Role of a scientific editor at Nature Communications - William Staikos

On July the 23rd the CORE group of undergraduate students had the opportunity to meet with, learn from, and ask questions to Dr. Fiona Carr, an editor for the journal Nature Communications, one of the more well known names in the world of scientific publications. It was a genuinely unique experience and an exposure to what is, in reality, a significant portion of the scientific process that I had never given much thought to.

Through the presentation, we were taught about how editors drive the review and revision process for publishing papers, the work that must be done by scientific peers across all domains, and overall, the importance of the decisions that are made at all levels. Dr. Carr made sure to communicate the significance of the initial evaluation of papers that are submitted and the highly selective filter by which journals abide. Though high selectivity often precludes a great number of papers from being published, well conducted as those papers may be, that same selectivity is important to ensure that the realm of published papers are not flooded with every finding from every researcher. Rather, it is used to ensure that papers with the highest impact are brought to the attention of researchers everywhere. In this manner, the process of selecting which papers are published and by which journals holds an absolutely crucial role in driving contemporary understanding of different topics, as well as informing the approach of future research within the same domain.

Another topic that was discussed is the importance of peer reviewers in the publishing process. It is critical for reputable journals that not only are papers peer reviewed, but the right reviewers are selected. Indirectly this allows broad networking of researchers who work in the same domain, and further promotes the passage of novel findings. A caveat to this, noted by Dr. Carr, is the ‘pre-print’ approach when there is a time sensitive stress that requires the rapid distribution of new findings, and allows bypass of the standard approach to publishing. This is particularly important given the ever present COVID-19 pandemic, when new findings can directly impact policy from governments, the direction of researchers working towards a cure or vaccine, and the general knowledge of the population so that they can make their own informed decisions as well.

Though I have read many journals as part of my undergraduate studies, publishing a paper has only recently begun to occupy plans in my near future. Exposure to the process by which papers are selected for publishing, and the rigour by which they are evaluated has been critical in informing how I approach any future projects. Preparation for the hurdles that may appear in any future publishings has been an invaluable part of my academic development.