Early-Career Advisory Group: Saying goodbye to leaving members

We hear from Andy, Carolina, and Florencia as they finish their four-year term of advising at eLife and pass on their experiences to early-career researchers who wish to get involved in building change.

All good things must come to an end, and the past four years have absolutely flown by for some of our eLife Early-Career Advisory Group (ECAG) members. The ECAG was set up in 2014 to represent Early-Career Researchers (ECRs) from across the globe and to advise eLife and its leadership on all matters, from publishing policies to equity and inclusion matters across research culture. In the words of our Head of Communities, Godwyns Onwuchekwa, “The ECAG is fundamental in helping eLife explore the perspectives of early career scientists and make the right and equitable decisions for improving scholarly publishing and research culture. Andy, Carolina and Florencia have played a critical role through their active engagement and valuable contributions. I have enjoyed working closely with them on various ECAG projects and articles. I am confident they will continue making their mark in the inevitable positive changes that are imminent in scientific communication.”

Andy Tay (based in Singapore), Florencia Fernández Chiappe (based in Argentina), and Carolina Quezada (based in Chile) were elected to the ECAG in 2019, joining the founding members and bringing a new wave of passion for change and insights from the regions of the world they represent. During their tenure, they have guided eLife in becoming more equitable, inclusive and representative through challenging and changing policies, aiding open calls for new editors such as across the Latin American and African continents, and managing new cohorts through the Ambassadors programme. Additionally, their insights and discussions on responsible research and transparency helped inform the implementation of our new publishing model that we launched in January 2023.

Four years on, and we hear from them as they finish their term and pass on their experiences and learnings to our new members and ECRs who wish to get involved in creating change across research culture.

Describe your experience as an Early-Career Advisor for eLife:

Florencia: “Well, I grew a lot! It really was a unique experience – coming from where I come from at this stage in my career, you don't get opportunities to have your voice heard on a global scale very easily. I joined in the first year of my PhD as one of the younger ones. When I entered the ECAG, I felt odd discussing changing the process of publishing as I didn't yet have a paper, but I began to realise that my unbiased early-career opinion and vision is exactly what was needed. eLife truly made me feel valued in this beautifully diverse community.

I entered the ECAG with Carolina, and although we were at very different stages in our careers, we were representing Latin America – which at that stage was very underrepresented at eLife. We worked to drive forward the open call for Latin American editors and I felt the value of my role when a lot of people, many more senior in career than me, came to me to ask my opinion for them to apply and I am proud that many of them are editors now. I can say I increased representation, and that is the most valuable thing I have done as a member of the ECAG. I grew a lot, I learnt a lot and I met amazing people, from the staff to the former ECAG to our current co-Editors-in-chief, who I would never have met in my regular academic path.”

Carolina: “Well, at the beginning there were so many things that I didn't know. I knew so little about Open Science, preprints and peer review. Then, from all of the conversations and through the passion from people in the eLife community, they showed me the global situation of the publishing landscape and, crucially, how much we all have in common to drive change in research communication. In four years, the community has grown so much and changed so much, with eLife doing important work for the global community and I feel like it was a privilege to be a part of. We push so many things slowly, together, and with a lot of heart. I learned deeply how an editorial works and what is the process inside, and how you can make changes there that actually affect everything – how things are published, what things are published, who is publishing, and what is the best process.

What a unique opportunity, working with scientists from all around the world and understanding their realities, how similar things are everywhere, and people with similar interests. It gives you hope for the future.”

Andy: “This is the only group where I am connected to people from everywhere in the world, and that has been a source of new perspectives and resources for me. I don't have many friends from the Global South, for example. Now, when I write, I can share it globally and get input from many different communities, as the ECAG has allowed me to connect and make friends there. It has been wonderful to really get to know each other and see each member represent their countries and disciplines. The in-person meetup for the eLife 10-year Anniversary was the best part for me as I get to meet the people I have known for years. It was great fun, to work with them and eLife leadership, as well as to talk as friends beyond the role. I know these relationships will last a long time.”

What advice would you give to ECRs joining or setting up early-career advisory groups:

Carolina: “Try to be the most involved you can in the activities and opportunities that present themselves to you. You may not realise at the time but through each challenge you grow a lot, and it is very nourishing to find an encouraging space to do this in academia. Often you don't realise how unique the opportunity is until it is over.”

Florencia: “My advice is to build relationships early in the group, connect, send a message, make a joke, because if you are a young person starting in academia it is so important to build your own confidence and show your personality. Some people talk more but if you build true relationships you will feel comfortable to show your passion, which is the aim of the ECAG and eLife. It all starts in the group, creating a nice environment that you won't feel intimidated speaking within, even on leadership calls. You know you have a structure behind you at eLife, that it is a safe place, and that the group and eLife need you.”

Andy: “In your role as Early-Career Advisor there is no one putting pressure on you. You are self driven to make change and represent your community and that is why you should go into each meeting with an open mind remembering so you and the group can yield the best results. Remember too that when your time becomes limited, do the things that you care about and take a break from other tasks if you can. Always be ok to say no or that you need more time! We also need to remind ourselves that we don't know each other before we start to work with each other. Give yourself time to build relationships and bond as a group.”

