What eLife offers
early-career researchers

eLife is committed to meeting the needs and aspirations of early-career researchers, by highlighting their accomplishments and making them an active part of the eLife initiative. Learn more here, and get involved.

Interviews

Anthropology in the bones: an interview with Zach Cofran

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Zach Cofran's career as a paleoanthropologist has taken him from the United States to Kazakhstan and South Africa, where he was part of the team that discovered the new hominin species, Homo naledi. He has just started a new job as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Vassar College, New York.

Spotlight on early careers

eLife showcases junior investigators and their work in a number of ways. These include the opportunity to present at prestigious meetings, interviews on the journal website, and various events. eLife editors are also willing to write letters of recommendation on behalf of the early-career authors of eLife papers.

Read more about the ways in which eLife highlights early-career researchers:

Early-career researchers speak out

In a series of interviews with early-career researchers, eLife explores how they became interested in science, what they are working on at present, and what they hope to achieve in the future.

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Look inside another lab

In 2014, eLife provided an opportunity to look inside four different labs around the world, as research groups in England, Germany and the US took over the eLife Twitter account to talk about their work, reveal the coolest things in their labs, discuss the most exciting developments in their fields, and introduce us to some group members.

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Letters of recommendation

Graduate students and postdocs need letters of recommendation when they apply for jobs and fellowships. The Senior editors of eLife have, therefore, agreed to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of the first author if requested. Dozens of junior investigators have already benefitted from this service.

The eLife podcast

Our monthly podcasts feature short interviews about selected eLife articles. The interviews frequently involve the early-career researchers responsible for the work.

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Editorial: eLife and early-career researchers

Those near the start of their career may have time on their side, but when you have an exciting story to tell, and the competition on the career ladder is intense, the last thing you can afford to happen is for your work to languish in a seemingly endless editorial process.

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We want to hear from you. If you have questions, comments, or to share your experience and input, contact us:

Share your voice

The eLife early-career advisory group

eLife has invited a group of junior investigators to help guide the direction of the journal and to help us re-shape science publishing. The early-career advisory group includes graduate students, post-docs, and junior group leaders from laboratories across the world.

  • Alecia Carter

    Position: Postdoc
    Field: Behavioural ecology
    Institution: University of Cambridge
    Current location: Cambridge (UK)      

    “When I tell someone that my latest research has been published, I want them to ask, ‘What?’ not ‘Where.’”

    I am a behavioural ecologist passionate about ethics in academia, open science and baboon behaviour.

    I love science, but over my short career thus far I have become increasing disillusioned with academia: there is often a mismatch between what makes a good scientist and what makes a successful academic. I want this to change, and I’m working to change it.

    I would love the scientific community to value all aspects of being an academic. This includes reviewing, editing, mentoring, training, teaching, and communicating not just scientific results in papers, but also scientific products including datasets, software, and communication tools. I want these to be open and freely available to all, not just the elite scientific community with the funded libraries.

    I want researchers to be judged on how good their science is, not on how lucky they were to get the right editor or the right reviewers to get into the ‘right’ journal. When I tell someone that my latest research has been published, I want them to ask, “What?” not “Where”. I believe we can do this by changing what we value, and valuing a collegial, holistic approach to science. 

  • Christophe Dessimoz

    Position: Group leader (2013)
    Field: Computational biology
    Institution: University College London - University of Lausanne - Swiss Institute for Bioinformatics
    Current location: London (UK)
    Contact: https://twitter.com/cdessimoz or c.dessimoz /at/ ucl.ac.uk
    “The Internet and social media are leveling the playing field: individual researchers can now build an audience that may rival traditional journals in terms of reach. Article-level citation and other metrics now provide indicators vastly more meaningful than impact factors, thereby reducing the gatekeeping effect of prestigious journals.”
    As an early-career researcher, I am *of course* interested in the future of publishing. Publishing is at the heart of what we do—to communicate our advances and resources to the rest of the community, to get feedback from peer-reviewers and readers, to gauge the usefulness and impact of our work. I also see paper writing as a research catalyst: a way of crystallising thoughts, generating new ideas, and channeling efforts to complete projects. Publications are also the primary way our work is appraised by peers and funders.
    I am optimistic about the future of scientific communication. The Internet and social media are leveling the playing field: individual researchers can now build an audience that may rival traditional journals in terms of reach. Article-level citation and other metrics now provide indicators vastly more meaningful than impact factors, thereby reducing the gatekeeping effect of prestigious journals. The open access and preprint movements liberate information and reduce friction. 
    I also see challenges, which is why I am getting involved. For instance, the rise of journals emphasising validity over significance is a boon for researchers, but who wants to peer-review articles lacking significance? How to encourage fair and constructive peer-reviews? How to devise metrics robust to gaming? I look forward to tackle these and other issues as part of the advisory group.
  • Jason Gallivan

