In the fifth cycle of the ECR Travel Awards, early career researchers wrote in with their thoughts on how methods of science communication can influence the way a community assesses the value of science. We received hundreds of responses from these PLOS-published authors, many addressing how research dissemination impacts perceptions of science by nonscientists and the public, while other essays focused on how scientists can better connect within and across research communities.
This blog post introduces some of the grantees who presented the most compelling arguments in their travel grant essays. We introduce the latest batch of outstanding recipients and share an excerpt of their essays below.
Rafael Almeida will be traveling to the French Riviera at the end of August to attend the 13th International Society for Neurochemistry Satellite Meeting on Myelin Biology, where he will present his research as a Young Investigative Speaker.
In his travel grant essay Almeida tackles the speed to publication issue, noting that the research-to-publication pipeline can sometimes take years. He calls on research communities and publishers to embrace preprints, and proposes an innovative “short format” model where important information discovered in the research process can be disseminated to the public quickly.
“This onus on researchers of publishing complete stories has led to a noticeable increase in data volume per publication. To accelerate the publication of potentially high-impact nuggets of information, journals should create a (truly) short format for these minimal publishable units.”
Almeida notes that two nonprofits in his field, the Chordoma Foundation and the Myelin Repair Foundation “fund high-impact research in their respective fields and foster information exchange between groups of academic ‘competitors’, spanning bench to the bedside.” He cites this model as an example of how particular research fields that develop innovative publishing and communication models can lead the broader scientific community in new directions.
Almeida is a research associate at the University of Edinburgh, where he works in neuroscience at the Lyons Lab, specifically studying neuron-glia interactions during central nervous system myelination.
Kevin Aquino, who specializes in neuroimaging, traveled to Hawaii for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Medicine (ISMRM) meeting where he presented an electronic poster to discuss findings that revealed “top-down modulation in a directed sensory attention task” using fMRI at the ultra high field (7T).
Aquino focused on the dual issues of reproducibility in science as well as the reluctance of the scientific community to accept negative results in his travel grant essay. He proposes a new, interactive journal hierarchy that includes publications devoted to reproducing the results of published works, and then facilitates a dialogue between the original authors and the researchers replicating the results. This model also rethinks authorship, providing credit to those who attempt to replicate the results.
“Irreproducibility is a key issue in science and this new platform may provide new opportunities for collaborations, enforcement of rapid checks of studies, allow small projects to feed the need to publish, and provide a unique place for young investigators to produce publications for training of research and critique.”
Aquino recently started a new postdoctoral fellowship at Monash University in the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences. Follow him on Twitter at @Kevin_M_Aquino.
Anna Dmowska will be attending the GeoComputation 2017 conference, where she will give a talk based on her research on spatial approaches to mapping racial diversity in the United States. Dmowska developed SocScape, a GeoWeb application that provides access to a high-resolution, gridded version of this data, as part of her postdoctoral research to the Space Infomatics Lab at the University of Cincinnati.
Dmowska cited her experience conducting racial diversity research and then developing and socializing SocScape to disseminate this research to social scientists, as well as the broader community of journalists, policymakers, and the public, in her travel grant essay.
“We don’t need to rely exclusively on publishers and the traditional media to reach a broad audience; instead we can use internet and social media to demonstrate importance of our work. I think that interactive web-based applications are the best way to engage the public.”
Dmowska is currently an Assistant Professor in applied geoinformatics at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan in Poland.
Marco Galardini used his travel grant to attend the Federation of European Microbiologists (FEMS) annual meeting in Valencia, Spain. “The conference has been a great opportunity to see some great talks and posters and interact with prominent European microbiologists,” Galardini said. “And having the opportunity to visit such a beautiful city was a welcomed plus.”
Galardini argued in his essay that science is subject to gamification and discretionary evaluation by biased gatekeepers, saying these challenges “… should then be regarded as the Achille’s heels of the current way science is judged.”
Galardini proposes developing a global network of trusted scientists, which he calls “Science Agora,” is the ideal solution and that it can be feasibility implemented on top of existing servers (i.e. preprint servers).
When he is not working on his vision for the Science Agora, Galardini is completing his postdoctoral research exploring the genotype to phenotype landscape in bacterial species at the European Bioinfomatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). Follow Marco on Twitter @mgalactus.
Ahmed El Badawy
El Badawy will be traveling from his PhD program in Giza, Egypt to present his work at the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) 2017 conference in Boston.
El Badawy, a stem cell biologist and regenerative medicine researcher, proposes a system that will allow for continuous peer review of published work in his travel award essay. He asks:
“Why can’t there be an online open scientific forum following each scientific article in which readers interact with each other and with the authors of that article to comment on anything that is not clear or comment on issues of reproducibility?”
Currently, PLOS articles have an open comments section that does allow readers to interact with each other and the author of the article, if they choose to participate in any conversation. However, the comments section is not used for official post-publication peer review.
El Badawy is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Zewail City of Science and Technology, where he studies the molecular mechanisms that regulate pluripotency and somatic cell reprogramming, and investigates how stem cells and cancer cells share their genetic and phenotypic signature in cancer stem cells. Find El Badawy on Facebook.
In June, Hryckowian traveled from his postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University to the “New Approaches and Concepts in Microbiology” meeting in Germany to give a talk based on his research on the gut microbiome. In his talk, “The diet-driven metabolic ecology of Clostridium difficile infection,” Hryckowian describes his work that aims to develop more palatable ways (distinct from antibiotics or fecal transplant) to mitigate C. difficile infection.
The scientists working in the gut microbiome field can range from microbiologists, like Hryckowian, to internal medicine clinicians and many others. In his essay, Hryckowian says preprints show promise for accelerating scientific progress in trans-disciplinary fields such as the gut microbiome, but that the motivations for critical review of preprints in the scientific community is skewed.
In his essay, Hryckowian outlines a cogent argument for how a Collaborative Preprint Server (CPS) capitalizes on the researcher’s desire for authorship to encourage peer review of preprints. “The CPS will uniquely synergize competitive and collaborative research strategies and will provide a new way for the scientific community to judge and assess science.”
He goes further to explain that peer review of research posted on the CPS is “ …built on the central tenent that CPS ‘reviewers’ who provide substantial and timely intellectual contributions or data to the preprint will be included as authors in the manuscript submitted for traditional peer review.”
When Hryckowian is at the bench, he’s researching “two of the most powerful drivers of the ecology of the gastrointestinal tract, bacteriophages and dietary plant polysaccharides (“viruses and veggies”), as tools to understand the gut microbiome.” Follow Andrew on Twitter @A_Hryckowian.
Neuroscientist Nicholas Timme recently traveled to Denver to attend the Research Society on Alcoholism annual meeting. Timme, who specializes in addiction research, said this was his first time attending the event, where he received helpful feedback on his work.
In his travel grant essay, Timme outlines his proposal for a multifaceted online project that aims to create efficiencies in the current submissions system as well as curates notable research for each particular field.
“ …true mastery in a field involves the ability to see all levels of an issue, from small (implementing an analysis in software), to the medium (designing an experiment), to the large (understanding the major questions a field seeks to answer this century). Currently, resources for all of these levels of scientific practice are disconnected.”
Timme is a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Featured Image by Bambi Corro on Unsplash.