eLife Ambassadors: Programme teeming with activity after first quarter

At only three months into the programme, eLife Ambassadors are already working on more than 20 distinct initiatives.
Inside eLife
  • Views 248
  • Annotations

The involvement of over 200 early-career researchers in the eLife Ambassador programme has so far resulted in 21 initiatives that aim to encourage wider take-up of responsible behaviours in science, and help early-stage researchers in developing their careers. More ideas are still brewing in the background, so we may see this number grow before the end of the year.

Reproducibility

Almost a third of all Ambassadors are interested in promoting greater reproducibility of scientific results.

A strong team, led by Benjamin Schwessinger (Australian National University (ANU), Australia; eLife Early-Career Advisory Group (ECAG) member), and supported by a number of organisations active in this domain, is looking to support reproducibility by promoting best practice and available tools. They are planning to offer a brief reproducibility workshop, packed with actionable advice. Last month, they gathered the community’s suggestions of tools available for reproducibility. They are reviewing the list, to make their recommendations ready for the upcoming ‘Reproducibility for Everyone’ workshop at the American Society for Plant Biology meeting this July.

Modesto Redrejo Rodríguez (Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa, Spain), who is involved with BioProtocols, has – with the support of its editors – invited eLife Ambassadors to contribute to the journal’s Special Issue on reproducibility.

Vivek Bhardwaj (Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Germany) and Diep Ganguly (ANU, Australia) are creating a computational reproducibility checklist for journal reviewers to help evaluate computational reproducibility in life science manuscripts.

Rintu Kutum (CSIR-Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology, India) with support from Laurent Gatto (University of Cambridge, UK; eLife ECAG) are preparing a reproducibility/bioinformatics workshop for fellow researchers in India. Once successful, this will be available as an open resource for others.

Preprints and peer review

Daniela Saderi (Oregon Health & Science University, USA) and Samantha Hindle (bioRxiv, USA) promote wider adoption of preprints through preprint journal clubs. Other Ambassadors are involved by running preprint journal clubs at their institutions, often resulting in sharing their group’s constructive feedback with the authors. Daniela and Sam are currently preparing peer-review training modules and seek further funding for their work.

Ulrike Boehm (National Institutes of Health, USA), with support from Vinodh Ilangovan (Max Planck Institute, Germany; eLife ECAG) and Brianne Kent (University of British Columbia, Canada; eLife ECAG), is currently organising the next #ECRWednesday webinar on preprints. It will take place on the last Wednesday of June.

Zack Hensel (ITQB NOVA, Portugal) and Steven Burgess (University of Illinois, USA) have created a journal-neutral form that enables early-career researchers to put themselves forward as willing reviewers. Steven invites journals to contact them if they are on the lookout for eager referees.

The meta-research group (details below) has prepared a list of meta-research articles for peer reviewers. When reviewing papers, it’s important to remember that the fact that something is standard practice for your field doesn’t mean that it’s right. The articles on this list will help peer reviewers learn to identify and understand some very common problematic practices and offer constructive suggestions to improve transparency, rigour and reproducibility. Each topic is clearly labeled, so it’s easy to identify papers that may be relevant to your discipline.

Science of science

Tracey Weissgerber (QUEST Center, Germany) is sharing her expertise and leading a small group of Ambassadors interested in learning to conduct meta-research. So far, Steven Burgess, Helena Jambor (Technische Universität Dresden, Germany), Bradly Alicea (Orthogonal Research Laboratory, OpenWorm Foundation), Sarvenaz Sarabipour (Johns Hopkins University, USA) and Luke Hoepnner (University of Minnesota, USA) have proposed research problems they are interested to explore. The team aims to choose one research project they can conduct jointly, with the goal of publishing the results in a peer-reviewed journal.

Diversity

Many Ambassadors are involved in projects that aim to promote greater diversity in science. Groups are organising local networks to help researchers in specific regions to connect and collaborate more easily – including the #Ambassadors_latam hashtag on Twitter and Ambassadors in Africa.

