eLife Ambassadors: Progress of key initiatives at the midpoint of the programme

Meta-research, a popular reproducibility workshop, research into best funding practices and a dedicated blog are just some of the projects underway to support early-career scientists and promote open science.

After six months of hard work, the eLife Ambassadors came together recently to share with each other what they've achieved so far, and to discuss their plans and challenges ahead.

From meta-research to a popular reproducibility workshop, to research into best funding practices and a dedicated blog – Ambassadors report on progress and the first results of their work.

I’m really impressed with the progress Ambassadors made and the variety of initiatives we have in this programme. It’s the first time eLife is running the programme like this, and I’m really excited to see how we can work best together. I’m really curious and looking forward to what we will achieve and learn by the end of this pilot project.

Emmanuelle Vire, member of the eLife Early-Career Advisory Group (ECAG) and coordinator of the eLife Ambassadors Programme.

You can read the latest developments from some of the core initiatives in the roundup below.

Mastering meta-research

Tracey Weissgerber (QUEST Center, Germany), one of the newly appointed members of the ECAG, is leading a small and dedicated team to carry out a meta-research project. Following a period of group learning about what meta-research is, Helena Jambor (Technische Universität Dresden, Germany), Steven Burgess (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA), Sarvenaz Sarabipour (Johns Hopkins University, USA), Luke Hoeppner (University of Minnesota, USA), Bradley Alicia (OpenWorm Foundation, USA), Erin Wissink (Cornell University, USA), Vivek Bhardwaj (Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Germany ) and Vinodh Ilangovan (eLife ECAG, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Germany) have recently decided on the research problem they are going to explore together. Their study into the quality of reporting for images in scientific publications is now underway.

Tracey used her experience in running the meta-research project with Ambassadors to offer more universal tips on leading a volunteer initiative to improve science in a recent blog post.

Focus on reproducibility

In July, Benjamin Schwessinger (eLife ECAG, Australian National University, Australia) with Sonali Roy (Noble Research Institute, USA) and Lenny Teytelman (Protocols.io, USA) – collaborators outside the eLife Ambassadors programme – delivered the first ‘Reproducibility for all’ workshop at the recent Plant Biology 2018 meeting in Montreal, Canada. This is a result of a collaboration of a team of eLife Ambassadors, the eLife ECAG and Protocols.io, Addgene, and Code Ocean.

The workshop gives an honest, relatable explanation of the issues that stand in the way of research reproducibility, followed by practical take-home tips and tools to help everyone improve the reproducibility of their projects.

The popularity of the first reproducibility workshop at the Plant Biology 2018 surpassed the expectations of both Benjamin’s team and the conference organisers, when 70 researchers attended the session. The team is now looking to partner with other organisations and events, to share the material with more researchers and to improve scientific reproducibility across multiple disciplines of biology.

Sharing Benjamin’s concern for reproducibility, Vivek Bhardwaj created an online checklist and database for reviewers to evaluate computational reproducibility in life science manuscripts. He’s currently finalising the computational evaluation checklist on Github and looks to improve his app’s functionality by the end of summer. He’s also now turning to meta-research, to help build the case for the use of the application by researchers and reviewers alike.

Support for new labs

Sophie Acton (MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, UK) and Chris Toseland (University of Kent, UK) launched a new initiative this summer in collaboration with Alison Twelvetrees (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience, UK), Yanlan Mao (MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, UK), and Andrew Bell (University of Sheffield, UK) – early-stage PIs outside the eLife Ambassadors programme. They carried out the #NewPI Survey to understand how people are starting their independent careers in the UK. They hope to capture some simple ways institutions can make the first steps into independence in the UK more structured and easier for researchers. With over 300 responses so far, they aim to have the first results written up by September, to share in a planned meeting with Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. The initiative may expand later in the year as other Ambassadors have expressed interest in adopting the survey for their national circumstances.

Promoting preprints

Many Ambassadors have continued to be active in supporting the use of preprints. In May, Ambassadors involved in the PREreview team ran the first live preprint journal club (#LivePREJC) during MozSprint and the eLife Innovation Sprint. They are now planning more events of this kind in partnership with PLoS for the Open Access week in October. In June, Brianne Kent (eLife ECAG, University of British Columbia, Canada) organised and chaired an #ECRWednesday webinar about the support for preprints in life sciences. Ulrike Boehm (NIH, USA) launched We Support Preprints, a new website, which shares testimonials from early-career researchers who deposit and use preprints.

With so many organisations active in this space, the preprints group sees their biggest challenge to be the effective coordination with other initiatives, to make sure no one doubles up on efforts or reinvents the wheel. eLife Ambassadors are helping to address this challenge by connecting volunteers from PREreview, ASAPBio, and biOverlay within the programme, and by reaching out to others in group calls.

Improving access to funding

Lotte de Winde (MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, UK), Tai-Ying Lee (University of Oxford, UK), Elisa Floriddia (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden), and David Eccles (Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, New Zealand) have been busy researching the best, most inclusive funding practices. They hope to showcase these soon for the information of early-career researchers, and to help bring such policies to the attention of funding agencies. The fair-funding initiative encompasses policies related to the length of fellowships and the application process itself, allowances for parental leave and facilitating access for researchers with disabilities, accommodating career breaks, and innovations in the selection process that blind the reviewers to the personal information and affiliation of the applicants.

On the subject of funding, the group behind ECRCentral is looking to develop their existing resource further, to include features such as improved searchability and the facilitation of networking between past successful grantees and prospective applicants.

Involving the public

Emma Dorris (University College Dublin, Ireland) was joined by Erin Wissink and John A. Burns (American Museum of Natural History, USA) in the effort to create a comprehensive resource for researchers willing to involve the public in their work. Emma has already written about her experience setting a Public Involvement Initiative. The group now looks to offer the necessary guidance to encourage their peers to implement similar initiatives for the mutual benefit of the researchers and the concerned public.

Inspiring change through events

In the last three months a number of Ambassadors organised local events in support of issues they advocate for. Sebastián Escobar (University of Chile, Chile) co-organised SciComm2018, in Santiago, Chile. Philippe Lucarelli (Luxembourg University, Luxembourg) organised a boldly titled event on ‘Open Science and Revolution in Journal Publication’ in Luxembourg.

Group photo from SciComm2018, in Santiago, Chile.

Vikash Singh (University of Cambridge, UK) organised a career event in Cambridge, UK. Michiel Boekhout, Lilian Lamech and Zheng Ser, all based at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, USA, organised an event, titled “Benefits of Publishing Preprints” with speakers from ASAPBio and bioRxiv in New York, USA, in collaboration with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Medical Library. More events are planned to take place in the autumn.

Sharing progress

As the initiatives and ideas develop, the dedicated ecrLife blog grows with great content. Led by Steven Burgess, the blog allows the Ambassadors to share their progress, as well as advice and concerns with the community. It’s an important resource for anyone interested in following their initiatives more closely.

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