eLife Ambassadors: Staying active on many different fronts

From funding and scientific publishing to outreach and the environmental impact of research, eLife Ambassadors continue to work on a wide range of activities.
Inside eLife
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By Kora Korzec

Launched in 2018, the eLife Ambassadors programme quickly became active across many different areas of science of interest to early-career researchers. In April this year the number of volunteers grew to 243 and the range of activities has continued to expand. This article provides a brief summary of the new initiatives started this year, and those that have carried on from last year.

Continued from 2018

Emma Dorris and John Burns continue their work on bringing down barriers to involving the public in life sciences research. They’re joined by Michael Bartlett, Jorieke Weiden, Megan Sperry, Galina Limorenko, Freddy Monteiro, and Gulcan Akgul. Together, they review related policies in institutions across the world, and continue working on a starter tool-kit to help initiate meaningful public involvement for those interested. To find out more about ways and reasons for involving non-scientists in research, you can watch the latest #ECRWednesday webinar.

ECRcentral, a popular database of funding for fellowships and travel grants, was launched in February, and this year Aziz Khan works with Lotte de Winde, Juan Quintana, Ding He, Juniper Kiss, Nafisa Jadavji, Ella Mercer, Sithara Wijeratne, Alex van Vliet, Sejal Davla, Elena Gómez-Díaz, Tomislav Mestrovic, and Sara Ahrabi, as contributors and moderators for the service.

Lotte de Winde leads the Fair funding team, now including Nafisa Jadavji, Sejal Davla, Alexandra Stolyarova, Amreen Mughal, David Eccles, Devang Mehta, Freyja Olafsdottir, Mansour Haidar, Paraskevi Kritsiligkou, Romain Franconville, Sarah Hainer, Sarvenaz Sarabipour, and Tai-Ying Lee. They continue highlighting inclusive funding practices and aim to spark a broader discussion about these in the scientific community (amongst and between scientists, funding bodies, universities) and to advocate for their wider adoption by funding agencies.

Reproducibility for Everyone continues delivering workshops at institutes and conferences to upskill researchers in making their science more rigorous and reproducible. They work with partners at Addgene and Code Ocean, and the Ambassadors in the team include Benjamin Schwessinger, Tracey Weissgerber, Galina Limorenko, Megan Sperry, Nafisa Jadavji, Ana Baburamani, Hugo Carignano, Cristian Sandoval, Damar Susilaradeya, Darius Koester, Eduardo Rodríguez-Román, Estefania Mancini, Jeffrey Erlich, Lida Zoupi, Martín Graña, Maiko Kitaoka, Nele Haelterman, Nick Leigh, Omar Adrián Coso, Samantha Seah, Santosh Phuyal, Stephanie Olivier-Van Stichelen, Susann Auer, Yen-Chung Chen, and Yila de la Guardia.

Tracey Weissgerber leads two meta-research teams now – both interested in learning about conducting studies into the science of science. One group including Susann Auer, Galina Limorenko, Alberto Cardona, Mischa Olson, Malgorzata Gazda, Chaimae Samtal, Kaivalya Walavalkar, Salem Mohamed, Iuliia Ferling, and Aalok Varma, continues working on a study started by Ambassadors in 2018 – into reporting standards for images. The other group includes Alberto Cardona, Malgorzata Gazda, Alexandra Stolyarova, and Iiulia Ferling, as well as Guido van Mierlo, Michael Sumner, and Lamiae Amallah. They are learning how to change science by designing a new meta-research study together.

The mentoring and leadership initiative was launched towards the end of the 2018 programme by Sarvenaz Sarabipour and Steven Burgess with a survey on current mentoring experiences among researchers. The main goals of the group are to assess the state of mentoring and leadership in research environments across academia, industry, and government labs, and to build concrete resources to improve the current provision. Now, Lotte de Winde, Sarah Hainer, Gulcan Akgul, Sejal Davla, Elena Gómez-Díaz, Samantha Seah, Ding He, Michael Bartlett, Michael Sumner, Nafisa Jadavji, Galina Limorenko, Juniper Kiss, Alexandra Stolyarova, Humberto Debat, Renuka Kudva, PatriciaResa-Infante, Feyza Arslan, Shawn Tan, Emily Furlong, Hedyeh Ebrahimi, Natalia Bielczyk, Nicholas Asby, Anton Nathanson, Amey Redkar, Pleasantine Mill, Xinchen Wang, Ziva Pogacar and Bente Benedict, Nelima Mumoki, John Nicoludis, Chee Wai Chua, Amanda Hurley, and Chaitra Prabhakara, all work together to improve mentoring experiences and leadership training for early-career researchers.

New directions in 2019

Science communication

One of the first new groups that have come together this year focused on the readability of scientific papers. Theo Sanderson, Aalok Varma, Krishna Shrinivas, Nele Haelterman, Francesco Baschieri, Lida Zoupi, Amanda Hurley, Renuka Kudva, Maiko Kitaoka, Malgorzata Gazda, Grant Kusick, Guillaume Lobet, Chao Sun, Sejal Davla, and Devang Mehta joined forces in a quest for a new format for scientific papers that will be pleasurable to read, and will enable researchers to learn about the latest findings more efficiently. By adapting traditional articles to showcase the style they consider easier to read, and using unpretentious language and the latest technology, they aim to create accessible and interactive HTML-based articles.

