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Guest Post: Learning about preprints with PREreview

Editor’s note: Today on the blog we welcome a guest post by the PREreview Leadership Team, Daniela Saderi, Samantha Hindle, and Monica Granados. Their goal is to help scientists Post, Read, and Engage with preprint reviews. Wondering what a preprint is? We have the answers. Read on to see how incorporating preprints into your career can benefit you and your lab, and tune in for the first of three live-streamed preprint journal clubnext Monday, October 22nd.    –Meredith Whitaker

1. Tell us about your scientific training—how did you get to where you are now?

Samantha: I am the Content Lead at bioRxiv, where I get to embrace the world of preprints every day!  My passion for open science, and preprints in particular, traces back to the first ASAPbio preprint meeting in February 2016. I remember the moment distinctly: I was sat in the ‘fly room’ – I used to be a postdoc working on the Drosophila blood-brain barrier – and the meeting was streaming on my laptop in the background. Within minutes, I became glued to the screen of my laptop as I listened to one speaker after another unwrapping a new world for scholarly communication. I was hooked and immediately signed up as an ASAPbio Ambassador (you should sign up too!) After representing ASAPbio as an Ambassador at various preprint advocacy events, I was invited to a Mozilla mini-Working Open Workshop where my eyes were opened to a new way of actually doing science: in the open! That’s where I met Daniela and, together with Monica, we launched PREreview as an open, community-driven initiative. It’s been an exciting and immensely rewarding journey, and I hope our story inspires other ECRs to get together and create the changes they want to see in the scholarly ecosystem.

Daniela: I am a Mozilla Fellow 2018 and a neuroscience PhD candidate at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). My thesis research combines in vivo electrophysiology, behavior, and computational modeling to understand how sound is processed in the auditory brain. My initiation to Open Science happened two years ago thanks to a scholarship by the OHSU Library which allowed me to attend my first OpenCon in Washington DC. I arrived not knowing what open science meant, and left inspired and with ideas about how even I, as a student, could play a part in fostering change towards more open and collaborative ways of doing science. Thanks to Mozilla and the Mozilla Open Leaders, I began to shape some of those early ideas into concrete projects, and met the two amazing women with whom I run PREreview today. My work at PREreview is now supported by Mozilla and the Helmsley Foundation through the Mozilla Fellowship I was awarded last September. I am incredibly grateful for the support of my research advisor, Dr. Stephen David, who not only applauds open practices but also leads open-source projects, and Robin Champieux, my champion open science mentor who inspired and encouraged me at every step of my training.​

Monica:I am currently a Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellow in open science. In 2011, I attended the National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis Open Science for Synthesis workshop, an experience that sparked my passion for open science. There, presentation after presentation dismantled closed scientific practices and acclaimed the advantages of practicing in the open. In the years following the workshop I became a staunch advocate of open science. During my PhD at McGill and my postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Guelph and the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, I was given many opportunities to not only practice in the open but also to develop workshops, deliver lectures on open science and participate in the Mozilla Open Leaders program where I met Daniela and Sam.


2. Tell us a little bit about the mission of PREreview. What inspired you to create this platform (what was missing in the scholarly ecosystem that you felt you needed to build this)?

At PREreview, we want to facilitate a cultural shift in which every scientist posts, reads, and engages with preprints as standard practice in scholarly publishing. We want to help scientists see the benefits of both sharing their work openly and exchanging timely feedback, in a way that is constructive, inclusive, and rewarding to them.

The initial motivation behind the work that later became PREreview was that, despite the many positive aspects of posting preprints, including speeding up knowledge dissemination and discovery, many researchers in the life sciences had not yet (and still haven’t) widely accepted them as a valuable way of sharing scientific output. We wanted to increase preprint awareness by encouraging more researchers to integrate preprints into journal clubs, and help capture and share those discussions as preprint reviews, to improve the reliability of the work and extend its usefulness to a broader scope. By doing so, we hoped that we would provide a way to not just tell scientists how great preprints are, but to help them see for themselves – by integrating preprints into their everyday lives.

Journal clubs are a staple in academia: they facilitate scientists collective engagement with others’ discoveries, and provide early-career researchers (ECRs) with a forum to learn how to critically evaluate research. However, the results of those discussions rarely leave the meeting rooms, and do not contribute to improving published scientific articles. Discussing preprints at journal clubs and sharing the feedback benefits not only journal club participants, but also preprint authors, who have the opportunity to incorporate comments in their final publication. The wider community also benefits, as the released content adds to the value of the scientific discussion and opens new avenues for collaboration.

Our current platform allows members to post their PREreviews and receive a DOI so their work can be indexed, citable, and their contributions acknowledged. Additionally, we host resources to learn about preprints (preprint info doc) and share this knowledge with others (preprint info presentation). We created guidelines on how to write up the feedback as a review (PREreview guidelines), and email templates to help invite other researchers to the journal club, or to inform the authors that their preprint was reviewed on PREreview (PREreview email templates).


