Early-Career Advisory Group: Highlights of our work in 2021

Last year the group worked closely with eLife’s editorial leadership and staff to advance our shared goal of creating new ways to support early-career scientists in research communication.
Inside eLife
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eLife's Early-Career Advisory Group (ECAG) is a diverse group of early-career researchers (ECRs) who help shape eLife’s efforts in reforming research communication and culture by bringing an ECR perspective to the table. Since 2014, we have been advising eLife on all aspects of policy related to early-career scientists, generating new ideas for supporting ECRs and helping eLife build a global community of changemakers.

Six new members joined the group in May and they quickly injected fresh ideas and energy into the group: Lara Urban, Lana Sinapayen, Facundo Romani, Elizabeth Ochola and Aalok Varma. In the summer, we thanked and said goodbye to Yaw Bediako, Lotte de Winde, Vinodh Ilangovan, Julia Riley, and Tracey Weissgerber, as they stepped down from the ECAG.

I found it very insightful and transformative to hear about some of the challenges others experienced. It changed my perspective on what it means to change science,” said Tracey Weissgerber, Berlin Institute of Health at Charité, Germany, and former Chair of the ECAG.

Working together with the ECAG and the Ambassadors programme has shown me what it means in practical terms to bring about open science,” said Vinodh Ilangovan, Citizen Science Coordinator, Labdemic, Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant, India.

eLife’s commitment to reforming research communication towards a model where work is first shared as preprints, then peer-reviewed in the open, and finally democratically curated for diverse audiences – dubbed “publish, review, curate” – set the scene for the ECAG’s work in 2021. Lara Urban worked alongside a group of eLife editors, led by Anna Akhmanova, to learn more about attitudes towards preprints and to advocate for preprints among colleagues by giving talks at an EMBL-EBI webinar, Berlin Exchange panel discussion, and at the Biodiversity Conference 2021 in Perth, Australia. Carolina Quezada worked closely with the developers behind Sciety, offering ample user feedback and curating a list of interesting preprints.

Following our 2020 editorial on increasing equity, diversity and inclusion in scientific publishing, we worked with the eLife team of staff and editors to support greater diversity on its editorial board. Together with a group of eLife editors – led by Deputy Editor Mone Zaidi – Aalok Varma, Carolina Quezada, Devang Mehta, Hedyeh Ebrahimi and Lana Sinapayen developed the recent open recruitment project inviting new Reviewing Editors from Latin America.

Increasing the involvement of early-career researchers in the peer-review process is an ongoing concern for the ECAG and, in 2021, we worked with the journal’s leadership team to develop and pilot several ideas to address this. Andy Tay, Carolina Quezada, Devang Mehta, Hedyeh Ebrahimi and Lotte de Winde shadowed eLife Deputy Editors to get a more in-depth understanding of the triage process. We were also happy to see the latest development related to the early-career reviewer pool, which is now available to authors during the submissions process, to support suggestions of early-stage colleagues as reviewers.

The ECAG initiated and continues to co-lead the Community Ambassadors programme. Tracey Weissgerber and Vinodh Ilangovan worked with former Ambassadors to publish their meta-research into the use of scientific images in publications. Carolina Quezada and Facundo Romani co-organised and chaired two webinar sessions on “Becoming an eLife Community Ambassador”, and Shyam Saladi, Elizabeth Ochola, Aalok Varma, Hedyeh Ebrahimi, Carolina Quezada, Facundo Romani, Florencia Fernández-Chiappe, Devang Mehta, and Lana Sinapayen jointly reviewed 350 applications to the programme.

Aalok Varma, Devang Mehta, Hedyeh Ebrahimi, Florencia Fernandez-Chiappe, Lana Sinapayen and Lara Urban came on deck to support the reshaping of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards programme in 2021 and to help with reviewing applications. We were delighted to see an increase in the number and diversity of applications and heartened to participate in the process of awarding 10 winners.

The group endeavours to voice issues and ideas important to ECRs, and so Carolina Quezada continues to lead the editorial group for the ecrLife blog, Andy Tay actively publishes on focal topics, and – led by Vinodh Ilangovan – the group held more #ECRWednesday webinars in 2021. These started with: “Promoting Inclusion in Science”, a webinar organised by former eLife Community Ambassadors and chaired by Yaw Bediako; “Preprinting in Medicine”, chaired by Hedyeh Ebrahimi; and “The Science of Science”, chaired by Aalok Varma and including Tracey Weisberger as a speaker. Finally, Carolina Quezada, Florencia Fernández Chiappe, Tracey Weissgerber, Aalok Varma and Devang Mehta spoke about promoting ECRs, ECAG activities and meta-research at the La Asociación Latinoamericana de Microbiología (ALAM) 2021 meeting.

We also saw regular representation of the ECAG, by member Facundo Romani, at eLife’s weekly leadership meetings in 2021, paving the way for closer collaboration on editorial policy and decision making.

Finally, as eLife adopted its Code of Conduct, one member of the ECAG joined the Safety Team that stewards its execution. Vinodh Ilangovan was part of the inaugural team, and Elizabeth Ochola joined at the end of the year.

As some of our members complete their terms this August, we are now preparing for our next elections. With the support of new members, we will pursue new initiatives and advance ongoing projects with new energy, to continue supporting greater inclusivity and transparency in research communication.

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