Writing, editing and publishing scientific research articles is an essential part of what being a scientist is all about. Although researchers are very much familiar with the first part, seldom do they get to know what goes on during the editing and publishing process. A group of PhD students and postdocs from the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology got the opportunity to do this when they won a competition to produce an issue of The Biochemist, the magazine of the Biochemical Society. The issue entitled “What makes us human” was published this month.
The collection of feature articles in this issue of The Biochemist was commissioned and edited by Rebecca McIntosh, Danielle Stevenson, Martin Crossley, Michalina Hanzel, Christopher Puhl, Tristan Varela and Thomas Butts from the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King's College London.
Every year, the Biochemical Society holds a competition inviting teams of early career researchers to produce an edition of The Biochemist, a bi-monthly magazine that publishes a variety of interesting articles on molecular bioscience. As part of the competition, applicants have to select a theme and, if successful, then contact researchers to commission articles on that theme, edit the final articles and prepare them for print.
What made you to apply to edit the Biochemist?
"The competition was a rare opportunity to gain experience in scientific communication. It was a chance to do something different and develop skills outside the lab."
The 6 researchers from the MRC CDN submitted their proposal to edit a special issue on “What makes us human”.
Why did you select this theme?
"We wanted a theme that was quite broad and was extended beyond our particular fields. Choosing this topic allowed us to explore human biology from a number of angles through evolutionary time. Also, the question of what makes us human is fascinating to pretty much anyone."
What followed was an intense year of hard work where the editorial team of PhD students and Postdocs contacted several leading researchers in the field, successfully commissioning a significant number of articles from early multicellularisation, the development of lactose tolerance, the cellular biology of brain expansion, and the ENCODE project among others.
What was the most difficult and the most interesting part?
"The most difficult aspect was validating the scientific accuracy during the editing process, especially in relatively unfamiliar fields. The most interesting part was researching different topics and scientist who might be appropriate authors."
The end result is a collection of articles that explores how several key traits arose during our evolution as well as the techniques we use to probe the genetic and biochemical basis of these traits.
What have you learned from this experience?
"It gave us a little taste of what scientific publishing entails – commissioning and editing articles and managing relationships with authors and the editors at The Biochemist."