    Position: Group leader (2016)
    Field: Neuroscience
    Institution: Queen’s University
    Current location: Kingston, ON (Canada)
    Contact: jasongallivan /at/ gmail.com
    “For all of the challenges that scientists today face (e.g., securing highly competitive grant/award funding, maintaining an appropriate work-life balance, etc.), publishing one’s research in well-respected journals need not be as time consuming and onerous as it currently is.”
    I am interested in the cognitive and neural mechanisms that support human perception and action. In particular, my research investigates how the brain represents decisions and intentions related to actions (e.g., reaching, grasping, eye movements), the objects that we interact with, and how our memory systems are utilized to support sensorimotor processes. In sum, I am interested in understanding how the brain orchestrates goal-directed actions on the world. To study this, my research employs a wide range of methods, including human functional MRI, brain stimulation techniques and behavioural psychophysics.
    Given the highly competitive nature of today’s academic job market, the pressure for trainees (i.e., graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) to publish their research in top-tier journals, both frequently and often, is immense. For this reason, top-tier scientific journals that promote speedy editorial and referee reviews, that discourage the endless cycles of revision-and-resubmission, and that provide explicit, unambiguous feedback on what exactly is required to get one’s work published are of, I believe, the utmost importance.
    Such journal editorial policies should be encouraged and embraced and I would like to see, within reason, more journals adopt this ‘scientist-centric’ mandate as an integral component of their publishing model. Indeed, for all of the challenges that scientists today face (e.g., securing highly competitive grant/award funding, maintaining an appropriate work-life balance, etc.), publishing one’s research in well-respected journals need not be as time consuming and onerous as it currently is.
  • Melissa Gymrek

    Expertise: 
    • Cell biology
    Position: Group leader (2016)
    Field: Bioinformatics
    Institution: University of California, San Diego
    Current location: San Diego, CA (USA) 
    Contact: https://www.twitter.com/mgymrek or mgymrek /at/ ucsd.edu
    “Publications should not be “dead ends” that present static text and figures, but should be seen as opportunities to engage the scientific community to interact with data, discuss findings, and ultimately enable research to have a much broader impact.”
    My research focuses on characterizing human genetic variation and the role this variation plays in regulating phenotypes such as gene expression. My work relies on processing large-scale genomics datasets, which has made me interested in how to publish analyses in ways that are reproducible, reusable, and reliable.
    One of my passions in science is leveraging new technologies to transform research communication. With online publication, it should now be possible to make all computational research entirely reproducible and transparent. Publications should not be “dead ends” that present static text and figures, but should be seen as opportunities to engage the scientific community to interact with data, discuss findings, and ultimately enable research to have a much broader impact. Scientists should have access to the code and data behind every result, figure, and table in such a way that they can easily run it to verify the authors’ findings and modify it to help ask their own questions. I am actively working on methods to help achieve these goals.
    Making these changes will be challenging. They require technical innovations, but more importantly, a cultural revolution among scientists. Researchers will need to invest in learning new technologies, providing more reproducible analyses, and engaging in online discussion. I believe it will require young scientists to demand a change in how we think about publication and to set the stage for the future of research communication.
  • Melissa Kapulu

    Position: Postdoc
    Field: Malaria transmission epidemiology and immunology
    Institution: KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kenya and Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, UK
    Current location: Kenya
    Contact: https://twitter.com/melissakapulu or melissakapulu /at/ gmail.com

    "The need as an early career scientist to be engaged in the design and implementation of one’s scientific journey is of utmost and paramount importance. To be able to share not just the dynamic output of one’s laboratory adventures but also to share the other aspects of that journey, experience with funding, grant writing and management, work-life balance amongst others."

    In the pursuit to be heard and to relate ones achievements, there is need for one to write, show and tell. Thus unique, open-source and innovative platforms are essential for more importantly information sharing. My scientific journey thus far has seen me do research on understanding immune responses to oral vaccination and infectious insult, pre-clinical development of malaria transmission-blocking vaccines and currently understanding the epidemiology of malaria transmission from man to mosquitoes. All of this work, in some form has ended up in a write, show and tell. The need as an early career scientist to be engaged in the design and implementation of one’s scientific journey is of utmost and paramount importance. To be able to share not just the dynamic output of one’s laboratory adventures but also to share the other aspects of that journey, experience with funding, grant writing and management, work-life balance amongst others. This path so far has seen me grow not only scientifically but also personally and allow myself to be challenged beyond my borders.

