Shortcuts to Scientific Success

Posted November 17, 2017 by anitageorge in Early Career Research Community

Shortcuts to Scientific Success | PLOS ECR Community

Researchers can often refer to at least one inspiring person or event that has instigated their academic endeavors. As a marine biologist, I have been interested in shell collection from beaches since I was 3 years old and I have always wondered what lies underneath the ocean.

Researchers can often refer to at least one inspiring person or event that has instigated their academic endeavors. As a marine biologist, I have been interested in shell collection from beaches since I was 3 years old and I have always wondered what lies underneath the ocean. Eventually, I got inspired by famous scientists like Marie CurieBrahmaguptaFrancis Crick, and Carolus-Linnaeus whose major inventions in science prompted me to study zoology and biotechnology. Based on my own personal experience from shell-collector to marine biologist, I found that curiosity and dreams can play a more vital role than motivation from others, and studies now show that creativity can play a vital role in one’s scientific career. To improve creativity and vision, I would therefore like to share some simple shortcuts that I believe can facilitate scientific success.
In order to achieve what you want in science (and life in general), it is important to be able to visualize your goal  and how to get there in detail. After my PhD in the taxonomy of marine sponges, if someone asked me about my life goal, I would say, “to be a marine scientist.” It did not take much time to understand that “marine scientist” is a vast term where you can jump into various career options like research fellow, lecturer, consultant, science communicator, conservationist, ecologist, biologist, etc. Many of us struggle to answer the “career goals” question. If we are not focused and specific on what we need, it will certainly be difficult to reach the right substratum.  Apparently, the best time for visualization is after you wake up in the morning and before going to bed, spending at least for 5 to 10 minutes envisioning your goals.
Cultivate Selective Ignorance
Learning the art of selective ignorance is the next important step. I used to spend a lot of time reading and watching the news, but I found that  it took my valuable time away from my work. As Herbert Simon rightly said, “Abundant wealth of information creates poverty of attention.” Sometimes, we tend to read one thing and then get distracted and continue reading one article after another. Instead, when you cultivate selective ignorance, and choose your priorities, it will open a lot of your own creative possibilities that you may never see otherwise. So, to develop selective ignorance, first it is important to have a clutter-free work space. Mess creates stress and disorder creates distraction. It is one of the reasons why Steve Jobs started his Apple products and his workspace in ‘White’ as he wanted clarity in thinking. Going on a ‘low information diet’ while at your lab or workplace may help us channel our thoughts for clarity of thinking and productive work.
Reach the Right Mentor
Mentors are important in any career not only for knowledge and skill transference, but to provide professional and personal support. Working with an incompatible supervisor for you is like getting on the wrong train and finding that every stop is not what you expected. If you are aware that you are on the wrong train, get off at the next station and find the right one–the supervisor that is perfect for you. You can do this by seeking out mentors in your professional community. For example, one day during lunch with one of our museum entomologists, I asked if she had any tips for a conference presentation. Without hesitation, she gave some wonderful tips. When I confirmed if the acronym for an excellent presentation is K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short and Simple), with a big smile she responded that nowadays to grab the attention of any audience, it is better to ‘Keep it Short and Stupid’ and yes, it worked. At the recent sponge conference, my presentation grabbed some attention as I didn’t give any detailed or crowded slides.
Be Positive
Staying positive can make a big difference to our productivity. Though we cannot avoid negative people around us, we need to be aware that we cannot allow ourselves to waste time on envisioning a pessimistic future awaiting us. Sometimes the negativity can start from home or school or workplace. You may be surrounded by doubters, critics and disbelievers. However, if your passion and dreams are stronger, you can convince your parents, teachers and friends to transform their thoughts. In India, where I was born, trends in the 1990s suggested that information technology was the ideal profession for woman to have a secured job. However, I stayed optimistic that my passion in science would lead to a good career. What lies inside you is always more important than what surrounds you.
Believe in Yourself. 
Finally, whatever happens, don’t ever stop believing in yourself. As suggested in all the above four tips, thoughts are one of the most powerful catalysts to trigger our life’s happenings. To achieve what you “really” want in life and to overcome self-sabotage instead of leading to concentration, mindfulness and success, try to get some anti-procrastinating apps and start doing the impossible things you fear the most. In my case, marine research was not considered as an appropriate profession for women in India, which has varied cultures and subterranean thoughts that women should have some ‘imaginary’ limitations in the society. When I chose a marine profession with diving (I’m a rescue diver now!), none of my parents, professors, or friends discouraged me or criticized me for staying in this adventurous and fun-filled career. The reason is that I never allowed myself to be impacted by the opinions of others. My community knew that my passion and belief in myself was more powerful than negativity around me. As Thomas Alva Edison said, “If we all did the things we can do, we would literally astound ourselves.” Let success be yours!
Featured Image: Prelude To A Successful Career In Cultural Production  belonging to the flickr account of Aitor Calero  licensed under CC BY 2.0)
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Medina, J. (May 20, 2008). Brain rules for powerpoint & keynote presenters.
Evans, D. Five anti-procrastination apps you need to know about.
Ferriss, T. (2007). The four-hour work week. Crown publishing group, 308pp.
A & E Television networks. (2017). Francis Crick website.
The Economist. (March 20, 2009). Herbert Simon.
Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs, 656pp. Simon & Schuster
Kondo, M. (2014). The life changing magic of tidying up.
Mastin, L. (2010). Indian Mathematics – Brahmagupta, The story of Mathematics.
Müller-Wille, S. (October 20, 2017). Carolus Linnaeus, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.
Rashid, B. (May 2, 2017). 3 Reasons All Great Leaders have Mentors (And Mentees), Forbes.
Oleynick VC, Thrash TM, LeFew MC, Moldovan EG and Kieffaber PD (2014) The scientific study of inspiration in the creative process: challenges and opportunities. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8:436. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00436
Rockwell, S. (2003). The life and legacy of Marie Curie. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 76(4-6): 167–180.
Singh, R. (1998). Status of Women in Indian Society, Human Rights, Trustees of Boston University,
Brainwave Power Music. When is the best time for visualize?

