I’ve been lucky to be part of many collaborative projects. Some have been very successful, while others have fizzled out. Several collaborations have gone on to spawn completely new projects, taking my research into unexpected new directions that I would never have had the knowledge or skills to tackle myself. Together, this collection of collaborations has given me some insights into what it takes to be a good collaborator, and what to look for in others in order to maximise the chances that a collaboration will be successful.
There’s no denying that collaborative research is at the heart of scientific advancement. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with dozens of researchers from around the world. In this blog, I want to share some of the ways that I’ve benefited from these collaborations. I particularly want to highlight that the benefits I have gained go way beyond increasing the length of my publication list, but are central to my development as an independent researcher.
We can all be citizen scientists. Arguably, we scientists should all be actively participating in existing projects (we’re already interested), but is citizen science a method you should utilise for your research?
The last step before submitting a manuscript is to write a cover letter. The purpose of this letter is to justify to the editor why their journal should consider publishing your paper. While this purpose seems quite important, the cover letter can often be an after-thought, written at the last minute, either too informally or by taking wording from the abstract. Here I outline when the cover letter is important, what components should be present in the cover letter, and give some advice on how to make best use of the cover letter.
Long-time readers of this blog might remember me as the Master’s student with a terrible five-year plan. Well, now I’m the PhD student with a terrible five-year plan, and I’ve found myself in the position of guiding our lab’s newest Master’s students through the same hurdles I stumbled across for the last two years. While many of my insights from that time are very specific to the German academic system, or to the expectations I had as an American, I’d like to share some of the broader takeaways from my experiences navigating a completely foreign (pun intended) academic environment.
In parts I and II of this series, I discussed how to get involved in peer review and how to critically read a manuscript. The final step is to communicate your opinions about the manuscript to the editor and to the authors. There are three parts to this: (i) your recommendation about what steps the editor should take next with the manuscript, (ii) confidential comments to the editor, and (iii) formally writing a review that will be seen by the editor and the authors. In this third installment of our series on how to review papers, I discuss how to make a recommendation and how to structure the written review.
Peer-review is a central part of the scientific process that involves independent (often anonymous) evaluations of the work by specialists in the field and by one or more editor. The aim of peer-review is to maintain integrity in research by ensuring published studies draw accurate conclusions. This process is only sustainable if scientists that publish also participate in reviewing for others. However, few institutions or journals provide young scientists with formal training or opportunities for peer-reviewing. In this week’s instalment of a 3-part series on how to review papers, we focus on how to read for reviewing.
One of the first stages in progressing through the academic system is starting to review papers. Every paper that is published in a journal is seen by at least two reviewers and an editor. If you’ve been thinking that keeping up with the literature is daunting, consider that editors have needed to find people willing not only to read each of the manuscripts you’ve not found time to read, but also to invest the time to evaluate it critically and write up a review about it. Further, considering that ~70% of manuscripts are rejected means that this process can occur a number of times before a paper is published. This process generates a huge demand for time from experts, meaning that editors often rely on postdocs and senior PhD students to review manuscripts. Having established your expertise on a topic, you may find it valuable to spend some time reviewing others’ work. But how do you go about reviewing papers? As an author, reviewer, and now an editor, I’ve been lucky to experience peer review from all sides, giving me a much better understand the entire process. In this first of three posts on how to review manuscripts for journals, I’ll discuss how to put yourself forward for getting asked to review.
‘I finally submitted my first paper!!’ a colleague of mine cheerfully told me a few weeks ago. I was happy for him and replied: “Wow, congratulations!” but actually this was the last thing I wanted to hear… We started together in the same PhD cohort and my first paper was still pretty far from submission. I felt lazy, unproductive and simply miserable.
The next day, I had lunch with another colleague of mine and we started chatting about plans for the weekend when she said: “Well, I think I will go to work. Have you heard that Sam submitted his first paper? I started my PhD a year earlier than him and I still don’t have anything!” This conversation made me realize two things: 1: While I thought I’m the only one comparing myself to others and feeling miserable about it, this actually seems to be very common. 2: This behaviour, and the negative emotions it leads to, can have a very real impact on each of us.
Since I started visiting conferences, I have always been amongst the youngest attendants, if not youngest, at least academically. I never quite understood why that was. Of course, I am lucky enough to be in a very supportive lab that encourages and supports its master’s students to visit and present at conferences, and it’s hard to tell if I had gone and looked up conferences by myself if that wasn’t the case. Maybe this is the reason for the absence for students that haven’t started their PhD yet, maybe all it takes is a push, somebody telling them that it is a good idea to go to a conference that early in their career. If you’re an undergraduate/master’s student and this is true for you, here’s the push: go to a conference, it’s worth it!