Lylah Deady, Anne Martin, Yila de la Guardia, Ding He, and Maiko Kitaoka are also interested in improving science communication. They wish to improve information literacy among the public, and promote greater engagement with scientific facts pertinent for the hot topics in public debate, such as climate change, vaccinations, genetically-modified organisms, and more. In this effort they hope to provide some tips on effective communication for researchers, as well as clear information materials for the public.

Working practices

From communicating science - others are turning their attention to improving career development opportunities and the atmosphere in research environments.

Sarah Hainer started a very fruitful discussion about intersectionality in science. This resulted in a multi-faceted initiative, which encompasses awareness raising about specific diversity topics, as well as the problem of interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage, a related literature review, and actionable advice for labs on greater inclusivity. This topic resonates with many of our Ambassadors, and the group includes Michael Bartlett, Nelima Mumoki, Renuka Kudva, Lotte de Winde, Freyja Olafsdottir, Samantha Seah, Jorieke Weiden, Nick Leigh, Alexandra Stolyarova, Pleasantine Mill, Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Sithara Wijeratne, Stephanie McKenna, Ashley Albright, Alison Twelvetrees, Melissa Armstrong, Babak Momeni, Macarena Gomez de Salazar, Peter Kidibule, and Pawel Grzechnik.

Another group is interested in providing resources for early-career researchers to succeed in collaborations. Started by Stephanie Moon, Susann Auer, and Shawn Tan, this project includes Sara Ahrabi, Natalia Bielczyk, Malgorzata Gazda, Ding He, Laurent Paardekooper, Hossein Khiabanian, and Nnaemeka Nnadi. They intend to publish case studies as well as advisory blog posts and to deliver an #ECRWednesday webinar with top tips on collaborations for early-stage scientists.

Initiated by Pawel Grzechnik and Nafisa Jadavji, one team is passionate about stemming bullying out of academia. The group includes Emily Furlong, Malgorzata Gazda, Sarah Hainer, Juniper Kiss, Galina Limorenko, Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Renuka Kudva, Alison Twelvetrees, Gyan Mishra, and Huanan Shi. Together, they aim to raise awareness of the problem, and hope to create some universal strategies for how to identify and suppress bullying in academic institutions, as well as devising practical ways of helping the victims.

More on rigour and reproducibility

Alexandra Stolyarova and Natalie Clark noted there are varying standards of statistical literacy among scientists across subject areas, institutions and career stages. Joined by Nafisa Jadavji, Anton Nathanson, Guido van Mierlo, Alex van Vliet, Hedyeh Ebrahimi, Jeffrey Erlich, Tracey Weissgerber, Yen-Chung Chen, Salem Youssef Mohamed, Tomislav Mestrovic, Peter Linders, Hung Lo, Lin Wang, Bhavik Nathwani, Jain Prateek, and Max Puelma Touzel – they hope to investigate the scale of the problem, and device resources to help educate colleagues in statistics.

Alicea Bradley, Marije Verhage, Huajin Wang, Bhavik Nathwani and Sarvenaz Sarabipour hope to see greater data reuse across life sciences. They feel there’s a great need for creating community standards for building up datasets and for a set of formal practices for data reuse.

Peer review

Many Ambassadors are interested in unpicking the shortcomings of the current publishing system, and, in particular, improving peer review. A specific project by Alex van Vliet, Renuka Kudva, Patricia Resa-Infante, Amreen Mughal, Gülcan Akgul, Darius Koester, Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Alexandra Stolyarova, Lotte de Winde, and Asmaa Elkenawi, is looking to devise effective tools and strategies for encouraging broader involvement of early-career researchers (also senior grad students and postdocs) as reviewers in their own right. By interacting with journal editors, they learn about current barriers and reservations to inviting early-stage scientists to the peer review, which they hope to alleviate. They are also interested in finding better ways of acknowledging early-career co-reviewers.

Broader concerns

One team focused on the environmental impact of day-to-day practices in scientific research. Samantha Seah, Francesco Baschieri, Bente Benedict, Nele Haelterman, Sarah Hainer, Galina Limorenko, Stephanie McKenna, Mischa Olsen, Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Alexandra Stolyarova, and Lotte de Winde, Kamini Gautam, Melanie Krause, Arpita Kulkarni, Rita Mateus, Anzela Niraula, and Julie Theresa Shapiro, plan to raise awareness of problems in this area, as well as highlight existing solutions. They’ve made a start already with a Twitter poll about conference travel, and by encouraging everyone to take part in their #LabWasteDay to join the conversation on September 17.

Materials produced by the initiatives mentioned above, as well as thought pieces from individual Ambassadors appear online at ecrLife.org.

A complete list of ambassadors (including affiliations) is available here.

What can we expect next?

To enable eLife Community Ambassadors to advocate more effectively and to improve their own research practices, this year we provide training on key aspects of the programme. We’ve already had the Reproducibility for Everyone group deliver two workshops for Ambassadors. Sam Hindle (bioRxiv, USA) and Daniela Saderi (Mozilla Fellow and Project Lead at PREreview, USA) equipped them with practical tips on organising preprint journal clubs. Tracey Weisgerber offered a session in Communication strategies. Ambassadors see these opportunities as a valuable addition to the scheme, so more workshops on science communication, data reuse and career development are underway.

Since the programme has such a great reach worldwide, accommodating diverse timezones remains a challenge, as well as keeping everyone up-to-date with such dynamic developments. While participation and activity so far has been explosive, we still expect more regional initiatives to form in the next quarter, and look forward to the work of groups coalescing around the subjects of promoting pre-registration, and post-publication commenting, as well as further ideas related to career development opportunities.

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