    Getting involved to be a voice and be heard is what being part of the eLife early careers advisory group is all about. Ensuring that the “struggles” and “pressures” to write, show and tell are made known and to share what these are is my motivation to be part of such a dynamic group.

  • Brianne Kent

    Position: Postdoc
    Field: Neuroscience
    Institution: University of British Columbia
    Current location: Vancouver, BC (Canada)
    "Most scientists are in agreement that the system is flawed but there is an encouraging momentum of positive change."
    I am a Gates-Cambridge Scholar  in the final year of my PhD at the University of Cambridge, researching the neurobiology of memory formation and Alzheimer’s disease. I am particularly interested in whether changes in sleep patterns and bodyweight can be used as reliable biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease, and whether chronobiology can provide a useful framework for developing inexpensive and noninvasive methods for slowing disease progression. I aspire to have an academic career committed to scientific discovery, translation of biomedical research, public communication, and policy advising
    At the University of Cambridge, I have been actively involved in raising awareness of the need for open access, post-publication peer review, and the life sciences to embrace electronic archives. I have worked with the Graduate Student and Postdoc forum (GRASP) to organize events that encourage critical debate about the publishing culture in the life sciences and started a student group called ‘Standing up for science’ to inspire young researchers to get involved in the open science movement and change the way science is disseminated. To help motivate change beyond Cambridge, I have written critiques of the publishing system in the University World News, Huffington Post, University Affairs, and BlueSci – Cambridge Science Magazine. 
    I hope that the early-career advisory group will help eLife develop an improved publishing platform. Most scientists are in agreement that the system is flawed but there is an encouraging momentum of positive change and I am grateful that journals like eLife are listening to and valuing the needs of researchers.   
  • Prateek Mahalwar

    Position:  4th year graduate student
    Field: Cell and developmental biology
    Institution:  Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
    Current location:  Tuebingen (Germany)
    Contact: prateek.mahalwar /at/ tuebingen.mpg.de
    “Educating young researchers about Open Science and promoting advocacy could significantly improve the future of science.”
    My research interest involves how different cell types interact with one another and form various patterns. The mechanisms whereby different pigment cells in zebrafish form striped patterns is a great system in which to study the problem of general cell-cell interaction and pattern formation involving different cell types. In addition, I am also a part of the steering committee of Max Planck PhDnet and represent PhD students of the Biomedical Section in the Max Planck Society.
    One of my main concerns for the future is reproducible science.  The solution lies  under the Open Science umbrella - open access, open data and open source. It is also important to debate the unethical profile of scientific system; where one or two people decide whether research is ‘hot’ science or not,. A single company can make thousands to millions withreasearch, normally financed by taxpayer’s money. 
    It’s very interesting to see how a single metric, the impact factor, that was used to help librarians to assess the utility of a journal in their purchasing decisions in the 1960s became the most important point of academic publishing. However, it’s inappropriate to judge the individual paper or research with this metric. I am a big supporter of DORA (the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment), which states that content and research should be more important than metrics in the evaluation of scholarly work by funders or institutions. 
    I joined the Open Access movement as a co-organizer of the Berlin 11 satellite conference for early stage researchers, in 2013 in Berlin. Educating young researchers about Open Science and promoting advocacy could significantly improve the future of science. I think early-stage researchers are the future of science and could revolutionize the research communication. 
  • Babak Momeni

    Position: Group leader (2015)
    Field: Community ecology
    Institution: Boston College
    Current location: Boston, MA (USA)    
    “While communication among experts is clearly necessary, the impact of reaching out to others outside that group of experts should not be underestimated. This outreach will enable interdisciplinary collaborations with experts in other fields and will additionally engage the general public – both essential for sustainable progress of science.”
    I started my career as an electrical engineer (BSc EE ‘99 and MSc EE ’01, Sharif University of Technology). I ventured then into integrated optics and photonics (MS Physics ’07 and PhD EE ’07, Georgia Institute of Technology) and worked on developing synthetic optical materials to build on-chip spectrometers. Intrigued by the potentials and challenges of biology, in 2009 I joined the Shou lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center where my research is currently focused on microbial communities. Throughout my career, the motivation has been the same simple curiosity to figure out how things work and then to use that knowledge to build new things.
    Navigating through training and research in technology and science, I have come to appreciate the importance of efficient communication of knowledge. While communication among experts is clearly necessary, the impact of reaching out to others outside that group of experts should not be underestimated. This outreach will enable interdisciplinary collaborations with experts in other fields and will additionally engage the general public – both essential for sustainable progress of science.