What was your favourite part of the experience:

Andy: “My favourite part has been having the opportunities to increase my writing and editorial skills. I joined ecrLife, the writing platform set up through the eLife Ambassadors programme in 2018. It was wonderful to meet the other early-career editors, to interview and help new writers who were starting their writing journeys. I also really enjoyed representing researchers and using my voice to speak on their behalf, such as with the article I wrote on the challenges researchers starting PhDs and Postdocs faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect of cancellations during this period on ECR careers that I published alongside Carolina and Flor and other ECAG members. It has been wonderful for me to feel and show how much ECRs are not alone in the issues we face, and it can be empowering to voice this together and build the support and resources to make change. Such as creating a virtual lab course – showing how to organise virtual lab tour and tools – that came from discussions with global ECRs during the pandemic. I hope these learnings will also be good for the future, helping researchers who can't financially afford to fly to visit labs before joining to have that chance.”

Florencia: “Well, my first meeting was in January 2020 and then the pandemic happened, so I didn't get a chance to connect in-person with the global ECAG group for nearly 3 years. So, when we were invited to London last year for eLife’s 10-year anniversary it was amazing to talk to the editors, the eLife staff, and the rest of the ECAG who flew in from all across the world. This was one of my favourite parts. From the confidence I grew during the term, I also built the Neuroscience Student Network in Argentina and this is something I am very proud of that came from the ECAG experience. I have now met and made friends through there and these members then joined the eLife Ambassadors programme and so the early career open science advocacy community continues to grow. And so my favourite part has really been to meet people who think like you from all across the world, who are interested in creating healthier academic environments for us all to work in and thrive in.”

Carolina: “I also feel so grateful to have had the chance to meet such great people from all around the world. It was fun as well as there being an important purpose to ensure the voices of early career researchers are represented and amplified. I enjoyed doing this through my other roles as the Co-Managing Editor of ecrLife, working with the Sciety development team to improve the new website, in reviewing Ben Barres Spotlight Awards, helping ensure the success of the editors for Latin America and Africa open calls, being a webinar moderator, promoting ECAG work on equity, diversity and inclusion in scientific conferences in Latin America, creating and cohosting the preprint workshop online across Latin America with the eLife Ambassador David Ramirez, and the in person event in Concepción, Chile. I loved mentoring and working alongside the eLife Ambassadors groups as well as guiding and implementing the new model through our discussions as ECRs, which can be read in the article we all worked on last year.”

What lessons have you learned:

Florencia: ”I have learned a lot, especially starting as a graduate student. I learned how to find community and, if it does not exist, how to build it. Now I am starting a postdoc, everything is changing. I have finished the PhD, moved country, into a new lab and a different environment, and I am leaving the ECAG. So, I know I have to once again build everything from scratch, but I have been looking into communities here, and being a part of the ECAG has made me realise that I can build networks. When I enter a new place, I can create the community and initiatives to continue to drive local and global change, like I did in Argentina. I am interested to know what the network is like here for international postdocs, so I hope to join something or, if needed, start something new. If you are passionate about something you should try to do it. If not, who will? It is a loop and everything will stay the same.”

Carolina: “A big learning for me was seeing how, even with the best intention, and even in a passionate and supportive space like eLife, you can see how hard it is to drive sustainable change and how many systematic barriers there are to making large advances. In academia, it is hard to find a community that talks about the ‘behind the scenes’, and it has been a liberating and unique chance for me to learn through the openness at eLife. Seeing resistance to change first hand, and how individuals can want change, but without systems in place when we are in group settings we can often not make the changes we want.

Transparency in eLife is showing the gaps we need to fill, the processes we need to build together with researchers and ECRs leading the way. When I joined the ECAG I had just started my postdoc, and now I am a PI and also work in a startup. I learned so much about Open Science and the impact on researcher mental wellbeing through eLife, that I now try to create as much space for it in my lab. Being involved with eLife has helped me to connect to the international research community and practising English while discussing crucial matters with them has also been a lovely benefit. Receiving what is happening in the world and staying updated from them and eLife has been so helpful to me in immeasurable ways.’’

Andy: “Another thing I have learned is that groups like the eLife ECAG are a limited group of people, who have other work and life commitments and so it can be difficult to drive forward as much as we want to in the time that we have. For me, lots has changed from when I joined the ECAG as a postdoc to now, as I have run my own lab for the past 3 years. I have learned and strengthened so many skills from this experience, and like so many of the ECAG who join as PhDs or postdocs, with the insights, experience and support they receive go onto PIs and other leadership positions in academia. I believe that the ECAG experience prepares us for these leadership positions. Invest in researchers and they excel!”

What's next for you:

Florencia: “When I finish my post doc I would like to go back to Argentina and set up my own lab, and get more involved in science policy, as I am always interested to see how I can help the community, especially early career researchers. Graduate students and PhD students to me are the most important part of science and as I get older, I don't want to forget that I was a PhD student and to continue to hear them and inspire them in any way I can. Thank you all. I really had a great time and it has a lot to do with the eLife staff, making sure we always had all of the tools and support. I appreciate it very much.”

Andy: “Career wise, I will aim for tenure and continue training students in all areas of responsible and open science practices. I will also continue to represent Asia in global science, and get more and more communities from across the region into positions to have their voices heard. It is something I really try to consciously do when I write, to always have and ensure there always is representation from Asia in everything I work on.”

Carolina: “It's tough for the next generation of scientists – academia is hard and people are more dispersed and anxious today – so it is more important than ever to have community support and care for their wellbeing. I have learned the tools to keep me supported and to enable me to support others. I will continue to build these much-needed networks with the local community and across the wider global landscape to make open science more accessible and to drive change in policies towards preprint acceptance. I know with the connections I have built among my Latin American community, I will continue to make science more accessible and relatable for everyone everywhere alongside my role with academia. I am excited.”


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