3. How did the idea of a livestream event come about?

In an effort to make preprint journal clubs more inclusive and help facilitate conversations between researchers at a global scale, last May we hosted the very first live-streamed preprint journal club (LivePREJC), in which we helped facilitate a virtual discussion around a preprint and generated a PREreview as a result.

The idea was inspired by the work at the Mozilla Open Leaders, an interactive mentorship program in which trainees are guided through developing their open ideas and bring them to life with the help of the community. The program is completed entirely online, through weekly guided community calls. We love these calls! So we thought the same structure could be used to bring journal clubs to anyone around the globe with internet or phone-in capabilities. This format also promotes inclusivity by following a structure that provides a means to join the discussion silently in written form, as well as vocally.


4. Why the focus on preprints versus a post-publication peer review article.  What are the advantages?

Reviewing preprints either individually or collaboratively at journal clubs, and openly sharing the reviews not only benefits the preprint authors, who have the opportunity to incorporate comments in their final publication, but also the wider community, as the released content adds to the value of the scientific discussion and opens new avenues for collaboration.

Additionally, and for some most importantly, reviewing preprints the “PREreview way” can help ECRs learn how to perform constructive reviews. ECRs are rarely invited to engage in traditional peer review, likely because they are either not known to journal editors or they are believed to be less competent than more senior researchers at providing feedback on their peers’ work. We are implementing a formal path to track members’ growth, providing both a way for researchers to list their contributions to scientific evaluation in their CVs, and for journal editors to access a new, more diverse pool of peer reviewers that have proven their worth openly.


5. How do preprints help scientists, especially early-career researchers?

There are many positive aspects of posting preprints, the more honorable of which is speeding up knowledge dissemination and discovery. But preprints also offer an opportunity to speed up researchers’ careers. For example, as time-stamped, citable objects, they allow scientists to share their work sooner than they would if they had to wait for editorial peer review. For many, that means being able to cite their work as proof of productivity in grant and job applications. For others, it means finding collaborators, or being invited to speak at conferences or to publish the work in prestigious journals.

As open access scientific manuscripts, preprints also represent an invaluable wealth of data and knowledge made available when community feedback is most useful. However, feedback to preprints is uncommon. And it is on this point that we at PREreview want to affect change.


6. How can ECRs make a case to more senior researchers that preprints matter?

First, they can choose a preprint and discuss it at their next departmental journal club. By doing this, they can make the point that preprints are often very similar to what gets published, but allow for early incorporation of crowd-sourced feedback.

They can explain that preprints are date-stamped, meaning that they can be used to make a priority claim to the research. Also, when a grant cycle comes around, they can mention to their PI that they can cite their most recent work for the grant proposal if they post it as a preprint, as preprints are recognized (and encouraged) by many funding agencies.

To learn more about important issues related to preprints, they can refer to the ASAPbio website, and even become Ambassadors (which is how Daniela and Sam started their collaboration for PREreview!). We also summarized many of these important points in a slide deck that can be used by ECRs, or anyone, to learn and advocate for preprints (Preprint/PREreview slide deck).


7. What’s next for PREreview?

Moving forward, our goal is to grow PREreview as a community, using our resources and advocacy work to shift the culture around academic evaluation. We believe that scientific manuscripts should be read and constructively evaluated by a diverse population of trained and interested scientists at different career levels. To achieve this vision, our team focuses on community building and the development of the right technology to support it.

One of our most exciting developments on the horizon is the PREreview Mentorship Program. We are in the early stages of designing a peer review mentoring program, modeled after the successful Mozilla Open Leaders course, where we will pair up ECRs with little to no experience in peer review with more experienced reviewers, and organize community calls, webinars, and one-to-one calls on alternating weeks to guide them through the program. The curriculum will not only focus on critical evaluation of emerging scientific literature and strategies to help researchers provide constructive feedback to their peers, but also training in unconscious bias, licensing, and leadership skills for those who wish to become mentors in future cohorts.

We are also very excited about the upcoming development of PREreview 2.0, a new free and open-source platform built from the ground up with our community in mind. This new platform will have lots of new features to encourage interaction between the preprint authors, reviewers and journal editors, whilst providing a safe zone for ECRs to mature as peer reviewers.

So far, PREreview’s efforts have focused on the growth and acknowledgment of ECRs in the formal peer review process, We are now collaborating with Dr. Michael Johansson from Outbreak Science to develop Rapid PREreview, a modular addition to PREreview 2.0 that will allow for the rapid assessment of scientific contributions during outbreaks and beyond.


Follow us on Twitter @PREreview_ and join our community of PREreviewers!

Questions? Email us at

PREreview is a project that operates under the fiscal sponsorship of the non-profit organization Code for Science and Society Featured image courtesy of PREreview team.

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