    I believe a platform of knowledge exchange that offers everyone, expert or not, easy access and an opportunity to learn, assess, and contribute is an important step. Such a platform requires an unbiased and constructive environment for presenting scientific findings; more effective measures for cataloging and structuring the information; exploring new ways to reach out to a broader audience; and encouraging and investing in efforts that facilitate science accessibility.  

  • Gabriela Pagnussat

    Position: CONICET and HHMI international early-career researcher
    Field: Plant biology
    Institution: Institute of Biological Research at the National University of Mar del Plata
    Current location: Mar del Plata (Argentina)   
    Contact: gpagnussat /at/ yahoo.com
    “Communication in science should be a responsible, peer-reviewed process that represents in the best way possible how our research projects are progressing. It should not take a long time and research findings should be accessible to everyone interested.”
    The work in my lab involves the study of mitochondrial proteins that are important for the patterning and fertilization of the embryo sac, a special structure where the female gametes are specified in plants. We are also interested in studying how the female and the male gametophytes interact with each other, orchestrating a fascinating chemical dialog that assures fertilization.
    For scientists, communication of our research findings is essential. It is what gives sense to our work, makes progress possible.
    However, it can also be a very frustrating experience. The peer review process is not always constructive, publication can take a long time, the costs of publication are very high, and articles are not free for everyone to read. This situation is having a tremendous impact on researchers with fewer resources, who have limited access to science advances.
    I strongly believe that this can be changed. As scientists, we are interested in this to happen. Communication in science should be a responsible, peer-reviewed process that represents in the best way possible how our research projects are progressing. It should not take a long time and research findings should be accessible to everyone interested. For these reasons I think that the eLife initiative is an inspiring example of how communication in science can take another path.
  • Jeanne Salje

    Position: Group leader (2013)
    Field: Bacterial cell biology
    Institution: Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit
    Current location: New York (USA)
    jeanne.salje /at/ ndm.ox.ac.uk
    “I am excited about the opportunities and technologies that now exist to bring experts from different fields together to tackle important cross-cutting scientific problems.”
    The world in which we do scientific research is rapidly changing. Social media, open-access publishing and the rise of free online university-level courses are making scientific communication more rapid, more global and, importantly, more egalitarian than ever before.  
    In response, we the scientific community need to adapt the way we communicate with each other and with the general public in order to take advantage of these new opportunities. 
    As a research scientist studying fundamental questions about the biology of bacterial human pathogens, based in tropical South East Asia, I am able to interact closely with frontline clinical research on the epidemiology and public health aspects of infectious tropical diseases, while staying connected with developments in basic bacterial cell biology from other parts of the world. This would have been much more difficult just a few years ago. 
    I am excited about the opportunities and technologies that now exist to bring experts from different fields together to tackle important cross-cutting scientific problems, and I am enthusiastic about being involved in facilitating some of these changes as part of the eLife team.
  • Sonia Sen

    Position: Postdoc
    Field: Developmental neurobiology
    Institution: University of Oregon
    Current location: Eugene, OR (USA) 
    Contact: soniasen /at/ uoregon.edu
    “I am very excited that as a community we are rethinking our ideas of science communication and I am certain that it will spur new scientists to more boldly pursue their diverse interests.”

    I am fascinated by how the genome executes the assembly of functional neural circuits in complex brains and, as a result, enables the wide repertoires of animal behaviours. I am also drawn by how complex brains have evolved. The vast diversity of marine life represents some of the earliest branching animals. In the future, I would love to study the diverse nervous systems of marine animals and, with the help of recent advances in genome editing, study the molecular genetics of their development.

    I have come to learn that science is as much about effective communication as it is about the science itself. This involves disseminating our ideas and findings not just amongst our peers, but amongst a broader audience as well. And especially because of the way in which science is funded – to a large extent by governments and non-profit organisations – I believe that its communication must necessarily be egalitarian.

    There is a huge opportunity for us to bring this about, especially in today’s world of communication. I am very excited that as a community we are rethinking our ideas of science communication and I am certain that it will spur new scientists to more boldly pursue their diverse interests. I believe that we are at the brink of change and I see, particularly for the complex Indian environment, the scope for world-class science rooted in our ecology as well as science that is relevant to India.

  • Chwee Tat Koe

    Position: Postdoc
    Field: Developmental neurobiology
    Institution: National University of Singapore
    Current location: Singapore      
    Contact: a0038638 /at/ nus.edu.sg
    “Three and a half years into my PhD program, I realized that it is the desire and passion to uncover the research and to gain the knowledge rather than to publish an article that excites and motivates me.”