Where is scientific publishing heading?


As researchers, we are unlikely to spend much time reflecting on one of the often-forgotten pillars of science: scientific publishing. Naturally, our focus leans more towards traditional academic activities including teaching, mentoring graduate students and post docs, and the next exciting experiment that will allow us to advance our understanding. Despite our daily dependence on the research produced by our colleagues and contemporaries in scientific papers, and an equal dependence on journals to present the results of our own research, it is uncomfortable to think that we as scientists have lost control of the majority of this infrastructure.
Traditionally, scientific publishing was controlled by learned societies such as the Royal Society and the National Academy of Science (in the USA), alongside publishers associated with key universities, Oxford University Press being one. However, as large multinational companies such as Roche, Sigma-Aldrich, and Agilent have evolved to dominate the markets for chemicals, research equipment, and various researcher services; the publication of scientific results from commercial publishers has become a highly profitable endeavour. The three largest publishers—Elsevier, Springer Nature, and Wiley-Blackwell—now represent around half of the ten billion GDP scientific publication industry, their dominance following years of consolidation in the industry. With profit margins outdoing even those of tech giants Apple and Google, it seems incredible that we as scientists are contributing significantly to the success of these journals, largely for free!
However, the scientific publication industry is undergoing dramatic changes. The number of journals continues to increase, competing for the best papers, as evidenced by the large number of invitations we receive. With many journals remaining in the traditional format, relying on library subscriptions alongside ever tighter library budgets, there are a number of new journals opting for the open access route. In this model, it is the authors paying the fees. Following acceptance (or a pre-determined embargo period), their paper is then made freely available for all.
The rapid development of open access journals, including PLOS ONE, Nature’s Scientific Reports, and Biomed Central’s Genome Biology, to name just a few, is supported by many funders who are now requiring that research papers are open access. Furthermore, the European University Association recently published a document recommending all member institutions to install policies ensuring a reduction in publication costs, that authors retain all publication rights, and that all research papers are open access.
With many journals offering ‘hybrid’ journals, a combination of open access papers and traditional library subscriptions, it could soon become problematic for these journals to maintain income from library subscriptions if more and more papers are published open access. Although fully open access journals can operate at lower costs, article processing fees are unlikely to be able to fund those journals run by editorial teams, who not only handle papers, but also provide much of the front matter including perspectives, book reviews, and research highlights. If the industry does eventually become totally open access, it is likely we will lose the various news coverage and perspectives provided by many of the high-end journals.
Another development to consider is the introduction of so-called predatory journals. Several different scenarios can result; some fake journals will request submission, take the article processing fee, and never publish the paper. Others will fake the peer review process, publishing without any kind of quality control. The severity of this problem was well illustrated by a study in Science earlier this year, in which the authors created a fictitious scientist, complete with falsified CV, and requested enrollment as an editor on several editorial boards – and was successful.
This example demonstrates the financial opportunity scientific publishing has become; therefore we as scientists need to be careful where we submit our papers. There are some key questions we need to ask:

  • Are the members of the Editorial Board well-respected scientists?
  • Does the journal have a clear editorial policy?
  • Are publication fees clearly stated?
  • Is the journal indexed, in PubMed for example?
  • Does the journal publish papers on similar subjects to your own?

Finally, one vital question to ask: Who is publishing the journal? It is now more important than ever that we provide support for publications driven by not-for-profit organisations, either in the form of learned societies, academies, and others, who have clear objectives for supporting the scientific community. We as scientists benefit from these society-run journals. Why publish in a journal where profits are going to a board of investors, when instead it could be put towards a scholarship for your next post doc, or a grant for a PhD student to join an international conference? FEMS Yeast Research belongs to this last category, supporting various conferences and research fellowships through the work of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS).
Finally, I’ll end with my original question: where is scientific publishing heading? Niels Bohr said “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”, and of course it is impossible for me to know with any certainty. However, I do think that the traditional library subscription model will eventually disappear – and perhaps this will be good science and society as a whole. Either way, I encourage all editors, reviewers, authors, and readers to share your thoughts on journal policies, and engage with these kinds of discussions in the wider community.
Featured image credit: Office by Free-Photos. CC0 public domain via Pixabay.

Scientists and Policymakers – Not Such Strange Bedfellows

Taken from
By Helena Lucente, Ph.D. Student, University of Utah, Cancer Research
The March for Science was a turning point in science communication. For the first time, scientists and science supporters were part of a movement to advance science education, communication, and promote science in policymaking. The current administration has threatened the scientific enterprise in this country in a number of ways, including:

  • Proposing a budget that would cut funding to federal science and medical research institutions
  • Appointing science deniers to positions of leadership
  • Withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement

The anti-science political agenda was a call to action for scientists to get out of the lab and into the streets. The passion that motivated me to pursue my PhD is the same passion that inspired me to get involved in science communication and policy. As a scientist, I would have the opportunity to give back to the community and impact lives. Discoveries made in the scientific world today can be translated into clinical treatments for patients and new knowledge for aspiring students tomorrow. I joined the University of Utah specifically because they had created a dual degree program (Med-into-Grad Program) to train basic scientists in medicine and translational research, so they could bridge the understanding between research and medicine.
With the change in the political climate and the public outcry for science in 2017 I felt galvanized to do something to give back and help. Science communication and policy was away for me to bridge understanding this time between scientist, politicians, and the community. I enrolled in communication training through the STEM Ambassador Program (STEMAP).  With the help of this program I approached Utah state representatives and discussed the role scientists can play in decision-making. I met with Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (D) and Representative Edward Redd (R) to get a bipartisan perspective on science in government.
To me, the worlds of science and policymaking seem far apart in culture, language, and ways of taking action, so I felt anxious in the waiting room of Representative Chavez-Houck. My expectation was that legislative priorities would leave little time to speak with a graduate student. These notions were quickly dispelled; she spent an hour patiently explaining the unique challenges legislators face and how scientists can get involved in government. In fact, I learned that Representative Chavez-Houck was as passionate as I was to involve scientists in lawmaking. She introduced me to Representative Edward Redd (R), a medical doctor who approaches his own work as a legislator with a keen understanding of how informed legislative decisions benefit from science. This meeting gave me insights on scientific culture (for more on this, see my post on the American Society for Cell Biology blog) and a bipartisan perspective on science in government. The policymakers felt the community viewed scientists as isolated and unapproachable.
Talking with Democratic and Republican leaders taught me what each party values. I learned the importance of shaping an argument that speaks to the values of both parties and their constituents and how, even with different values, they had the potential to reach the same conclusions. For example, a political agenda that greatly impacts scientists and Utahans is transferring ownership of public lands to the state. A scientist may advocate for protecting and preserving these ecological treasures by keeping them as public lands. However, that scientist must appeal to all politicians not just those who support environmental conservation. If a politician values balancing the budget, then a scientist could appeal to their economic desires. They could explain that the debt the state government may incur by maintaining public lands could far out way the financial gains they would expect to make from tourism/recreation, oil, or mining causing financial instability. It was refreshing to learn that, at the state level, representatives of different political parties with differing values could reach the same conclusion and had a strong respect for the contribution of each.
Meeting with policymakers taught me a lot about scientists’ role in the government, and I wanted to share what I learned with others who are interested in becoming more involved. For other scientists who wish to interact with legislators, I have three pieces of advice.

  1. Understand legislators’ priorities.

Legislators must consider multiple values when they make decision, so scientific values must be weighed along with the values of their constituents. Prior to meeting with a legislator, scientists should learn the priorities of that legislator and their constituents. Many legislators have a webpage where you can view their voting history and bills sponsored. Some have a newsletter you can sign up for.

  1. Be objective

It is important that scientists remain non-partisan when presenting information. Legislators may dismiss valid scientific research presented if it is framed in a political context. One very powerful example of what happens when science becomes politically charged is when former Vice President Gore became the face of global climate change. Climate change was no longer viewed for its scientific merits, but as a liberal agenda. People who disagree with his political ideology may dismiss the valid scientific research he presented. If scientists present their data directly to lawmakers, objectively and regardless of political affiliation, politicians are more likely to consider their conclusions when making decisions moving forward.

  1. Build relationships

Most importantly, trust is built overtime. Scientists need to meet their representatives and establish a relationship, so that legislators feel comfortable calling on them when making decisions. It is best to contact representatives when the legislator is out of session because they will have more time to meet. After I had established a relationship with Representative Chavez-Houck over multiple meetings, she invited me to two events for bringing STEM businesses to Utah and promoting STEM education. She identified me as a scientist who was concerned about science policy, advocacy, and education, and offered me opportunities to connect with other policymakers and constituents on these issues.
Thus, although I came to these legislators without a specific advocacy agenda, I was able to build relationships with legislators that led to a working relationship and real opportunities to provide scientifically sound insights into decisions on science education for youth in our state. With a relatively small investment of time – less than ten hours for preparation and meetings – I had a small, but real, influence on bridging science and society. My scientific pursuits will likely take me away from Utah in the future; however, I will take the important lessons I have learned here to continue to follow my passion to give back by engaging in my community and investing in my local and state government.

About Helena Lucente
Helena Lucente wants to bridge the gap between science and society through improving science advocacy, policy, education and communication. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in Oncological Sciences and M.S. in Clinical Investigation at the University of Utah. She can be reached on Twitter at @HelenaLucente1 and via email at