Carmen Lia Murall (CNRS, France) leads an initiative to promote better inclusion of early-career researchers with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Lipi Thurkal (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, India) proposed a one-day Twitter poster conference later in 2018 promoting better ethnic diversity in science.

Sophie Acton (MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, UK), Chris Toseland (University of Kent, UK), and Lotte de Winde (MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, UK) work to improve gender balance in science by promoting paternity leave for researchers. The group intends to persuade universities and funders that paternity leave needs to be paid. They propose that all fathers/partners should be entitled to 6–8 weeks’ paid leave, to be taken during the first 12 months after the birth/adoption of a child.

Funding

Access to funding and fairness of funding policies are issues that many eLife Ambassadors keep at the forefront of their minds, and are already resonating with the wider community of early-career researchers.

ECRcentral – a growing, searchable database of funding for fellowships as well as travel awards is already available. The project, led by Aziz Khan (University of Oslo, Norway) and Juan Quintana (Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research, UK), aims to provide useful information about available grants to researchers across the globe, and it is also open to suggestions of further awards that have not yet been included. Shared mostly via social media so far, this resource has already seen over 2,000 shares on Twitter, and received 51,500 page views by 32,000 users from 164 countries. The project leads are still gathering feedback – visitors are welcome to leave their comments on the page, underneath the funding table.

Connected with ECRcentral is Cristiana Cruceanu’s (Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Germany) initiative to provide an open feedback forum to help prospective candidates connect with former fellows of the programmes to learn more about the process, get tips for their applications and seek mentoring opportunities.

While others are busy providing better discoverability for available funding, the ‘fair funding’ project is looking to gather examples and evidence of the fairest funding policies that promote inclusion from grant agencies across the world. The group then aims to advocate for the more prevalent incorporation of such policies among other funders. More than a dozen Ambassadors are involved in this initiative, including Elisa Floriddia (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden), Julia Steinberg (Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW, Australia), Raj Rajeshwar Malinda (National Institute for Basic Biology, Japan), Sofia Araujo (University of Barcelona, Spain), Tai-Ying Lee (University of Oxford, UK), Uschi Symmons (University of Pennsylvania, USA), Vinodh Ilangovan (Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Germany; eLife ECAG), Zuzana Hofmanova (University of Fribourg, Switzerland), Carmen Lia, Chris Toseland, Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Lotte de Winde and Tracy Weissgerber.

Science communications

The science communications strand has so far seen activity related to improving communications among scientists, led by Kate Buckley (The George Washington University, USA). Also, the ecrLife blog, reporting on the Ambassadors’ own activities and sharing resources they create, is run by Steven Burgess, and Emma Dorris (University College Dublin Centre for Arthritis Research, Ireland) has been involved in the promotion of and guidelines for organising public involvement in research.

Emma Dorris, Tracey Weissgerber and Steven Burgess have shared resources on creating biological diagrams. With the aid of existing listings, such as Plantae’s Images for Impact and Tracey’s Free Visualisation Resources for Small Studies, as well as other suggestions, they are in a good position to compile a versatile list for others seeking to communicate science through better graphs and visualisation. And going even further, Tahnee Saunders (Monash University, Australia) would like to see more scientists communicating visually, as she has started doing herself with her Instagram account.

Career development and mentoring

To address some of the burning questions on both sides, eLife Ambassadors are working to create a list of top interview questions for postdoctoral and first-time independent investigator candidates, and recruiting Principal Investigators. The series of posts has started with a compilation of interview questions for postdocs on the ecrLife blog.

eLife Ambassadors also recognise that many institutions are currently lacking mentoring training and programmes. Luciane Tsukamoto Kagohara (Johns Hopkins University, USA) and Sarvenaz Sarabipour have been compiling a list of useful resources and recommendations on the subject – once ready, it’ll be published on the ecrLife blog. Sophie Acton and Hammad Khan (ANU, Australia) considered advocating for academic institutions to make mentorship training a requirement and offer related programmes, so that new staff receive such training.

We welcome comments, questions and feedback. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at hello [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

Interested in finding out more about opportunities, events and issues that are important for early-career researchers? Sign up to the eLife Early-Career Community newsletter or follow @eLifeCommunity on Twitter.