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Overview of the programme
With 117 women and 126 men based around the globe, from Australia to Venezuela, and from the AIDS Research Institute in Spain to Zagazig University in Egypt, many early-career researchers joined forces to promote progressive changes in academic culture as eLife Community Ambassadors 2019–2020. This was the second edition of the community advocacy programme, first held in 2018.
Through group projects, training and other means of participation, the Ambassadors have learned collaboration skills – such as working on collaborative documents, managing group calls, reporting progress and highlighting ways others could contribute, and clearly articulating contributor roles. They have produced blogs, websites and datasets, presented webinars, workshops and online book club discussions. We include a summary below of outputs shared so far, and we look forward to supporting the Ambassadors to continue to share their work, including with other researchers and changemakers.
Science is not first about competition…Science first is about collaboration and that is what you are doing
– Detlef Weigel, eLife Deputy Editor, June 2020
This video, compiled from the celebration calls hosted to celebrate the end of the programme, shows some highlights of what the Ambassadors have achieved this year – the impact they have had, the important issues they have advocated for, and the substantial efforts they have put into producing their outputs and sharing these with the wider community.
For this celebration, participants were welcomed to share reflections in whichever language they felt most comfortable using. One of the many lessons we learn from the Early-Career Advisory Group and the Ambassadors is the importance of promoting and supporting multilingualism and language diversity amongst the researcher community – this helps enable knowledge generation and sharing within and beyond academic research.
No matter what your favourite initiatives are, by living your desired principles in science, by existing in the version of the world that you would like to see materialise everyday, you are doing the really important work.
– Prachee Avasthi, eLife Board of Directors, June 2020
Countless individual contributions have been made throughout the year, from people who gave talks or conducted workshops, to authors of the ecrLife blog. The Ambassadors have offered their translation skills, shared one another's survey or materials, contributed to other projects and shared their advocacy pieces and opinions in journals, as well as among their peer groups and labs.
Throughout the programme, eLife and the ECAG have provided training and support, designed to help equip the Ambassadors with skills to improve their own research, while advocating for greater transparency, rigor, collaboration, and inclusiveness in the scientific community.
We thank all Ambassadors for their contributions and participation, and we thank all Ambassador Associates, everyone who provided training sessions and eLife staff who supported the programme.
The eLife Community Ambassadors programme 2019/2020 ran from April 16, 2019, to June 5, 2020. A complete list of Ambassadors (including affiliations) is available here.
A round-up of the collaborative projects
Many Ambassadors formed groups to start new initiatives or continue work from previous Ambassador groups. Here, we review the outputs so far from each initiative, in alphabetical order. More detailed progress reports from through the year are shared in previous blogs (March 2020, December 2019, August 2019) , as well as on the ecrLife blog, and in the summary report from the 2018 programme (some initiatives that have continued from the first programme).
The main goals for the anti-bullying initiative are to raise awareness about bullying in academia, create strategies of how to recognise and reduce bullying, and help victims of bullying. This year the anti-bullying initiative published a blog post on ecrLife, raised awareness on Twitter (#AcademicAntiBullying archive), and created a short video (see below).
The team continues to work on this project, and with help from Gabriela Gaona, will participate in this year’s eLife Innovation Sprint. Their project is to create a web platform for sharing experiences of bullying in academia and provide resources for those affected. Their work so far can be found on the initiative’s GitHub page at https://github.com/Academic-Anti-Bullying.
A video animation explains what bullying can look like in the workplace, including in research environments. Produced by the eLife Community Ambassadors Anti-bullying Initiative 2019–2020 and available CC BY from YouTube: https://youtu.be/aLUo3QjSmQ8.
This initiative aimed to provide resources and information for career development for scientists at all levels.They designed, disseminated, and analysed a survey to assess institutional support and resources for STEM trainees as they plan their professional development. The initiative hopes to publish the findings in the form of a blog post on the accessibility and usefulness of institutional professional development resources.
The Collaborative Science initiative aimed to develop resources to support researchers to develop successful collaborations. During the programme, the team asked fellow Ambassadors and early-career peers what helps and hinders them to succeed in research collaborations, and they have been analysing the responses. They hope to share the findings in due course, to help ECRs learn tips and tricks for building successful collaborations.
The Data Reuse initiative would like to see greater reuse of research data in the life and biomedical sciences, whether finding new results by reusing primary datasets or creating novel datasets by combining existing ones. To support this, the team have focused their efforts during this Ambassadors programme on (i) education and outreach to support data reuse and (ii) developing a better understanding of the support that is needed. They designed a survey to understand how researchers produce and consume data, produced badges to record data reusability, and gave multiple talks to peers. To follow this initiative or contribute, please visit their website (https://data-reuse.weebly.com/), check out their Open Science Framework repository (https://osf.io/w5nqt/), or find the project on GitHub (https://github.com/Orthogonal-Research-Lab/Models-for-Data-Reuse/).
ECRcentral was created by eLife Ambassadors in 2018 to help early-career researchers share and discover funding, travel grant and career development opportunities. The funding database has recently been updated to indicate when a funder has signed the San Francisco Declaration for Research Assessment (DORA; for example: https://ecrcentral.org/funders/academy-of-finland). In the final quarter of the Ambassadors programme, Aziz and Lotte established a new team to support continued development of the project, including Sara Ahrabi, Vivek Bhardwaj, Sejal Davla, Ding He, Nafisa Jadavji, Renuka Kudva, Tomislav Mestrovic, Samantha Seah and Alex Tikhonov. The team worked together in a collaborative sprint in late May to update the funding database. Over the next six months, they plan to continue site and project development to achieve the goal of empowering ECRs to pursue their careers, including developments to enable ECRcentral users and contributors to share experiences, mentor peers, and create impact through community engagement. All the source code and related content are openly available through their GitHub repository at https://github.com/ecrcentral/.
