESS, equivalent to a master’s degree in the current academic system). She enrolled in a continuing education programme in Marseille that allowed her to complete her degree requirements over a two-year period. In 2003, her profession was radically transformed with the arrival of digital resources. “Documentalists have moved from managing physical documents in libraries to managing online document databases.” And Dominique certainly knows her way around a database! Her enthusiasm is barely concealed when she talks about coaching researchers as they use these new tools. “I would have loved to have had such tools when I was a researcher. That is why I am thrilled to share them with other scientists.” A vocation was born.

Juggling regional and national work responsibilities

Her enthusiasm and dual expertise in STI and science did not escape the attention of the institute’s administrators. In 2006, they sought her out for help with their collective scientific expert reports (Esco). She was responsible for identifying and gathering worldwide publications on report topics. In each case, she would bring together 2,000–3,000 documents that the institute’s experts would use in their analyses and syntheses. “Documentalists lay the foundation for collective scientific reports by furnishing the experts with background material, thus providing a comprehensive view of the target subject and highlighting the areas in which research is lacking." To date, she has worked on three reports, focused on fruit and vegetable consumption; agriculture and biodiversity; and pain in animals. She is now passing the torch to her colleagues so she can devote herself to other projects.

Using bibliometrics to advance INRAE’s scientific strategy

Bibliometric methods are used to carry out quantitative analyses of scientific publications. Historically, at the institute, bibliometric research focused exclusively on developing metrics, namely indicators conveying the relative impact of scientific journals. That was before 2007, when Dominique was asked by the institute’s group for fruit industry studies to clarify which scientific communities were publishing in their target fields and whether or not the group’s work was making a significant contribution, given worldwide publication volumes. This work gave rise to a new brand of bibliometric research, which served to advance the institute’s scientific strategy. 

 In bibliometrics, a statistical analysis is run on a corpus of publications; it focuses on a given theme, institution, or country. People often wish to map out the publication landscape. This process requires Dominique to carry out a detailed analysis of the contact information on articles so that she can then group the different indicators designating the same institution.

Dominique is passionate about bibliometrics and has been involved in many thematic studies addressing such diverse topics as grapevines and wine; soils and agriculture; and agroecology. The objectives of her publication analyses are to identify research partners; determine which research communities are

These studies may end up analysing 50,000 to 100,000 publications.

publishing on a given subject; map out the work being done in a specific field nationally or globally; and examine where INRAE stands relative to other institutes. When requesting funding for EU projects, the results of such studies reveal the characteristics of potential partners. They also demonstrate to funding agencies (e.g., the European Commission or the French National Research Agency [ANR]) that sufficient foundational material exists to launch grant programmes on a given topic and/or that INRAE is well suited to performing a large-scale project on a specific subject. Such is no small feat. “These studies may end up analysing 50,000 to 100,000 publications and teach us many things. For example, France is not ranked number one globally for publications on grapevines and wine. However, our institute is leading the world in this field, among others!” The institute’s STI research is structured around different themes, and Dominique quite naturally found herself joint head of the bibliometrics group. She provides training, helps implement tools that automate certain bibliometric tasks, and annually supplies the institute with metrics and data obtained at different scales: for research units, research divisions, and INRAE as a whole.

An international perspective

INRAE’s Directorate of International Relations (DRI) developed a keen interest in Dominique’s metrics and wanted her to ask higher level questions: Which countries are represented among the institute’s publishing partners? Which countries are not? Which foreign establishments are publishing in the same areas as INRAE but are not yet collaborating with the institute? “Working at this scale is very strategic. I have specialised in analysing these data for the DRI. It is a big job because, each year, over 6,000 INRAE publications are co-authored by researchers from more than 6,300 foreign institutions. It is exciting, though!" One of Dominique’s current projects is to develop country-specific files that list ongoing collaborations between INRAE and institutions outside of France. “Thanks to this work, I have been taking an alphabetical tour of the world. I have visited Israel, Iraq, India, Iran, Iceland, Italy...and Jamaica!” However, perfectionist that she is, Dominique is going further. She is on a mission to improve the data delivery format, boosting information exploitation by INRAE’s various administrative departments. With the help of a fellow documentalist, she has transformed INRAE’s yearly report on bibliometric indicators (a little too sedate for her tastes) using Lodex, creating a dynamic interface that is freely accessible to the entire institute. It is possible to create customised dashboards by selecting different scales or themes, as well as different INRAE research units, centres, and/or divisions. “I am doing this work for all of us. By investing myself in this way, I can help scientists carry out research using the accurate and reliable data present in Lodex.”

Staying close to home

Many institute-level metrics convey the quality of the publications deposited in HAL, INRAE’s open archive.

Dominique remains part of support services at INRAE Occitanie-Montpellier, where she heads a six-person team responsible for creating value from the centre’s publications. Since 2017, her team has also been working with INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse. This work involves directly depositing or helping scientists deposit publications into the institute’s open-access archives: HAL INRAE. The team also organises quality-control workshops, during which the accuracy and completeness of the archive’s records (at least scientific articles) are verified. “My time is split 50/50 between my national and local responsibilities. I love this contrast because it brings me balance. My regional work allows me to return to my roots and stay in touch with researchers.” By building the archives, we are putting the researchers’ publications to work. It is an important task because institute-level metrics rely on the quality of the archive’s records.” 
Her secret pleasure? Teaching. Dominique provides in-person training to doctoral students and researchers. She also helped develop an online course programme: Open Class. “With this programme in place, we were ready when the lockdown hit in 2020. Our training schedule was full!" She leads two training courses per month: one on ORCID digital identifiers for researchers, and another on Zotero, a type of reference management software. What is next on her plate? Dominique is participating in a
priority project of international scope (PPI) focused on forestry. She will use her expertise to identify the right partners for the research. Indeed, her passion remains bibliometrics, a field that will forever remain at the heart of her work at INRAE.

Mini CV

55 years old, 2 children

  • 2015: Head of bibliometric research at INRAE’s Directorate of International Relations (DRI)
  • 2011–2013: Joint leader of the DV-IST Bibliometrics Group
  • 2006–2011: Documentalist dedicated to collective scientific expert reports (Esco)
  • 2002–present: Head of the regional STI team (ERIST) within the Office of Research Support Services (SDAR) at INRAE Occitanie-Montpellier
  • 2004: DESS in Management of Documentary Systems and STI (Aix-Marseille University)
  • 1994: PhD in Agricultural Sciences (ENSA Montpellier)
  • 1992: Research engineer in Research Unit for Fruit Tree Agriculture (Montpellier)
  • 1989: Degree in Agricultural Engineering (ENSA Montpellier)

Gardening, hiking, aqua walking, tai-chi, among others