    To a graduate student like myself, top-tier journal publication is one of the important measures of success. It may sound superficial but is nonetheless a reality that good publication is essential for graduation and job employment. The desire to publish one’s work is also driven by competition from other laboratories to see who has the first publication.

    However, what is the most important for any scientific research is the fire in the belly we have to uncover and understand science. Three and a half years into my PhD program, I realized that it is the desire and passion to uncover the research and to gain the knowledge rather than to publish an article that excites and motivates me. While the published article does give a sense of recognition and fulfillment, it is the whole process of building the project from scratch that I enjoyed most.

    What I like most about publishing are recent changes like the introduction of the open-access journal and accelerated paper-revision process. The recently introduced article-level metrics, in my opinion, should be the preferred indices over impact factor.

    Despite these improvements, publication will still be an end-point communication of findings and this might somewhat delay the passing of knowledge. Thus, pre-publication communication is an area we should consider looking into. However, potential hurdles include the fear that ideas might be stolen and how one’s contribution to these discussions can be credited. If these could be resolved, pre-publication communication I believe could advance research at a faster pace and promote collaboration across disciplines.

  • Emmanuelle Vire

    Position: Junior team leader (2015)
    Field: Epigenetics, ncRNAs and cancer
    Institution: University College London - MRC Prion Unit - UCL Institute for Neurology
    Current location: London (UK)      
    Contact: e.vire /at/ prion.ucl.ac.uk 
    “My post-doc has not only been a wonderful scientific journey; it has also helped me to better understand the challenges that early-careers scientists are facing on a daily basis. Expatriation, funding, publications, career options and work-life balance are important factors that can affect young researcher’s paths.”
    I have always been intrigued by the fact that genes can be expressed or not, switched on or off depending on the biological requirements, and how this works in diseases.
    I completed my PhD at Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. My work focused on the understanding of molecular connections between DNA methylation and histone modifications and their interplay in cancer. I decided to stay in the chromatin field and joined the lab of Prof. Tony Kouzarides as a post-doc in 2008. In Cambridge I have been working on non-coding RNAs in breast cancer and have gained extensive expertise in gene expression analysis and changes between normal and pathological situations.
    My post-doc has not only been a wonderful scientific journey; it has also helped me to better understand the challenges that early-careers scientists are facing on a daily basis. Expatriation, funding, publications, career options and work-life balance are important factors that can affect young researcher’s paths.
    I decided to join the eLife early careers advisory group to contribute to the future of the scientific community, while ensuring the respect of fairness, transparency and quality of scientific communication.
  • Jia-wei Wang

    Position: Group leader (2011)
    Field: Plant biology
    Institution: Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences
    Current location: Shanghai (China)
    Contact: jwwang /at/ sibs.ac.cn
    “As scientists, we are working in the pursuit of knowledge, building our understanding of the principles of life and innovating new technology. Unfortunately, this scientific essence is often warped."
    The scientific journal is the most important way for scientists to communicate their findings. With the expansion of the research community and our knowledge within the life sciences in the past three decades, the competition is becoming fiercer. One of the outcomes was the introduction of impact factor, an old, oft-debated metric which assigns a measure of importance to a journal based on how often its publications are cited. Now, it is time to change it.
    I am very happy that my paper was accepted by eLife. Compared to other peer-reviewed processes, the process there was a very good experience. The decision letter is clear and all the comments are helpful and reasonable. I am confident that eLife will not only be a journal that publishes excellent science but also a catalyst that leads to a revolution in the way that we evaluate and communicate science.
    Each scale of physiology and development—the division of cell, the production of metabolites, the emergence of patterns and the formation of organs— requires proper timing. The differences in developmental timing, even when subtle, cause physiological defects or a novel morphology that confers an evolutionary advantage. The research in my lab is focused on the role of small RNAs in developmental timing and how exogenous and endogenous cues are cooperatively involved in this process.

The eLife-sponsored presentation series

The eLife-sponsored presentation series was first announced in October 2013 to highlight the work of scientists who have yet to become fully established in their respective fields.

Twice a year, eLife editors select a small number of the papers published in the journal that will – they feel – prove to be significant in various areas of the life and biomedical sciences. The pre-tenure authors on these papers are then given the opportunity to present at a scientific meeting of one of eLife’s founding organisations – the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust.

Read more about the eLife-sponsored presentation series:

Share your voice

The community behind eLife – including the research funders who support the journal, the editors and referees who run the peer review process, and our early-career advisory group – are keenly aware of the pressures faced by junior investigators, and are working to create a more positive publishing experience that will, among other things, help early-career researchers receive the recognition they deserve.

You can be part of the eLife initiative

Share your voice