Understanding Scientific Publishing Workshop

See my guest blog post on Biochemical Society Blog Understanding Scientific Publishing Workshop.

Guest post: Laura Mulcahy, PhD Research Student, Oxford Brookes University

On Wednesday 19 March 2014 I attended ‘Understanding Scientific Publishing’ workshop hosted by the Biochemical Society at Charles Darwin House, London. I registered for this event because:

  1. I wanted to learn more about the scientific research publishing process
  2. To help me tailor my research to the publishing requirement
  3. To prepare me for writing grant proposals in journal articles in my future career

It became clear, when speaking to others, that some early career researchers are completely unaware of how the publishing process works because, in many cases, writing papers is the responsibility of the P.I., PhD students and post-doctorates are responsible only for performing research and gathering data.

The workshop was very well organised and ran smoothly. There were six scientific publishing experts: Niamh O’Connor (Portland Press), Robert Kiley (Wellcome Trust), Guy Salvesen (Sanford-Burnham Institute, San Diego), Irene Hames (Committee on Publication Ethics), Peter Shepherd (University of Auckland) and David Tosh (University of Bath & Deputy Chair Biochemical Journal), all of whom are associated with the Biochemical Journal. The major topics discussed included:

  •          The scientific publishing process
  •          The pillars of publishing
  •          Impact factor
  •          The open access debate
  •          The process of peer review
  •          How to structure a paper
  •          Ethics of scientific publishing

Take home points:

  1. I learnt how impact factor is calculated:

Number of citations in the previous year of papers published in the 2 years preceding that year
Number of papers published in the preceding 2 years

For example, the current journal impact factors are calculated:

Number of citations in 2013 of papers published in 2011 and 2012 year
Total number of papers published in 2011 and 2012

I was previously unaware of how the impact factor is calculated. I think it is important for early career researchers to understand how impact factors are calculated – despite not always being the best representation of the quality of a work; the scientific community heavily relies upon impact factors when publishing and reading research.

  1. EMBO press peer review process files are available (providing you have access) for all EMBO press journals under the ‘Transparent Process’ tab on the article webpage. I think these files are a great resource for early career researchers to learn about the peer review process.
  1. Suggested reviewers aren’t always kind! There have been cases where the P.I. has suggested a reviewer for their paper who they think is a friend and that reviewer has given the work harsh criticism.
  1. Be polite to reviewers. Politeness is received well, remember the reviewer is helping you publish your work, they, generally, try to improve the work you have submitted – rather than be a nuisance!
  1. When you start in a new research team ask what their authorship policy is – so you know where you stand from the beginning and to prevent arguments that may arise in the future.

I found this workshop helpful and feel that I gained considerable knowledge of the scientific publishing process. It was particularly interesting to hear the opinions of experts in this sector which also sparked interesting debate. I would definitely recommend this workshop to early career researchers (particularly members of the Biochemical Society for whom admission is free!) and advise the Biochemical Society to run this course annually or on a bi-annual basis so that a maximum number of scientists can benefit.


I’m so glad I’m alive today and not 200 years ago

I have never broken a bone (touch wood!) but I know plenty of people who have. Until recently I did not appreciate that once upon a time, such an injury commonly resulted in death. Nowadays breaking a bone would not necessarily be fatal; usually we would go to A&E, get a cast put on it and then 6-8 weeks later the broken bone has normally healed. But 200 years ago treatment for broken bones frequently involved amputation. Death would regularly result from wounds caused by broken bones becoming infected before or after amputation or if they were left untreated – something I previously did not realise.

Last weekend I visited London’s Old Operating Theatre. It is located near London Bridge in the herb garret of St. Thomas’ church. The location of the operating theatre seemed a bit strange at first but the museum guide explained that the woman’s ward was once located in an adjacent hospital building. There is a small opening in the wall between the ward and the theatre through which patients were transferred – convenient but probably not a very pleasant experience for the patients. Although that was probably the least of their worries considering what they were about to encounter.

The museum guide described how the operating theatre was used from 1822 for surgical procedures, mainly amputations. Until 1846 there was no such thing as anaesthetic so the procedure had to be performed very quickly to minimise pain and distress. Surgeons adopted a technique involving slicing the skin which was then pealed back revealing the bone which was sawed off. This procedure took less than 1 minute and was known as the ‘swift technique’. It is not surprising that a high number of patients died of shock during the operation.

I was also surprised to learn that the surgeon did not wash his hands before the operation! He would rarely clean his instruments between amputations and patients would lie on a wooden operating table. We now know that this would almost certainly result in infection but due to the lack of knowledge of microbes cleanliness was not a concern 200 years ago.

Prior to the opening of the operating theatre, patients were operated on in the ward which must have been very upsetting for the other patients (especially if your amputation was scheduled next). The theatre provided sound proofing – and privacy, I assumed, but I was wrong. In 1915 a law was passed which allowed apothecary students to observe operations performed in hospitals. In order to maximise the student experience the operating theatre was fitted with 4 viewing platforms which surrounded the operating table which comfortably accommodate about 40 people. I was horrified to learn that 150 students would squeeze into the room to observe each operation. I cannot imagine what the patients much have felt like – aside from the fact that they were about to endure the worst experience of their life, they had an audience of 150 students, like they are about to put on a show. Additionally, there was no operating theatre dress for attendees. They wore their outdoor clothing – another factor contributing to infection.

Thanks to the advances in medical research, today, in the western world, we are lucky that broken bones (and many other ailments) are now regarded as minor injuries/illnesses that are quite easily fixed – perhaps the NHS service isn’t so bad after all! As scientific research progresses I wonder what diseases will be considered trivial in 200 years time? Cancer and heart disease perhaps? I hope so!

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I recommend a visit to the Old Operating Theatre museum to anyone – but particularly those who have a keen interest in science, medicine or history. Especially since adult admission is only £6.50 – bargain! For more information please visit the Old Operating Theatre website: http://www.thegarret.org.uk/