ECR Peer Review
Aiming to promote the involvement of ECRs in the peer-review process, this team involved in this initiative has most recently published a blogpost in ecrLife on how to include junior researchers in peer review. They continue to engage in discussions and conversations on this topic on Twitter (#ECRPeerReview), and advocate for the involvement of ECRs in peer review through outreach to journal editors.
This initiative team came together to encourage individual scientists to act in a more environmentally sustainable manner as they do their research lab work, and they also aimed to guide different stakeholders (companies, institutes, PIs) to establish environmentally friendly practices and policies. Their efforts to raise awareness have included publishing an article in Chemistry World (https://www.chemistryworld.com/opinion/reducing-plastic-waste-in-the-lab/4011550.article#/), and creating a peer support group on Slack for scientists to discuss environmental sustainability in the lab and share resources: join Environmental_in_Science here. All the team’s outputs so far can be found on their website: https://ecrsustainable.wixsite.com/sustainablescience.
Through this initiative, a group of Ambassadors aimed to start a discussion in the scientific community (amongst and between scientists, funding organisations, universities) about how funding can be awarded to researchers based on their research ability and potential. This year, they have published a blog post about what makes funding programs fair, and collaborated with ECRcentral (https://ecrcentral.org/home) to indicate DORA signatories in the funding database there (described above).
This team have focused their efforts on enhancing inclusion within academic science using an approach that appreciates “how one's identity combines multiple elements, and how discrimination is often subversively practiced against the combination of elements that make up these identities rather than any single element” – https://ecrlife.org/intersectionality-what-it-means/. As well as producing this blog, the team have fostered discussions through online book clubs based on relevant books (Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez in November (in the Ambassadors’ private discussion forum); The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist by Ben Barres in February; Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini in May) and shared their understanding of diversity and inclusion within academic research by presenting a webinar to other Ambassadors in April. They have also produced a template manual (https://osf.io/2xn6z/) for labs to use to create or update their own documentation for expectations of working practices and culture in their labs and guidelines for improving inclusivity in multiple processes in science, from peer review of manuscripts to hiring, which are available in multiple languages (https://osf.io/muk7v/).
Mentoring and Leadership
Through the Mentoring and Leadership initiative, this group of Ambassadors explored the challenges researchers face as mentees and mentors in academic environments. They worked with other researchers and career development offices to advocate for improved mentorship in research labs, and they hope to share recommendations they have compiled for (i) how to improve working relations between mentees and mentors, and (ii) how mentors can write effective letters of recommendation for mentees.
In this “learn-by-doing” initiative, ECRs from around the world have worked together to design, conduct and publish a meta-research study. Participants in this year’s Ambassadors program refined the data abstraction protocol, completed data abstraction, and prepared the figures and manuscript. They are currently finalising data analysis and expect to share their manuscript in the coming months.
The Readability initiative team has focused on exploring different ways to improve how a scientific manuscript is presented online, in order to improve accessibility and communicate all the relevant information. They adapted a paper as an experiment, transforming it into what they have named the ‘Lucid Bio’ format – find the resulting paper on GitHub: https://github.com/lucidbio. Building on this format, they would like to adapt a second paper, and they hope to share this format with other researchers and journals to inspire change and innovation in how research is communicated.
Reproducibility for Everyone (R4E)
Reproducibility for Everyone is an ongoing initiative that offers workshops on the steps researchers can take to improve reproducibility and rigor in their own wet-lab work. This year, the team have supported several Ambassadors to host their own workshops, and have also developed their teaching materials. Unfortunately, several workshops that were planned to take place in-person had to be cancelled or postponed due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, however one Ambassador managed to present the workshop online instead during the TAGC2020 conference:
R4E’s teaching materials are publicly available from https://www.repro4everyone.org/, and you can follow the project on Twitter @repro4everyone.
The team behind the Statistical Literacy initiative aims to help ECRs to use statistics well in their own research. During the programme, they have focused on understanding the current statistical literacy level of ECRs as well as determining whether ECRs have adequate access to resources and support for the use of statistics in the life sciences. They produced and tested a survey: the first version of the survey was disseminated to fellow eLife Ambassadors in January 2020 to get feedback on the effectiveness of our questions and the data we could potentially collect. They could see some trends developing and used these results to create a final version of their survey. In the near future, they hope to open the survey for responses from a wider network of ECRs after obtaining the necessary ethics approval or confirmation of exemption.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
This initiative began later in this year’s programme, to tackle the variability in mental health and wellbeing support across institutions. They hope to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing for researchers, and advocate for more standardised protocols, so that researchers can continue their research in a more positive environment with a new attitude. They have worked on a number of issues related to trainee mental health and wellbeing both online and offline. The initiative is planning to continue their work around mental health by brainstorming a framework for a blog post using ideas from their fellow Ambassadors, literature that they have compiled, as well as the results from the eLife Mental Health Survey that ran in 2019. We look forward to seeing their outputs in the future.
Many blog posts produced by the initiatives mentioned above, as well as thought pieces from individual Ambassadors, appear online at ecrLife.org.
The full list of those who contributed to these initiatives can be found at https://elifesciences.org/inside-elife/507faf61/elife-ambassadors-contributions-start-to-bear-fruit.
We welcome comments, questions and feedback. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at email@example.com.
For the latest developments in this year’s Ambassador programme and other opportunities for early-career researchers, sign up to the eLife Early-Career Community newsletter and follow @eLifeCommunity on Twitter.